Hawaii Island’s championship golf courses attract high-profile tournaments. // © 2014 HTA/Ron Garnett
Hawaii Island evokes a sense of adventure and exploration, which makes it a natural choice for hosting high-profile sporting events.
Whether it’s marathons and triathlons, golf and fishing tournaments or outrigger canoe races, the island’s big-time contests are enhanced by exotic and enticing scenery, all of which lures visitors to participate or cheer from the sidelines.
“Hawaii Island [nicknamed the Big Island] is a great destination for annual sporting events because of its size, year-round warm weather, diverse climate, incredible golf courses and extensive accommodations close to many of the events,” said Ross Birch, executive director of the Big Island Visitors Bureau. “We also offer countless land, sea and air tours for pre- and post-event activities.”
Hawaii Island’s marquee sports challenges generate valuable exposure for the destination in print and broadcast outlets across the country.
“Sports events help by elevating our brand and keeping Hawaii Island top of mind, ultimately driving demand for the destination,” Birch said.
Run, Bike and Swim Competitions
Emanating from the visitor hub of Kailua-Kona, the Ironman World Championship commands headlines around the globe each fall. Highly trained international athletes fly to the tropics in October to compete in the thrilling triathlon, which has been held on the Big Island since 1981.
With a lavish amount of live television coverage, Ironman is comprised of a 2.4-mile open-water swim in Kailua Bay, a 112-mile bike ride across the lava desert and a 26-mile marathon run. Spectators scream their support along the route, with the bulk of the applause coming from crowds at the finish line on Alii Drive near Kailua Pier.
Over the years, other ultra-events on the island have made a name for themselves. Among them are the Big Island International Marathon and Lavaman Triathlon Festival, both in March; the Ironman Half Triathlon in May, which is a qualifier for Ironman itself; Kona Marathon in June; and Ultraman World Championship in November.
Professional Golf Tourneys
Hawaii Island’s sunny skies and pristine fairways call to golf tournament organizers, many of whom have chosen the destination for their signature yearly events.
January brings the Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai Resort. This year’s impressive names on the Hualalai scoreboard included Fred Couples, Jeff Sluman, Jay Haas, Rocco Mediate and the 2014 winner, Bernhard Langer.
The annual Amer Ari Intercollegiate Golf Tournament takes place in February on the renowned Tom Weiskopf-designed Kings’ Course at Waikoloa Beach Golf Resort. Twenty top-ranked college teams join the action each year in the prestigious event.
Meanwhile, the island’s Mauna Lani Resort lays claim to another perfect venue for golf tournaments. In December, it hosts the Hawaii State Open Tournament, where professionals from around the state go head-to-head to determine the best golfer in the islands.
Hawaii Island’s calm and clear waters provide ideal conditions for deep-sea fishing, which explains the longevity of the Hawaiian International Billfish Tournament (HIBT). Celebrating its 55th anniversary in August, it’s often referred to as the grandfather of all big-game fishing tournaments.
Clients don’t have to cast a line to enjoy HIBT’s splashy schedule, which includes a parade in Kona, colorful daily weigh-ins at Kailua Pier and evening parties.
Outrigger canoe racing, a significant island sport since ancient days, draws plenty of attention on the Big Island. Visitors can marvel from shore as talented teams stroke in unison along the coastline.
Annual outrigger events include the Olamau Race, a 100-mile test spanning three consecutive days in June. Labor Day weekend ushers in the hallowed Queen Liliuokalani Race, with categories for single- and double-hull paddlers as well as stand-up paddleboarders.
Birch said he sees sports as a healthy market for Hawaii Island. He encouraged travel agents to pitch the island’s sporting events to their active-minded clients, whether they want to go for the gold or enjoy the action as fans.
“Hawaii Island’s major sporting events, paired with its convenience and attractions, will likely result in repeat visitors — and business — for travel agents and the destination,” said Birch.