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Kapalua event brings new title, new outlook

By Ann Miller


Kapalua will host the same old golf tournament in January, but the new blood involved insists it will look nothing like the event that has opened the PGA Tour season on Maui since 1999.

First, broadcaster Mark Rolfing, who lives at Kapalua, got involved. In August, he and wife Debi brought in their foundation as the nonprofit host to secure a future. Last week, Hyundai Motor America came in as title sponsor for at least the next three years to help finance that future.

Both promise the look and feel of the new Hyundai Tournament of Champions will be a breath of fresh golf air that, as Hyundai likes to say, "challenges convention." It will go far beyond the magical Maui views, although they have their place.

"Our whole view of this tournament in this location is that it's one of the premier spots on the entire tour," said Chris Hosford, Hyundai's executive director of corporate communications. "It's an event you can't ignore.

"It's one of the most beautiful locations in the world, bar none."

There will be no admission in January. A fleet of Hyundai dealers and their new luxury Equus cars will overwhelm West Maui, with the car's launch timed to hit the high-end demographic golf reaches. A night after bowl games are over and five days before college football's national championship, the Golf Channel will have a prime-time special from the Plantation's first tee to kick off the golf season.

"I'm so happy we're coming to Hawaii," said Jim Krafcik, president and CEO Hyundai Motor America. "One of the real key parts of this is that it is the kickoff for the season. It captures the hearts and minds of a lot of different golfers. The timing works really, really well for us. It's a good fit."

Tournament week will begin the Sunday before the final round, with four days of events involving junior golf, the community, celebrities and tour players. Expect the unexpected, according to Rolfing and Krafcik, whose company's quest to "challenge conventional thinking" includes delivering an iPad with an integrated owner's manual to every new Equus owner.

Only this year's winners will be on the tee for the first round Jan. 6 at Kapalua's Plantation Course. That isn't new, but the reintroduced Tournament of Champions moniker is and the challenging entry requirement provides the week-to-week interest Hyundai craves as part of its "Big Voices in Big Places" marketing campaign.

"How many people asked what is the Mercedes Championships?" Rolfing said. "People didn't know it was a tournament of champions, and players didn't perceive it as a tournament of champions because it wasn't called a tournament of champions."

Australia's Geoff Ogilvy will go for a three-peat at Kapalua. Other 2010 champions expected are Sony Open winner Ryan Palmer, Steve Stricker, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Rory McIlroy and Lee Westwood, who recently moved to No. 1 in the world rankings past Tiger Woods.

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