Kapalua's elite formula must stay, says chairman

Updated: 2010-01-13 11:37
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LOS ANGELES - For the last 12 years the U.S. PGA Tour season has kicked off on the picturesque Hawaiian island of Maui with a winners-only field, an elite quality tournament chairman Gary Planos is determined to retain.

Although last week's entry for the SBS Championship at the Kapalua Resort numbered only 28, matching the record low when the event first moved to Maui in 1999, Planos feels any change to the qualification would be counterproductive.

"I am a firm believer in the formula here," Planos told Reuters after Australian Geoff Ogilvy won the season-opener for a second year in a row. "I believe in the simplicity.

"I like it that the players know that when they win (on the PGA Tour) in 2010 they are coming to the 2011 SBS Championship. They are qualified to play. Everyone understands it."

World number one Tiger Woods has not competed at Kapalua since 2005 while second-ranked Phil Mickelson has skipped the tournament for the last nine years, prompting calls for a change to the tournament's qualification process.

Some have suggested a two-year exemption to the season-opener for PGA Tour winners while others have proposed that all previous champions at Kapalua should receive invitations.

According to Planos, giving PGA Tour winners a two-year exemption to Kapalua would effectively double the field and thereby undermine the tournament's prestige.

"If we had, say, a 54-man field, there would be a lot of complications," Planos said. "We provide them all with rooms and a car while they are here, so that figure would be double.

"Also take a look at how the purse breaks down. When you start to think how special it is to win, well you dilute it quite a bit when you add another 26 players to that field."


The players and their families are pampered at Kapalua much more than they are at any other PGA Tour event.

American world number three Steve Striker, the highest-ranked player in last week's field, cherishes the tournament's elite nature.

"It's great the way it is," the seven-times PGA Tour champion said. "It's one of the very first things I think about when I win a tournament is that you get to start the year here.

 "If you started including other categories ... that diminishes the value of winning. The way it is, it gives a guy a little bonus for winning at the end of the year and gets him going in the right direction for the new year."

The fragility of the global economy could also impact on the future of the SBS Championship, and several cutbacks had to be made for last week's edition.

"We were definitely off a little bit with our attendance and our retail sales," Planos said. "If we continue to go through a year like 2009, we just have to keep watching our costs and try to keep things that are barely breaking even.

"We cut a few things we normally would do and hopefully the economy will return and we will bring them back."

The PGA Tour has a 10-year deal with SBS (Seoul Broadcasting Systems) as the tournament's title sponsor while the contract with Kapalua is until the end of 2011.

However, Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said last week plans were afoot to bring in a commercial title sponsor to work alongside SBS at Kapalua.

"The advantage of having a commercial sponsor brings one more element of investment in terms of marketing, and that's in everybody's interest," Finchem said.