Is It Time Tour Bids Aloha To Hawaii?

Nobody’s saying it’s not paradise because it is, but stunning scenery aside, Hawaii has become irrelevant on the PGA Tour. Both island tournaments – the Hyundai Tournament of Champions and the Sony Open in Hawaii – are the unwitting and unfortunate victims of the new Tour schedule. It has been hard enough – if not downright impossible – in recent years to attract or even shamelessly lure the game’s stars to Hawaii when the Aloha Swing kicked off the Tour season. But when the 2014 season comes along (which starts in October), it will be nigh on impossible to get the big names to ly across the Pacific, no matter what the enticements. In fact, the Tournament of Champions might as well fall off the schedule, especially if the title sponsor fails to renew its contract. Nothing against Hyundai, it makes a great car (I own one), but the Korean auto manufacturer couldn’t possibly have gotten anywhere close to its money’s worth at this year’s event at Kapalua. Even if Hyundai uses the event to entertain top dealers and customers, the ungodly weather two weeks ago dumped the whole deal, mai tais and all, into the ocean. Even the pro-am was a disaster. Some of the pro-am groups, which were playing in brutish wind and sideways blowing rain, asked to quit their rounds after nine holes. The Tour tried twice to send the 30 players out in the 40 mph wind, not to uphold the integrity of the competition but because the title sponsor needed a show. Hyundai’s television ads that it paid perfectly good money for weren’t doing the company any good when all that was shown on the telecast was the hour or so that some of the field was on the course – over and over and over. That clicking sound you heard was the hundreds of thousands of remotes leaving the golf to switch to, well, anything else. The PGA Tour is the only major sports league without the ability to drop the hammer and compel its stars to play in its all-star game, which the Tournament of Champions essentially is. Players contend they are independent contractors and besides, it’s a tough trip just to play in one tournament (without appearance fees). The Sony Open in Hawaii is in much the same boat. It’s the first full-field event of the year and has been the traditional coming-out party for the Tour’s rookies and veterans who need a quick start against not-the-strongest-field you’ve ever seen. But in 2013-14, it will be the eighth event on the schedule, coming after about a seven-week break between the sixth event – in Mexico – and the Tournament of Champions the first week in January. By that time, the rookies will already have four or five starts under their belts because none of the stars are going to play in October at the Frys.com and the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open (minus Justin Timberlake) and the like. All of which makes Hawaii a much tougher sell. For one thing, if you fly commercial to Hawaii from Orlando, it takes about 15 hours, including layovers, to get there and about 20 hours or more to get back. The rookies and those down the food chain make that trip now because they need the starts and they aren’t guaranteed much on the West Coast. It is especially important for the rookies to get off to a fast start in 2013. First-year players Russell Henley and Scott Langley were 1-2 on the leaderboard after 36 holes of the Sony Open. Because of the truncated schedule, there will be no Fall Finish for rookies and others on the low end of the money list to make up ground in order to finish in the top 125. Essentially, for those who don’t make the FedEx Cup Playoffs, the season lasts from now through the middle of August. That’s not much time and there won’t be that many opportunities since the big-name players and Tour veterans will be taking up most of the spots through the busy spring and summer. But next year (this year), players will get opportunities early in the season to get some starts. It’s going to be increasingly difficult to convince much of anybody to make the Hawaii trip, especially those who don’t have to. Besides, the Plantation Course at Kapalua and Waialae Country Club in Honolulu aren’t the greatest tracks in the world. Kapalua is big and touristy and while Waialae is venerable, having been built in 1927 and designed by Seth Raynor, it’s lat and uninspiring and the Tour players often shoot the grass off the place. One prominent Golf Channel announcer had the audacity to mention Waialae in the same sentence as Riviera, Colonial and Harbour Town. That’s the low hyperbole in the clubhouse thus far this season. If officials at Hyundai and Sony aren’t livid about the change in schedule, they should be. Sony has been way more than loyal to the PGA Tour and Hyundai signed on when the economic times at the Tour were at or near the worst. It’s more than a shame they’ve been treated this way. Sadly, in some places, loyalty doesn’t cut both ways.

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