The world of professional golf has launched into 2020 in grand style. Maui, where the sea meets the land in spectacular fashion, traditionally plays host to the first PGA Tour event of the new year, and this year was no exception.
Just a few miles from the first tee of the Plantation Course at Kapalua, where the tournament takes place, is the quaint little village of Lahaina, which reminds me of Sag Harbor. Just like Sag Harbor, this little Hawaiian village is steeped in whaling history, complete with its own whaling museum. The whales still return every winter to these Maui waters, and it’s amazing to see them breach and play in the water.
Lahaina is also noted for the famous Banyan tree planted in 1873 and located in the center of the village. It is the largest Banyan tree in the United States at over 60 feet tall with 46 huge branches wide enough to provide shade for two-thirds of an acre.
Well, that’s enough about the “trees,” now let’s get to the “tees.” The Tournament of Champions, a winners-only event on the PGA Tour, is sponsored by Sentry Insurance, a company out of Wisconsin focused on business insurance. 2020 is the third year of a five-year contract for the Sentry sponsorship, but they have been so pleased with all aspects of their involvement and the results it has provided that they’ve just torn up that contract and signed a new 10-year deal. The extension is great for the people of Maui and particularly the local charities involved.
The Plantation course is a very difficult test and when the wind blows, the examination is severe. The winds did blow this week, at times reaching 40 miles per hour. These are the best players in the world and despite the windy conditions, they still managed to put on quite a show. After four days and 72 holes of golf, Justin Thomas, Xander Schauffele, and Patrick Reed were all still tied for the lead and were promptly sent back to the very long, downhill par-five 18th hole to begin the playoff. The stakes were huge. In fact, the winner would earn over $700,000 more than the other two, who would be tied for second place.
With darkness quickly closing in, the 18th hole had to be replayed three times before Justin Thomas finally prevailed and notched his 12th win on Tour. Thomas now joins Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods as the only players in the last 60 years to win 12 times on Tour before the age of 27 . . . pretty good company I’d say.
In other news, I had the opportunity to interview Jay Monahan, the Commissioner of the PGA Tour. He is full of optimism going forward into this new decade. Of course, I had to ask about the inclusion of legalized sports betting on the PGA Tour. The Tour is always looking for more fan involvement and Monahan thinks legalized sports betting will become a huge factor as fans will be able to place a wager on the action as it happens. I’ll be interested to see how this plays out. By the way, this concept has been in play in Europe for quite some time.
So, professional golf is off to a good start in 2020. One thing is certain, if a trip to paradise is on your bucket list, now is a great time to visit Maui.