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SBS back at Kapalua

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Matt Kuchar get a good view of his shot and the scenery during last year’s SBS Open at Kapalua.

After months of "messy" negotiations, the 2011 SBS Championship will again open the PGA Tour season at Kapalua’s Plantation Course.

NBC golf broadcaster and Kapalua resident Mark Rolfing put himself in the middle of it all over the last six months. Ultimately, the Mark and Debi Rolfing Charitable Foundation became the host organization. The tour requires a nonprofit host organization for its events.

"He has stepped in to keep this event in Hawaii," says Nancy Cross, who has been tournament director at Kapalua since 2000. "I don’t know what would have happened if Mark had not stepped in to offer his foundation to oversee this event.

"I just really feel very thankful for golf in Hawaii. It all has a ripple effect. If this goes away it affects the Sony event and everything else."

Had a host not been found, the tournament could have been moved or not held in 2011.

While the tour won’t announce dates until its entire 2011 schedule is set, Rolfing confirmed the tournament will be Jan. 6-9, with the Sony Open in Hawaii the following week at Waialae Country Club. What leads up to it will be nothing like what we or the tour have seen before, he promises.

There will be a Hawaii Junior Golf Festival the Sunday before the tournament and three days of special events that — not coincidentally — smack of an all-star game leading up to 2011’s opening round.

One major aspect will be missing: an admission charge.

"To me, that changes everything," Rolfing says. "It adds a lot more people obviously, but more than anything I think what the tournament needed was a new level of energy. This will be a big step toward that."

The all-star atmosphere has never been tried on the PGA Tour. But SBS is its tournament of champions, with only the previous year’s winners eligible. It also lures its share of celebrities — Joe Torre and Roger Clemens are regulars — and they are also part of Rolfing’s plan.

He envisions an all-star week that includes a long driving contest reminiscent of baseball’s home run derby. He has his eye on the Plantation’s first hole as the "stadium." The broad, downhill, downwind, 520-yard par-4 appears to drop into the Norfolk Pines and Pailolo Channel, which separates Kapalua and Molokai.

It is a view the Golf Channel finds hard to resist. The pretournament events and fan zones will be designed to capture the imagination of spectators, players and, most important, TV. The Golf Channel has very little original programming early in the week and TV ratings are crucial. This also is one of the channel’s signature events because it is one of the few PGA Tour stops it doesn’t pass over to a network on the weekend.

The tour’s TV contract runs through 2012. The new contract will have an impact on every tournament. That and the economy have caused everyone to scramble the past two years.

"It’s hard to do anything past 2012," Rolfing says. "Having said that, you can make deals and they will all be contingent on the TV deal. In the case of Hawaii, I don’t see any big changes in the components of our TV deals because of our prime-time potential. That makes sense for the Golf Channel. Hawaii is in a good position there and the Golf Channel likes to start the season here."

Rolfing sees the upcoming changes as "creating bigness" and making it "Hawaii’s tournament," along with laying the foundation for a long future. He also is a proponent of changing the tournament’s eligibility requirements to get a larger field, but that and other tweaks are a few years away.

For now, he is focusing on what he wants to re-brand the "Tournament of Champions," and another plan that would bring the LPGA’s TOC to Hawaii so all three tours open in the same state with similar events.

"I’ve been talking with a number of people about the idea," Rolfing says. "Whether it happens or not, I don’t know. Hawaii is a place where there should be at least one LPGA tournament. We went from one to three to zero.

"There should be an event here, particularly when the future growth of the game — whether it’s women or men, young or old … the emerging markets are in Asia. The Asian influence will be enormous on the tour schedules moving forward and Hawaii is the perfect bridge. It shouldn’t be that hard to sell."

Some players don’t have to be sold. Guys like Ernie Els and Jim Furyk are passionate about paradise and Anthony Kim already told Rolfing he is planning to come here for a month and fish between tee times.

"The best thing about this from my standpoint is that there is a new energy," says Rolfing, who started the Kapalua International in 1982 to market Kapalua, where he was a partner. "It needed some new energy. Mercedes and the whole TOC thing have been here 11 years, which is a pretty long time for one event at one site. It needed some refreshing. That’s all it needed."


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