As the PGA Tour crawls out of the nation’s economic hazard, Hawaii’s tourism industry should be poised to expand the islands’ reputation as a golfers’ paradise. The state has been fortunate in maintaining its host role in the opening two men’s events of the year and should take advantage of its position to restore at least one of the three LPGA tournaments by next year.
The Hawaii Tourism Authority last month extended its partnership with the PGA through 2014, paying $1.7 million this year. The tour opened its season on Maui this week with the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, eligible to winners of last year’s tour events.
The full-field Sony Open at Waialae Country Club will be played next week, followed by the senior Champions Tour’s Mitsubishi Electric Championship on the Big Island and Wendy’s Champions Skins Game on Maui.
In recent years, the state has lost a Champions Tour event on Oahu, Kauai’s Grand Slam of Golf consisting of the champions of the year’s four major PGA events and all of what once were three LPGA tournaments.
Other events on the mainland also have disappeared, as longtime tournament sponsors such as Buick, Chrysler, FBR and Stanford Finance have bowed out.
At a news conference at Kapalua, PGA commissioner Tim Finchem said, "This year, we have stabilized and the economy seems to be picking back up and we have come through a good, solid year of doing a lot of business in a bad environment."
The LPGA should be able to position itself in Hawaii in the first three months of the year. This year’s first two events for the women are not scheduled until the third and fourth weeks of February in Thailand and Singapore, and their first tournament on U.S. fairways will be the third week in March. Hawaii would be an ideal venue on the way to Asia or back to the mainland.
Hawaii-born Michelle Wie is scheduled to graduate from Stanford University next year, allowing her stardom to be featured in such events as she becomes a full-time player.
Golf is a tourism generator because it is more than the spectator sport shown on television. A study two years ago by SRI International estimated that 12.5 percent of out-of-state visitors to Hawaii or international travelers golf once or twice during their visits, amounting to nearly 100,000 golf-related trips yearly, with golfing travelers spending more than twice a day that spent by non-golfers.
Hawaii’s golf industry has been estimated at more than $1 billion yearly. Televised expansion of the islands’ links could significantly increase that revenue.