The League of Extraordinary Golfers

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Story by Story by Sara Smith

golf-pros-visit-mauiOnce again, Maui is proud to welcome golf’s biggest icons—and with names like Palmer and Nicklaus in the mix, it’s fitting they’ll grace a course aptly named the Royal.

After a seven-year stint in Wailea, the Wendy’s Champions Skins Game is heading west to Ka‘anapali Golf Resort for a two-day event on February 23 and 24. Given the completion of a recent multimillion-dollar renovation to the Royal Ka‘anapali Golf Course (formerly known as the Tournament North), the timing could not be better. Ka‘anapalii’s  poised to roll out the red carpet for the kings of their sport.

The invitational Wendy’s Champions Skins Game pairs four golf legends with four prominent field leaders on the PGA Champions Tour in an alternate-shot, team format. Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus are this year’s defending team champs. Nicklaus may be largely retired from competitive play, but he and Watson will have to stay on top of their game to fend off the powerful duos of Gary Player and Loren Roberts, and Peter Jacobsen and Fuzzy Zoeller. And there’s no doubt that all eyes will be on long-time Skins regular Arnold Palmer, newly paired with Jay Haas. Still competing at the amazing age of seventy nine, Palmer has missed only one game in the event’s twenty-one-year history. The man is a skins institution!

 

Those familiar with the skins format know that it’s a game designed for suspense, filled with thrilling, tie-breaking play-offs. Each hole is essentially a tournament in itself, with is own dollar value, and when ties occur, the tension builds, as that hole’s “skin,” or bank, is carried over to the following hole. (The term “skin” is said to come from golf’s homeland, Scotland, where early players waged not money, but animal hides.) In 2006, Ray Floyd and Dana Quigley won the largest skin ever, walking away with $410,000 after a nine-hole carryover. The title of Most Skins Won goes to none other than the Golden Bear himself, Jack Nicklaus, whose career total of ninety-six wins is nearly thirty more than that of his nearest competitor, Floyd.

Catching a glimpse of the greats in action is the beauty of this spectator-friendly event. And the players are out there to put on a show for the fans—a bonus of the Wendy’s Champions Skins Game’s unique alternate-shot format. “Because golfers are paired up, there is always some great banter and chit chat between them. It’s fun to watch,” says Melissa Ludwig, sales and marketing manager for Ka‘anapali Golf Resort.

Banter, indeed: In the hole that sent all four teams into a playoff in 2007, Nicklaus told teammate Tom Watson, who’d been struggling with his short game all day, “Partner, I’m going to hit [the ball] so close you’re not going to have to putt this.” And he did, knocking the ball within a ten-inch tap-in to the hole.

 

The Royal Ka‘anapali Golf Course, a Robert Trent Jones Sr. design, is the tournament’s fifth venue. Prior to Maui, the game was played on the Big Island, and O‘ahu before that. Ka‘anapali three-year agreement promises to deliver many thrilling “one for the record books” moments. In fact, the course brags one oceanfront hole in which a subtle miscalculation can easily land a ball on that mother of all bunkers, Ka‘anapali Beach, not to mention the distractions of the resort’s beautiful Black Rock—and bevies of bathing beauties in itty-bitty bikinis!

Course Manager Ed Kageyama notes that “the 18th hole is known as one of the toughest finishing holes in the Senior Tour.” That’s a point Palmer and Nicklaus may remember— as the United States team, the two won the World Cup on this very course back in 1964.

 

Watch It Here:

Head to Ka‘anapali to walk the course with these golf greats. Tee time is 8 a.m. Saturday and Sunday, with nine holes of play each day. There is no gate fee, and parking is free with validation before 11 a.m. at Whalers Village Shopping Center. Shuttles will be available periodically, or simply make the short trek across to the course. Visit www.kaanapaliresort.com for more information.

Watch It Anywhere:

Catch the action, and sunny Maui, on ESPN. National televised coverage is on a same-day, tape-delayed basis Saturday, February 23, and Sunday, February 24, from 4 to 6 p.m. ET, 1 to 3 p.m. PT, and 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. HT. (Times vary in different areas; check your local listings.)

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