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The 50th state might not have any professional teams of its own, but the annual calendar of spectator sports in Hawaii still provides thrilling opportunities for watching high-caliber events.
Depending on their sport of choice, travelers can time their Hawaii vacation with high-profile games, competitions and tournaments showcasing some of the top athletes in their fields. The Hawaii Tourism Authority has even developed its own sports marketing program designed specifically to increase the destination’s sports presence to a globally competitive level.
Following are seven of the many spectator sports that give clients a great excuse for a trip to Hawaii.
Hawaii PoloThundering hooves drum up excitement on Oahu’s north shore each year during Hawaii polo season, running from early April to mid-July and early September to late October. Celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2013, the Hawaii Polo Club hugs the beach in Mokuleia, a beautiful setting for Sunday afternoon matches featuring players and ponies from around the world. Half-time festivities include skydiving exhibitions.www.hawaii-polo.org
Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head ClassicThis year-end invitational tournament showcases some of the top U.S. college basketball teams at the University of Hawaii’s Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu. The 2013 lineup includes tournament host Hawaii plus Boise State, George Mason, Iowa State, St. Mary’s, Oregon State and South Carolina. With 12 games spread across Dec. 22, 23 and 25, the tournament is perfect for hoop enthusiasts who spend the holidays on Oahu.www.diamondheadclassic.com
Hyundai Tournament of ChampionsEach January, this nationally televised contest serves as the first Professional Golfers Association Tour event of the calendar year. Only champions from the previous PGA Tour season are eligible to compete, which means visitors can watch some of the world’s best pros while enjoying breathtaking mountain and ocean views from the Plantation Course at Kapalua Resort. The 2013 cup went to Dustin Johnson.www.pgatour.com/hyundai
Maui InvitationalBoasting a 30-year history, this early season basketball tournament packs the stands in the Lahaina Civic Center, less than 1,000 yards from the ocean. For 2013, host Chaminade University welcomes teams from around the U.S. including Arkansas, Baylor, California, Dayton, Gonzaga, Minnesota and Syracuse. The championship round takes place from Nov. 25-27, 2013.www.mauiinvitational.com
Pro BowlIn January, while it’s cold and snowy on the mainland, sunny Honolulu hosts this annual National Football League all-star game at Aloha Stadium. Thousands of fans flock to Hawaii and the event generates millions of dollars in visitor spending. Wholesalers usually sell travel packages including airfare, accommodations, transfers, tailgate parties and tickets to the big game, next slated for Jan. 26, 2014.www.nfl.com
Sony OpenHere’s another January standout. The Sony Open in Hawaii attracts 144 top-notch golfers to the picturesque links of Oahu’s Waialae Country Club, where fairways are flanked by statuesque mountains and dazzling seas. Broadcast internationally, the action benefits Hawaiian charities and has raised over $12 million in the past 15 years. The 2013 winner was 23-year-old rookie Russell Henley.www.friendsofhawaii.org
Vans Triple Crown of SurfingWhen the surf’s up, it’s time to head to Oahu’s north shore for this high-profile professional surfing series, staged in monstrous winter waves. Three separate events take place throughout November and December on days when the conditions are biggest and best. Check out the action at the North Shore’s three premier surfing destinations: Haleiwa, Sunset Beach and Pipeline.www.triplecrownofsurfing.com