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Thursday, July 24, 2014         

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Hyundai steps up

The Korean carmaker will be the title sponsor of Kapalua's PGA Tour event through at least 2013

By Ann Miller

POSTED:


Hyundai Motor America has parked itself as the new title sponsor for the PGA Tour's season-opening event at Kapalua's Plantation Course for at least the next three years.

The announcement of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions was made by the tour, Hyundai and Seoul Broadcasting System International yesterday afternoon. The new title introduces Hyundai, a Korean company with some 800 dealerships in the U.S., and re-introduces the TOC title the tournament was known by from 1953 to 1993.

The tournament, a limited-field event open only to the previous year's champions, moved to Maui in 1999 and was called the Mercedes Championships. SBS signed a 10-year agreement in May 2009 to take over sponsorship. The agreement also brought PGA Tour broadcast rights in Korea to SBS through 2019, and the event still actively sought a title sponsor to keep it on Maui.

Now SBS will "underpin" the tournament through 2019, according to the tour. That will include hospitality and other on-site activities. The Mark and Debi Rolfing Charitable Foundation became the non-profit host organization, required by the tour, in August.

Back then Rolfing, an NBC golf analyst from Kapalua, characterized his involvement as a "last-gasp" effort to keep the tournament in Hawaii. Hyundai's sponsorship gives the event room to breathe.

Rolfing's vision is to bring "new energy" to the tournament, which he considers vital for its future. Starting in 2011, there will be no admission charge -- a first for the PGA Tour. Rolfing plans to turn the TOC into a weeklong event that will attract people from the whole state and "energize" the world about the start of the golf season.

There will be a Hawaii Junior Golf Festival the Sunday before the tournament and three days of special events similar to baseball's all-star week, with a long-drive contest and pros interacting with amateurs, juniors and celebrities. The night before the tour tees off (Jan. 5), Golf Channel will have a 2-hour prime-time special from the first tee.

"I felt if we could create energy for the tournament by doing different things it would make it more attractive to a new sponsor and, lo and behold, it did," Rolfing said. "I don't think anybody imagined we'd get a new sponsor two months out, but this is going to continue because the new sponsor basically bought into the concept."

Hyundai calls the title sponsorship a continuation of its "Big Voices in Big Places" strategy, designed to put itself in the "highest profile advertising venues," including the Super Bowl, an exclusive automotive sponsorship with the Academy Awards and global sponsorship of the 2010 FIFA World Cup. Its launch of the new luxury Hyundai Equus will coincide with its new golf partnership.

"Hyundai's title sponsorship of the PGA Tour's traditional season-opening tournament aligns our brand with world-class athletes who mirror our own competitive drive," said Hyundai Motor America president John Krafcik.

PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem was more specific.

"In our discussions," he said, "Hyundai expressed interest in continuing its brand momentum throughout the U.S., as well as further strengthening its position in Asia. This title sponsorship will help accomplish these goals."

Rolfing believes Hyundai was attracted to Hawaii by the location and the chance to "be part of the community." And, unlike SBS, Hyundai has a product to sell, which makes a difference.

"I see them spending a lot more money in and around the event and throughout the year," Rolfing said. "That causes the tournament not to have to spend its own money."

Australia's Geoff Ogilvy has won the past two years at Kapalua. He goes for a three-peat Jan. 6-9. Other 2010 winners expected to join him are Sony Open in Hawaii champ Ryan Palmer, Steve Stricker, Camilo Villegas, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Rory McIlroy, Adam Scott, Zach Johnson, Hunter Mahan, Lee Westwood and three-time champion Stuart Appleby. Westwood just moved to No. 1 in the World Rankings past Tiger Woods, who is not yet eligible because he hasn't won this year.

The Golf Channel will have coverage at Kapalua all four days, then move to Oahu for the Sony Open in Hawaii, Jan. 13-16 at Waialae Country Club. The tour has played at Waialae the past 43 years -- longer than all but three other tour sites -- but Sony's contract is in its final year. The tour's hope is that the Hyundai commitment will encourage Sony to continue, with a high-profile field all but guaranteed now.

"This will have a tremendously positive impact on Sony," Rolfing said. "I don't see how there could have been any comfort level to sign a lengthy extension for Sony if there was any danger of this event (Kapalua) going away. The tournaments are so joined at the hip. We saw what happened when the Hawaiian Open was a stand-alone event. It didn't work.

"This should be very, very comforting for Sony. That's one reason it was so important for me to help make this happen."






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