Sunday, November 29, 2015         


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Golfing good for tourism


Hawaii's media exposure as a golfing destination has taken a blow in the past year by the departure of all three of Hawaii's LPGA tournaments and has been fortunate to keep two PGA Tour events in the islands. NBC golf broadcaster Mark Rolfing has brought new energy to Hawaii's stance in the growing world competition for golf tourism.

The PGA requires the sponsor of each of its events to be paired with a nonprofit host organization. The recently formed Mark and Debra Rolfing Charitable Foundation has joined the Seoul Broadcasting System, Korea's largest TV network, to keep what had been the Mercedes Benz Championship functioning.

The championship tournament will open the PGA Tour season next January at Kapalua's Plantation Course on Maui for the second year under SBS sponsorship. The Sony Open again will follow the next week at Oahu's Waialae Country Club.

"It all has a ripple effect," Mark Rolfing told the Star-Advertiser's Ann Miller. "If this (Kapalua tournament) goes away, it affects the Sony event and everything else."

SBS came forward to sponsor the Kapalua tournament, which consists of winners on the previous year's tour events. Mercedes Benz, which had been the sponsor since 1999, was obviously moving on after signing deals to be the official car of the Masters, PGA Championship and the Northern Trust Open.

The PGA requires the entire net proceeds from nearly all of the tour's 100-plus tournaments to go to local charities. The Rolfing Charitable Foundation will serve the same beneficiaries that received donations from the Kapalua Maui Charities. Those totaled $252,574 from last year's tournament.

Beyond being a conduit for beneficiaries, Rolfing is engaging in changes aimed at giving new life to the SBS Tournament of Champions. Preceded by a Hawaii Junior Golf Festival the Sunday before the tournament, Rolfing foresees a week that includes a long driving contest, similar to the home run derbies preceding all-star baseball games.

Rolfing has goals of expanding the tournament's eligibility requirements to broaden the field. He also envisions at least one LPGA tournament during the same month. Hawaii was host to three LPGA Tour events in 2008 but none are planned in the near future.

These tournaments produce television coverage that benefits not only Hawaii's golf industry but tourism in general. Rolfing should not be expected to singlehandedly rebuild the state's golf scene as "the perfect bridge" to the emerging golf markets in Asia.

He explains correctly that golf course management, hotel owners, the tourism industry and government officials need "to come together as an industry" to make the most of this attraction.

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