No spectators, much fanfare at Hualalai: New look, usual loaded field for PGA Champions Tour opener in Kona

  • Miguel Angel Jimenez holds up the championship trophy in the 2020 Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai. (Mark Wineman/Special to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser)

  • Ernie Els takes a swing in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai, Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020. (Mark Wineman/Special to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser)

It’s going to look a little different, but the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai is back, celebrating its silver anniversary on the Big Island.

The biggest change? No fans will be in attendance for a tournament that runs Thursday through Saturday, making for a quieter atmosphere at the Four Seasons Hualalai. Even without fans lining the fairways, Mitsubishi Electric Championship tournament manager Kelly Fliear is excited the tournament is able to celebrate its 25th consecutive year. The resort has taken advantage of the down time during the pandemic to update their par 72 Jack Nicklaus course.

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“The tournament course – the Jack Nicklaus course – has been re-seeded with seaside paspalum grass; it looks unbelievable,” said Fliear of the improvements to the course that were finished in late 2020. “We’re just thankful to be able to host our event for 25 years at the same resort, which I think is one of the only events to be held at the same course for 25 consecutive years on the Champions Tour. We’re in rare air.”

The PGA Champions Tour, following a blueprint set by previous PGA Tour events during the pandemic, made the announcement in November stating their season-opening event was to be spectator-free.

“We’re disappointed we can’t host spectators; they’re a big part of golf and a big part of our community,” Fliear said. “We feel confident that we’re going to be able to produce a safe and healthy event, but still provide an uplift, hopefully: an event that can bring our community back into somewhat a sense of normalcy.”

Making their debut on the PGA Champions Tour will be “rookies” Shane Bertsch, K.J. Choi, Darren Clarke, Jim Furyk, Brett Quigley and Mike Weir. They’ll add to a field that boasts 11 Hall of Famers and six former world No. 1 ranked golfers: Fred Couples, Ernie Els, Bernhard Langer, Tom Lehman, Vijay Singh and Tom Watson.

“Tom Watson is kind of our Big Island representative,” Fliear said of the eight-time major champion. “He had a home here for many years, and he’s done a great job with some youth golf clinics in the off time. Everybody loves Tom.”

The golfers will be looking to top last year’s thriller finish, when Miguel Ángel Jiménez bested Couples and Els in a three-man playoff lasting two holes. The win marked the second time Jiménez claimed the makau hook trophy as tournament champ, making him one of eight golfers to have won the tournament multiple times.

“It was one of the most exciting finishes we’ve ever had,” Fliear said.

Golfers will tee off in the first of three rounds on Thursday at 2 p.m. Fans can tune into the Golf Channel to watch all three rounds.

“Your golden opportunity to experience the tournament is going to be in the comfort of your own home with your family,” Fliear said. “You’ll be able to tune in on the Golf Channel and see the beauty and golf skills that these tremendous Hall of Fame legends have to offer.”

Fliear expressed his gratitude that the PGA Champions Tour’s relationships with the Four Seasons Hualalai, charity partners including the Rotary Club of Kona, Daniel R. Sayre Memorial Foundation and the Big Island Junior Golf Association, as well as with the tournament’s sponsor Mitsubishi Electric have been strong throughout the tournament’s existence, and hopes it can continue to remain strong for another 25 years.

“This is Mitsubishi Electric’s 14th year sponsoring the tournament; they’ve been a great sponsor,” Fliear said. “We’d love to go for the golden anniversary. The first 25 years have been a real great experience, and it’s only going to get better.”

Champions Tour

When: Thursday-Saturday

Where: Hualalai Golf Course, par 72, 7,053 yards

TV: Golf Channel, 2 p.m. Thursday-Saturday

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The field: 6 former world

Nos. 1: Fred Couples, Ernie Els, Bernhard Langer, Tom Lehman, Vijay Singh and Tom Watson.

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