Long-term stability touted by officials
Things were up in the air last year but Sentry’s sponsorship firms up Kapalua
KAPALUA — It was early in a roundtable setting with print journalists who cover the PGA Tour on Sunday morning when commissioner Jay Monahan acknowledged just how far the Sentry Tournament of Champions has come in his 12 months at the helm.
One year earlier, Monahan was brand new to his position and questions about the future of the PGA Tour’s presence in the 50th state abounded. Sponsorship deals for the winners-only event at the Kapalua Plantation Course and the full-field Sony Open at Waialae Country Club the following week on Oahu were running out.
“I look at our friends here,” Monahan said, nodding toward the Hawaii journalists at the table. “We were sitting in the room last year, and there was uncertainty as to who the future sponsor of this tournament was going to be and what the future of the Sony Open was. I think I said then that I wasn’t worried about it.”
Monahan recalled adding that he was “not exactly certain how we’re going to do it, but we’re going to figure it out as a priority.”
Sentry Insurance, a company based in Stevens Point, Wis., announced in August a five-year deal to sponsor the Maui event, with a company option for 2023, committing to keep it at the Plantation Course throughout the deal. Sony announced a similar-length commitment to the Oahu event in December.
The tournament at Kapalua was title-sponsored in 2017 by the Seoul (Korea) Broadcasting System and known as the SBS Tournament of Champions. SBS signed a 10-year deal that began in 2010 as a backup sponsor, guaranteeing it would step forward as the title sponsor if no other could be found.
Hyundai’s six-year run as title sponsor ended in 2016; Mercedes sponsored the event from 1999 to 2009.
Mark Rolfing, a longtime Kapalua resident, analyst for The Golf Channel and chairman of the 2011 Kapalua TOC, said that some of the previous sponsorship agreements did not guarantee the Plantation Course as the venue as the Sentry deal now does.
“Ultimately, the PGA Tour runs the tournament, but as the sponsor we want to make sure that we have a great tournament for everybody involved,” Randy Winter, Sentry’s manager of corporate communications, said Friday. “Not just for us, but for the golfers, for the Plantation Course, for the island of Maui, everyone who comes to the tournament. It needs to be special, so that’s what we’re hoping for.”
Hawaii is solidified at the beginning of the calendar for the foreseeable future, Monahan stressed.
“I fully expected that we would find sponsors and these two events would be in an important position that they are in,” Monahan said. “But having five-year commitments allows both organizations to be able to plan, to put their teams in place.
“To know you’ve got at least five more years, I think that gives you a lot of flexibility to really grow the tournament, and to do some things differently as opposed to when you’re dealing with uncertainty.”
The Sentry team made a clear impression on the commissioner this year at Kapalua. He called the sponsorship by Sentry, a Fortune 50 insurance company, “extremely positive.”
“They’re great people and in their own way, they bring that Midwestern flair to Hawaii,” Monahan said.
He noted that the sponsorship is “an important investment” for Sentry “because they’re reintroducing, they’re rebranding, and they’re trying to build stronger and deeper relationships.”
“That’s what this marketplace does,” he said. “You get people here, and it’s a perfect formula.”
The players themselves seemed to rally to support the venue as the questions grew at the 2017 tournament.
“We’ve been playing here for a long time, and we’re going to be playing here for a long time,” Monahan said. “And we feel really good about the fact that we don’t have to answer that question, at least, for the foreseeable future.”
The requirement to be eligible for the Sentry Tournament of Champions — a PGA Tour win in the preceding calendar year — makes the event unique, Monahan said. Comparing it to any other events with exclusive entry requirements, like the Tour Championship or Players Championship, isn’t necessary.
“Listen, this tournament is a tournament for players who won last year. Winning out here is so hard to do. So, it’s unique in and of itself for that very reason,” Monahan said.
“The importance of being here and being able to compete against this quality field and be recognized as a champion, I think that’s what this tournament is and what this tournament will continue to be. As it compares to anything else, I think you should focus on what it is because it’s pretty special.”
The event could grow even more if discussions with the LPGA perhaps playing a winners-only type event in conjunction with the Sentry TOC here continue to develop, Monahan said.
“I think that’s something we’re still interested in . . . and that’s something that we’ll continue to talk about as we go down the road,” he said.
Monahan said that he’s had talks with the LPGA and its commissioner Mike Whan about the tournament and holding it at Kapalua or at another PGA tournament.
“It’s something that we think is important, and I would like to think that we’ll get there at some point,” he said.
* Robert Collias can be reached at rcolias@mauinews. com.
World Golf Ranking
1. Dustin Johnson, USA 11.19
2. Jordan Spieth, USA 9.03
3. Jon Rahm, ESP 8.79
4. Justin Thomas, USA 8.30
5. Hideki Matsuyama, JPN 7.89
6. Justin Rose, ENG 7.75
7. Rickie Fowler, USA 6.83
8. Brooks Koepka, USA 6.15
9. Henrik Stenson, SWE 5.78
10. Sergio Garcia, ESP 5.56
11. Rory McIlroy, NIR 5.50
12. Marc Leishman, AUS 5.23
13. Jason Day, AUS 4.91
14. Paul Casey, ENG 4.80
15. Matt Kuchar, USA 4.65
PGA Tour FedEx Cup Leaders
1. Pat Perez 761 $1,973,532
2. Dustin Johnson 718 $1,939,667
3. Patton Kizzire 713 $1,787,872
4. Patrick Cantlay 609 $1,449,900
5. Austin Cook 601 $1,304,899
6. Justin Thomas 586 $1,843,250
7. Brendan Steele 586 $1,312,250
8. Justin Rose 550 $1,660,000
9. Brian Harman 478 $1,218,063
10. Chesson Hadley 458 $1,131,107
11. Tony Finau 453 $994,413
12. J.J. Spaun 427 $957,837
13. Rickie Fowler 415 $1,062,800
14. Whee Kim 411 $1,106,025
15. Marc Leishman 405 $1,267,500