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PGA Tour gets new sponsor for Kapalua

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS / 2016

    Justin Thomas hits from the seventh tee during the first round of the Tournament of Champions golf tournament at Kapalua Plantation Course on Kapalua, Hawaii. With a new five-year sponsorship deal with Sentry Insurance, the PGA Tour strengthened its commitment to start the new year in Hawaii.

Wisconsin-based Sentry Insurance has agreed to a five-year deal to become the title sponsor of the winners-only PGA Tour event at Kapalua, a move that strengthens the tour’s commitment to starting the new year in Hawaii.

The Sentry Tournament of Champions will be Jan. 4-7 and marks the 20th straight time the PGA Tour starts a new year on Maui.

“We just felt this was a perfect opportunity for Sentry to tell its story on a national basis, which you can do through tournament sponsorship,” said Pete McPartland, the chairman, chief executive and president of the 113-year-old mutual insurance company.

South Korean broadcaster SBS had been the title sponsor and briefly farmed it out to Hyundai until the automaker switched its sponsorship to Los Angeles and the Genesis Open at Riviera. SBS had been looking for a new sponsor to take over before its deal expired at the end of 2019.

Terms of the deal were not disclosed Wednesday.

Sentry becomes the new sponsor during a strong youth movement in golf that has invigorated the winners-only event at Kapalua. The Tournament of Champions had lost some luster when Tiger Woods stopped playing after 2005, a few years after Phil Mickelson decided not to start his year in Hawaii.

PGA champion Justin Thomas returns to defend his title, after he held off Hideki Matsuyama a year ago. The previous winners were British Open champion Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, two-time major champion Zach Johnson and former U.S. Open champion Dustin Johnson.

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McPartland described Sentry as a “quiet brand” that had grown rapidly and decided a few years ago to become more aggressive in extending that brand. Stephanie Smith, vice president of marketing and brand management, spearheaded a change in the company’s logo from the iconic Capt. John Parker of the Colonial era to one that copies the concept of yin and yang with an “S” visible in the middle.

The deal has additional meaning to Smith, whose parents had a vacation home on Maui. Her mother has been a volunteer at the Tournament of Champions for 10 years and expects to do it again.

“Now she gets a shirt with my company on it,” Smith said.

McPartland said the company hoped to benefit immediately from more name recognition. He said the partnership with the PGA Tour would allow it to entertain more top clients at Kapalua and other tournaments throughout the schedule.

Otherwise, only the name will change.

PGA Tour Commissioner Jay Monahan had said last year that the tour was contemplating a scenario where the LPGA Tour and the PGA Tour play a winners-only format at the same venue. “That has not materialized here,” Monahan said.

Meanwhile, the Sony Open in Honolulu is the week after the Tournament of Champions. Its title sponsorship ends in 2018. For years there was concern that if one of the tournaments had left, it would be more difficult to stage the other as a single event in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.

“We have been playing golf in Hawaii for over 50 years,” Monahan said. “And the two tournaments present a strong start to the calendar year that we are looking forward to continuing.”

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