The PGA Tour starts its season in Hawaii with a winners-only field. The Champions Tour gets under way this week on the Big Island with a winners-only field, along with a few invitations.
The next move is to get the LPGA Tour back in paradise.
Warren Haruki, who oversees the Kapalua Resort, said it would like to see the LPGA return with a “Tournament of Champions” format. He figures it would be a good fit with Hawaii’s sports theme of bringing only the best to the islands, from the Triple Crown of Surfing on Oahu to the Ironman Championship on the Big Island.
The LPGA has a lawsuit against Kapalua that has not been resolved. It stems from a five-year contract the resort signed to stage a tournament, only to stop after one year when it couldn’t find a title sponsor.
“We’ve been fishing around for a replacement LPGA event,” said Mark Rolfing, now in charge of the PGA Tour’s season-opener in Kapalua and a central golf figure in Hawaii. “If we have an LPGA event, it needs to be a Tournament of Champions. We have to find a way to create it. And it’s not like the LPGA (schedule) is totally full.”
The LPGA Tour starts its season in the Far East, and much later in the year than the other U.S. tours. It begins this year Feb. 17 in Thailand, then goes to Singapore. Rolfing can envision a scenario in which a Tournament of Champions is played the week after, on the way back to the mainland.
Even so, the sticking point would seem to be a title sponsor. That’s what led to the premature end of the LPGA event in Kapalua. Rolfing, however, is talking about branding the event so that it becomes more about Hawaii than one resort, or even one island.
“We need an event that moves around Hawaii,” he said. “Having somebody fund an event at one site is difficult. My thought is this could become Hawaii’s event.”
He suggested rotating an LPGA tournament around the islands -- Kapalua one year, then perhaps Poipu Bay on Kauai, and Turtle Bay on Oahu, where the LPGA Tour used to play before leaving SBS as a broadcast partner. Organizers have a long way to go, but Rolfing was optimistic about pulling it off.