PGA considers field cuts
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By Bill Kwon
Money talks. Just ask Sony officials who won't lose any of their six sponsor's exemptions to the Sony Open in Hawai'i golf tournament at the Waialae Country Club. It might be a different matter for the Aloha Section PGA, which could lose three spots for its players starting next year.
Advertiser library photo Jan. 11, 2002
Jerry Kelly earned $720,000 for his Sony Open in Hawai'i win in 2002.
Advertiser library photo Jan. 11, 2002
One of the tournaments being considered is the Sony Open in Hawai'i.
It is not simply a matter of lopping off the bottom 12 players based on an eligibility list. The reduction would impact the number of sponsor's exemptions and local sectional qualifiers. There is also the possibility of eliminating the Monday qualifying for four spots.
"We made a big issue with the PGA Tour about it," said Dale Nagata, a Sony representative involved with the golf tournament. He said the idea to reduce the field to 132 players was not on the table when Sony and the PGA Tour negotiated a new four-year contract, starting in 2003, which will offer a total of $20 million in prize money.
"We expressed our dissatisfaction in a letter to the PGA," Nagata said. "And all the pros we talked to didn't want the field cut."
Besides, he added, a delay because of darkness has never been an issue in Hawai'i for all these years, especially in view of a 7 a.m. starting time.
Whether the field is cut to 132 players, Sony won't be losing any of its sponsor's exemptions. One of them is given to a local amateur making the Governor's Cup team.
With its huge money commitment, Sony got more than a listening ear from the PGA Tour.
Its new contract calls for purse increases of $4.5 million in 2003, $4.8 million in 2004, $5.2 million in 2005 and $5.5 million in 2006. The winner will get $810,000 next year with payoff increases moving to $864,000, $936,000 and $990,000 in the final year. This year's Sony Open winner Jerry Kelly pocketed $720,000.
Cutting the field and at the same time asking for more prize money sure seems like chutzpah.
In contrast, the Aloha Section PGA has no bargaining chips other than good will. A reduced field could mean the loss of three spots one going to the player of the year and two others during a local sectional qualifying.
"We'll probably know after the policy board's decision," said Paul Sugimoto, executive secretary of the Aloha Section PGA.
Sugimoto is obviously opposed to cutting the field because of its impact on the local section. But the real issue, he said, is the need to enforce the pace of play instead of cutting the field. And, it's only for the first two rounds. There's plenty of daylight for those who make it to the weekend after the 36-hole cut.
Sponsors like Sony are important in golf. That's why golf fans don't mind tournaments such as the Western Open which began in 1899 to rank it as the oldest tour event other than the British Open and U.S. Open tacking on the names of sponsors in order to survive. The tournament is now the Advil Western Open.
In Hawai'i, we have Sony to thank for keeping a PGA Tour event in Hawai'i.
Next week's Hawai'i State Open at the Makena Resort lost its title sponsor at the last minute.
That's why, too, the name change for the developmental tour has been well received. Starting next year, no more Buy.com Tour; it will be the Nationwide Tour.
Which brings us to the new name of the Senior PGA Tour. Starting next year, it will simply be called the Champions Tour.
Maybe it's a senior moment on the part of old folks like me, but you have to wonder about that name change. If these guys are good, as that TV spot keeps telling us, why worry if the word "senior" is still incorporated in the tour's name?
Besides, as NBC-TV analyst Mark Rolfing pointed out, "The name change is probably OK, but I wish more of the champions would play on the senior tour along with the name change."
Interestingly, Rolfing thinks the biggest problem with the senior tour is that they're playing for too much money.
"Guys now are grinding it out. It's not fun anymore as it once was," he said.
As a case in point, Rolfing cited the recent Turtle Bay Championship in which Hale Irwin won in a playoff over Gary McCord. It wasn't the fun-loving McCord he knew.
"If they weren't playing for so much money, it would be fun again," Rolfing said.
Royal Kunia set to open
The city received payment of $2.5 million Friday from the new owners of the Royal Kunia Country Club, paving the way for the Central O'ahu golf course to finally open after nine years.
The target date for the opening is next April, according to Alan Goda, attorney for Japan BIO Co., an importing and investment firm in Tokyo. It purchased a holding company that had the rights to the golf course in the city's deal with JAC Hawai'i, the previous owner.
Under the terms of the agreement made in July, 2001, in exchange for waiving of the remaining $13 million impact fee, the owner of Royal Kunia would pay the city $2.5 million and $1 per round in perpetuity.
"The city has been paid the $2.5 million. We're in compliance. There are no more constraints. We can now operate the golf course," Goda said.
It is now a matter of fixing up the golf course, buying equipment, including golf carts, and making plans to build a clubhouse, he said.
Bill Kwon can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.