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Mercedes Championship may move from Hawaii

In more ways than one, the picturesque Kapalua Resort on the island of Maui has provided PGA Tour players with a slice of paradise for the season-opening Mercedes-Benz Championship.

Every competitor in the elite winners-only field is guaranteed a cheque at the end of the week and most of them arrive in Hawaii well ahead of the tournament to relax on a family holiday.

The hilly Plantation Course boasts the widest fairways on Tour, ideal for golfers eager to shake off rust after a brief end-of-season break, and the warm weather is a major plus with plunging temperatures affecting much of the U.S. mainland.

However, the likelihood of Kapalua staging the tournament beyond next year, when the current contract with both the resort and the title sponsor is up for renewal, remains in doubt.

The global financial crisis has created turmoil in the auto industry and left professional golf vulnerable to the loss of marketing and advertising dollars.

“We have one more year on the contract with Kapalua and we are looking at some options in terms of what is the best future for this tournament,” PGA Tour Commissioner Tim Finchem told reporters during last week’s Mercedes-Benz Championship.

“I wouldn’t want to speculate on anything at this point. We have done this (changed venues) before. We have done it a couple of times. It’s not the only place we do it.

“I think the way we like to believe you will get better is to constantly challenge what you are doing and ask the question: ‘Can you do it better?’

“It doesn’t necessarily mean we will do anything particularly different but we are looking at some other options.”

The Mercedes-Benz Championship has been held at Kapalua since 1999, having been moved from La Costa in southern California after a 30-year run at a venue which was often cold and waterlogged.

Although a few players, notably world number one Tiger Woods and three-times major winner Phil Mickelson, have skipped Kapalua in recent years, most have relished making the trip.

“It’s a great place to come the first week of January,” Australian Geoff Ogilvy said after winning the tournament by six strokes on Sunday. “The course is perfect and everyone loves it.

“Obviously the tournament would love some of the bigger guys to play, but I don’t think it’s a matter of location why some of those guys might not play. I just think they don’t want to play the first week of January.”

PGA Tour veteran Davis Love III, tournament champion at La Costa in 1993, agreed.

“We all want it to stay here,” the 44-year-old said after tying for second place on Sunday.

“There are a few players who don’t like coming here but, for the most part, this is a great place for us to come. I love coming here and I would hate to see it leave.”

Thirty-three players competed at Kapalua last week, although there were four notable absentees from the 2008 list of eligible PGA Tour winners.

World number one Woods is still recovering from reconstructive knee surgery while second-ranked Spaniard Sergio Garcia, American Mickelson (third) and Irishman Padraig Harrington (fourth) opted not to play.

However, seven of the world’s top 15 made the journey to Maui—including fifth-ranked Fijian Vijay Singh, Colombia’s Camilo Villegas (seventh) and South African Ernie Els (ninth).


January 12, 2009

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