Sony Open brings big chunk of cash to islands, but how much is up for debate

WAIALAE, OAHU (HawaiiNewsNow) - PGA pro Tony Finau is playing in his fourth Sony Open golf tournament, and he didn't come to the islands alone.

This year, he brought along 20 family members and friends -- and they're all eager to add to Hawaii's economy.

"We were in Maui last week and we're in Oahu this week," he said. "Personally, we'll be spending quite a bit of money here while we're in Hawaii, but we're happy to do it."

Those words are music to tourism officials' ears.

But how much money the Sony Open actually brings to the state is up for some debate.

Tournament director Ray Stosik believes the bottom line is now close to about $100 million in marketing and economic impact. "Sony alone brings in 500 or 600 people from their Sony guests from Japan, the United States, Europe, Australia," he said.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority's calculation of visitor spending from the event, though, is much lower.

"We came out with a calculation of $3.3 million in direct visitor spending, We compare it against our other events and our sports programs. We have to have a consistent methodology," said Daniel Nahoopii, HTA's director of tourism research.

Meanwhile, Hawaii Pacific University tourism professor Jerry Agrusa measured how much money the 2009 Sony Open contributed to state coffers. "The direct spending would be about $20 million, the economic impact about $30 million, about $1.3 million in taxes directly to the state of Hawaii," he said.

Stosik said the economic impact of the tournament should include the exposure for the islands.

The four-day tournament is broadcast in 76 countries. Images of Hawaii are shown on TV screens in more than 600 million homes, generating tourism benefits that can't be measured.

"We know that the impact is huge, just with our exposure both nationally on Golf Channel and Golf Channels' global viewership," Stosik said.

Agrusa added, ""They're sitting there freezing and then they say, 'You know what? I'm booking a vacation to Hawaii. It might be in June. It might be next year at this time."

Additionally, the Sony Open raises more than $1 million for about 170 Hawaii non-profit organizations.

Golfer Rory Sabbatini has played the Sony Open since 1999, and considers it an annual working vacation.

"You want to experience the local culture, not just Hawaiian food," he said. "You get the Korean barbecue, you've got just so many fantastic places to go."

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