Weather for the first round of the Sony Open at the Waialae Country Club Thursday was picture perfect. However, storm clouds may be gathering as professional golf in Hawaii faces an uncertain future.
Starting in October, the PGA will move to a wrap-around schedule, which means the Sony and the Hyundai Tournament of Champions in Kapalua will take place on the same calendar dates, but come near mid-season.
The impact of the schedule change on professional golf in Hawaii remains the big unknown. Some believe it will lead to even more of the sport’s top stars skipping a visit to the islands, while others say it could lead to an even larger field.
“I think that more of the players will play at that time, and I don't know how much really it will affect Kapalua and the Sony Open, “ said Mark Russell, the PGA’s vice president for rules and competition. “They’re still going to be basically the same events. The general public is going to think, ‘Well that's the start of the year,’ and so I think it's going to work out good.”
PGA pro Scott Piercy, the Las Vegas native who shot a first round 64 at the Sony, said he loves coming to Hawaii at the start of a new year, but feels some of golf’s bigger names will continue to skip tournaments in the Aloha State.
“I think those tournaments will still be a little bit weaker, kind of how they are, and compared to say like a normal full field event,” said Piercy. “But, I do think you'll start to get a handful of guys each year that'll add those in just to get a head start.”
The PGA is in the process of negotiating another contract with Hyundai to sponsor the Tournament of Champions in 2014, while the Sony has another year of sponsorship remaining. There’s also been speculation that the Sony will move to a later date in January, so that more pros consider entering the field.
“That'll have to go through the commissioner's office, and see what they want to do, but there has been some talk about that,” Russell confirmed.
Both the Tournament of Champions and the Sony have tremendous global reach. It’s estimated the Sony is watched by 560 million homes in more than 220 countries. Losing either tournament would be a huge blow to Hawaii’s tourism economy, as well as local charities.
“The leading money winner on the tour is charity,” said Russell. “It really helps a lot of people, and that's why these golf tournaments are so important to these communities.”