Mark Rolfing still isn't positive exactly what happened.
In his first extended interview since being let go, the former tournament organizer of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions said the future of the event at the Kapalua Plantation Course appears to be up in the air.
There is a contract in place for the first tournament on the PGA Tour calendar to be played at Kapalua for 2012 and 2013. Past that, it appears to be anyone's guess.
‘I still do not really know what happened and certainly don’t understand it.’
– Mark Rolfing, on being relieved as Hyundai Tournament of Champions organizer
The PGA Tour is currently in search of an executive director for the event and hopes to have someone in place within a month who will be in charge of it "24-7," PGA
Tour executive vice president Ty Votaw said last month. That left Rolfing, the longtime Kapalua resident and golf analyst for The Golf Channel and NBC Sports, out of the role he played for the 2011 event.
"I still do not really know what happened and certainly don't understand it," Rolfing said via phone Thursday from New York. "We knew that when the Mark and Debi Rolfing Charitable Foundation took over last year as the host organization that would be a short-term, one-year deal. There was going to be a transition to a new host organization this year, which I had been working on ... and had recruited all the board members. That process was well under way."
Rolfing said, "the separate issue that did change was my role as the tournament organizer. My understanding was that it was going to be the same as it was last year, whereby I was pretty much the one who pretty much organized the planning, the thought process, the sales effort - all the initiatives to put together the event which Nancy Cross became the tournament director for and ran for the Mark and Debi Rolfing Charitable Foundation. That is who hires the staff."
Until May, when things changed.
"It became apparent to us at some point in April that there was a change being considered, being discussed," Rolfing said. "It had not been discussed with us, me or Nancy. It was primarily a discussion between the PGA Tour and Hyundai about wanting to go in a different direction with tournament management. It was evidently centered around wanting to hire a full-time executive director for the tournament. We found out in May that, in fact, there was going to be a change."
The work that Rolfing had put into the 2012 event came to a halt right there.
"My efforts basically had to, at that point, stop and were going to be restarted at some point when an executive director was hired," Rolfing said. "The PGA Tour and Hyundai didn't really want to make any more decisions or do any more selling of tournament assets or anything until a tournament director came on."
Votaw did not return phone calls seeking comment on the situation, but said last month that he wants Rolfing to continue to be involved in the event, perhaps as a board member. Rolfing said he has no hard feelings.
"I wouldn't say I was upset - I did not understand the situation and I was concerned more than anything for the event and the community that this change was going to be made in the middle of the year," he said. "Would it be able to continue and be successful under the plan that we had been working on for the first few months since it was going to stop for a while? I wasn't upset personally as I was confused as to why it was happening. I was concerned about having a successful event, the most successful event possible."
The executive director title for this event is new and the person who gets it will have a lot of work to get done in a short time. All PGA Tour events have a tournament director, in this case Cross, and/or an executive director as the Kapalua event is now in search of.
"I have not been involved in the search for a tournament director, I do not know what the job description is, I only know what I have read and heard from the PGA Tour and that is that they want somebody 24-7," he said. "That seems to be the number one criteria, someone totally dedicated to this tournament."
Rolfing said the future of the tournament is complicated by the overlapping contracts that go with the event.
"I certainly hope so," Rolfing said when asked if the tournament will continue at Kapalua. "The (Hawaii Tourism Authority) has a contract with the PGA Tour, which has three years remaining which guarantees that the season will begin in Hawaii. To me, at least short term, I don't see any scenario where the PGA Tour is going to go outside the state to begin the season, but having said that, it is highly complicated that the Hyundai contract is only two years more and the television contract for all of the networks for the whole schedule is only one more year, 2012.
"So there are different end times on these contracts that are going to have some conflicting forces in play here. I would think that all of that planning beyond 2012 is in the process right now with the sponsor, with the PGA Tour and with The Golf Channel that has the contract to televise it."
Rolfing said there is little chance that Hyundai would ever move the event out of the country.
"I can't imagine it ever being held in Korea," he said. "This is primarily an initiative of Hyundai Motor America, so could I see a scenario where someday they might be interested in being involved in a tournament on the Mainland, in Southern California, or some other market? I think the answer to that is 'Yes.' But as much as their business is expanding I don't necessarily see a scenario where they would have to trade a Hawaii event to move it to the Mainland."
Rolfing points to the merger between Comcast and NBC Universal as perhaps revolutionizing televised golf in the future. That relationship helped lead to the decision to move the 2012 TOC to a Monday finish, to avoid some of the television conflict with the NFL playoffs. The tournament will finish just before kickoff of the BCS championship game and is only the second PGA Tour event with a planned Monday finish.
"To me there is going to be more flexibility and more thought toward what is the best thing for each tournament and each week and each sponsor," he said. "It doesn't necessarily have to be a Thursday to Sunday 3 to 6 (p.m. Eastern) telecast. You might see more prime-time golf, who knows?"
Rolfing is hopeful that the festivities implemented prior to the 2011 event - hula dancers for the FedEx Cup kickoff, long drive contests, a pro-am involving local juniors and the professionals, among others - continues. And perhaps the biggest stamp Rolfing placed on the event, making it the first on tour to feature free admission, is the one he can't imagine going away.
"The weekend before is the holiday weekend, New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, so there is a lot of factors involved," he said. "Air travel, rooms, just a lot that has to be done in a very short period of time for all of that. I certainly hope that what we started and what we thought was really successful last year continues. I think the intent is to try to continue all of that, although there may be some changes. It may well be up to this new executive director to make some decisions."
One of the first elements on the new executive director's plate will be the qualification criteria for the event. Before it was branded the Tournament of Champions for 2011, Rolfing had discussed letting past champions at Kapalua into the event that currently takes only Tour champions from the previous season. With the PGA Tour rule limiting nonmembers' appearances, he had been seeking an exemption for the TOC so it would not count against the limit, as The Players Championship has. European Tour members Charl Schwartzel, Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke - the 2011 majors' champions - are allowed only 10 appearances per season in PGA Tour events.
"I do plan on getting together as soon as someone is hired for that position." Rolfing said. "Obviously they are going to have to hit the ground running quickly and very quickly have to understand the history of the event and how things work on a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. I'm pretty surprised that we have gone this far and we still don't know what the plan is here."
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com