Maui Discussion

Bad Move: Rolfing Out as Director of Kapalua Event

June 29, 2011, 7:25 AM HST
* Updated September 2, 10:34 AM
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Opinion pieces, analyses and letters are intended to provide a diverse range of views from our community. They are not intended to represent the views of Maui Now.

By Fred Guzman

Most folks in local golf circles aren’t quite sure about the rest of the story, but what little we do know is both troubling and surprising, to say the least.

After being personally responsible for saving the event, Mark Rolfing was rewarded for his considerable efforts by being pushed out as the organizer and director of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

The winners-only event on the Plantation Course at Kapalua traditionally tees off the PGA season and is immediately followed by the full-field Sony Open at the Waialae Country Club on Oahu.  This year’s event on Maui will be held Jan. 5-8, finishing on a Monday and  serving as the lead-in to college football’s BCS title game.

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The Mark and Debbie Rolfing Foundation stepped up to keep alive the 2011 event on Maui by becoming the designated charity for the tournament – a requirement set by the PGA for all of its tour events.  This assures that local volunteers provide free manpower for event-related services in exchange for donations to participating local groups and organizations.

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Rolfing is undeniably Maui’s Ambassador of Golf by virtue of his high profile as a respected television commentator on a variety of networks.  He’s also an intense advocate of the game for his island home and the state – be it the Sony Open or the Champions Event on the Big Island.

This is just purely a guess, mind you.  But we’re pretty sure that some of Rolfing’s revolutionary ideas bothered some of the powerbrokers in the PGA because they clashed with the hierarchy’s concept of an established way of doing business.

After taking control of the event, Rolfing started shaking things up. He implemented a free admission policy and staged post-round Hawaiian music concerts in an effort to lure more locals to Kapalua.  There was a long-drive contest and the top amateurs were given the opportunity to play alongside the pros.  He envisioned creating an All-Star atmosphere surrounding the event.

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Rolfing also pushed hard – perhaps, too hard – for further innovations, chief among them to give former champions automatic berths in future events, proving more star power for the galleries and the TV cameras.

A ho’o’lau’le’a atmosphere is not what floats the boats of the PGA big wigs.  And Rolfing’s desire to truly create a Tournament of Champions by opening up the event to winners in the European Tour would be an admission that the PGA isn’t what it used to be.

Arrogance and ignorance are a deadly combination, and the PGA suffers from both maladies.

With Tiger Woods’ recent demise caused by personal and health reasons, the PGA no longer can strictly bank on his appeal to the masses as a way to continuing to attract attention to its sport.  Many long-established PGA events are in trouble.  They can’t find title sponsors, who are the major financial underwriters for these events.

To make matters worse, PGA is under the apparent delusion that it remains the world’s premier circuit.  That distinction now belongs to the European Tour.  The top three players atop the latest world rankings come from Britain.  Englishmen Luke Donald and Lee Westwood are Nos. 1-2. Northern Ireland’s Rory McIlroy, fresh off record victory in the US Open, is the new No. 3.

What should be of even more frightening for the PGA is the rest of the rankings.  There are only three Americans in the top ten – Steve Stricker is No. 5, immediately followed by Phil Mickelson and Matt Kuchar.  Overall, there are 10 Americans in the top 30.

Mark Rolfing understands that golf has become a truly global sport and should be marketed in that fashion.  He’s seeking to increase the scope of world interest in the sport.  Instead, the PGA continues to market its product in the mistaken belief that the business model that was so successful for so long can work in a different time and with the sport’s greatest star in decline.

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