Is there a better way to start the new year than a week playing golf and enjoying the pleasures of Maui? For most of us, the answer is obvious … let’s pack the bags and go!
For PGA Tour players, a week on Maui at the beginning of a new year is an even sweeter prospect, as it means they’ll be teeing it up at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua, traditionally played the first week of January.
One of the most difficult events on tour for which to qualify, a player needs to have won during the previous season to garner an invitation. But it’s also one of the most popular events once the qualification threshold has been met, as players often bring their families and friends to Kapalua for a week of golf, water sports, and fun in the sun.
THE GLUE OF THE RESORT
Professional golf has been played at Kapalua since 1982, first as the Kapalua Open, then as the Kapalua International, and in recent years as the Tournament of Champions. This year (2018) marked the first of a five-year sponsorship commitment for Sentry Insurance.
“Having the commitment of a new title sponsor for five years is tremendous,” said Alex Nakajima, general manager of Kapalua Golf & Tennis. “The Sentry Tournament of Champions at Kapalua is Hawaii’s most iconic competitive golf tournament, and the long-term commitment from Sentry, the PGA Tour, and the entire state will continue to ensure a successful event that supports the tourism industry and our local charities.”
The tournament is contested over the Plantation Course, heralded among the best layouts in the Aloha State. “The Plantation Course brings out the best in the game’s greatest players because it demands so much creativity,” stated Mark Rolfing, golf commentator for NBC Sports.
“There is a misperception that the course favors only the long hitters, but that’s not true at all. Both Jim Furyk and Zack Johnson have won here, as have a number of medium-length players. Of course Dustin Johnson (pictured) won this year with amazing length. But I think when a course demands so much creativity in decision-making and shotmaking, it piques the interest level of everyone.”
Over the years, some epic tournament finishes have helped distinguish the course and the tournament. One of the most memorable occurred in 2000 when Ernie Els and Tiger Woods — who was going for his fifth consecutive PGA Tour victory, the longest streak in almost 50 years — both eagled the 18th hole to force a playoff. Woods dramatically drained a 40-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole for the win in what turned out to be one of his most amazing years on tour.
“The tournament really became the glue of this resort,” Rolfing said. “It became the mana (spirit) of this resort, and it still is today.”
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