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Electric atmosphere

Updated: 
January 16, 2014 - 8:21am

The Mitsubishi Electric Championship at Hualalai is celebrating its 18th year on the Big Island, and over that storied history, the tournament has evolved to become an experience as unique as its host island.

“I think the players really look forward to it,” tournament manager Kelly Fliear said. “This one of the few places you can play golf in January, especially this winter.”

While the players get to escape to a tropical destination and play on a world-class, Jack Nicklaus designed course, the spectators get to experience what may be the most intimate venue on the tour.

“It is a total different experience than watching at a golf tournament on the mainland,” said Brendan Moynahan, who serves as the director of golf at Hualalai. “Spectators can get so close to the golfers and the guys take their time, talk and will even sign things. It is one of those things where you are not 16 people deep looking through binoculars. Also, the course is very walkable and it’s easy to get out there.”

Moynahan estimated 5,000 to 6,000 spectators to be on hand for the busy weekend.

To ensure success at such a large-scale event takes a team of committed volunteers. Kris Hazard and Larry Webb serve as the tournament’s volunteer co-chairmen and coordinate more than 450 volunteer workers during the weekend.

“It is an amazing amount of logistics that go into pulling the whole thing off, but it is great,” Hazard said. “The players and the PGA have always been happy with the job that is done.”

The duties can range from coordinating parking to spectator safety but one of the more interesting tasks given to the volunteers is the responsibility of being a walking scorer for the PGA.

Kona resident Daniel Bearth, who has volunteered at the event for more than a decade, was on the course Wednesday as a scorer for the Pro-Am event with Craig Stadler’s group and was thrilled about the opportunity.

“When they told me the name when I showed up today I was so excited,” Bearth said. “I’ve been a fan of Craig for 25 years. He’s one of my favorites and it was great to follow along with them on the course.”

While the event is an opportunity for Big Island residents to get a taste of a professional sporting event, the tournament has also made a significant impact on the island’s community.

Since the tournament’s inception, nearly $650,000 has been donated to various charities. Last year, $55,000 came back to the community from the tournament.

The money raised through the years has helped complete turf renovation of the Kona soccer fields and public park facilities, fund the ESP dance club for girls, acquire state-of-the-art equipment for Kona Community Hospital to diagnose and detect kidney stones and to beautify the Old Kona Airport Park’s walking and jogging path.

“It’s time consuming, but also very rewarding,” Hazard said. “The money that comes in goes right back into the community. It is such a good feeling to give back and actually see the results at work.”

The tournament begins Friday and is the first official event in the 2014 Charles Schwab Cup season. The 41-player field is highlighted by nine members of the World Golf Hall of Fame, including Nick Price, Tom Watson, Ben Crenshaw, Curtis Strange, Bernhard Langer, Fred Couples, Larry Nelson, Tom Kite and Hale Irwin.

Weekly grounds tickets are available in advance for $25 and a one-day grounds pass is $15. Youth 18 and younger are admitted free with a ticketed adult. Tickets may be purchased online at pgatour.com/mec or by calling 800-417-2770.