Sports season kicks off in Hawaii

The Maui Invitational basketball tournament at the Lahaina Civic Center features Virginia Commonwealth University and many other top NCAA programs.
The Maui Invitational basketball tournament at the Lahaina Civic Center features Virginia Commonwealth University and many other top NCAA programs.

In Hawaii, athletes come out to play in the fall and winter, when the island becomes a hotbed for sports and competitions looking for suitable pre-season getaways, tournament sites and fan-friendly weather.

The steady sports action kicked off this year on Oct. 1 with an NBA preseason game between the Los Angeles Clippers and Toronto Raptors in Honolulu. The two teams will play again before heading back to the mainland, making way for a college tournament held annually in Maui.

The Hawaii Tourism Authority has put its support behind attracting more professional and collegiate sporting events, and partnered with the Clippers in 2016 to promote travel to the Aloha State.

"The Clippers Hawaii Classic signals the start to 'Hawaii sports season,'" Hawaii Tourism Authority Director George Szigeti said in a recent HTA update. "From October through April, one major sports event after another will showcase Hawaii's natural beauty and cultural diversity to audiences worldwide."

In addition to the many annual tournaments, races and competitions, there is also the University of Hawaii's division one sports program playing in the NCAA's Mountain West Conference. Football games for the Rainbow Warriors are held at Aloha Stadium in the Halawa area of Oahu and basketball games take place at the Stan Sheriff Center on the Manoa campus.

Here are some of the top sporting events coming to Hawaii in the coming months.

The Ironman World Championship:  The Ironman triathlon was born on Oahu in 1978, and this event has been held in the Kailua-Kona area of Hawaii Island since 1981. Scheduled this year for Oct. 14, this is the race that distance triathletes aspire to, and one of the greatest endurance challenges in modern competition. The world championship is only open to previously qualified entrants, but the more than 2,000 racers love the support of spectators during their 140.6-mile, grueling journey.

Maui Invitational: The annual basketball tournament is one of the kick-off events for the NCAA season each year. The first Maui Invitational was held in 1984 and the tournament has evolved into an early-season showcase for top division one teams, often featuring programs with championship aspirations. Held at Lahaina Civic Center Nov. 20-22, invited teams this year include Michigan, Virginia, Louisiana State, Wichita State, Notre Dame, California and Virginia Commonwealth.

The Hawaii Open: This is the only Women's Tennis Association tournament held in Hawaii. The event will feature 32 world-ranked players facing off at Patsy T. Mink Central Oahu Regional Park. Last year's champion, Cici Bellis is returning, and the tournament will also feature Vera Zvonareva, a Russian player who was previously the WTA's second ranked singles player who won a bronze medalist at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. The tennis competition takes place Nov. 19-26.

Honolulu Marathon: This event attracts more than 30,000 runners each year, making it the fourth largest marathon in the United States. The race is friendly to racers of all levels, with no time limit for finishing. This course for the event, held Dec. 10, goes through downtown Honolulu past Iolani Palace, before traversing Waikiki and climbing up and around Diamond Head. It then heads out to Hawaii Kai before turning back and passing Diamond Head again, this time on the ocean side. The finish line is in Kapiolani Park, where there is a post-race festival.

Hawaiian Airlines Diamond Head Classic: This NCAA basketball tournament takes place at the Stan Sheriff Center in Honolulu Dec. 22-25. The event brings in eight teams to face off, and this year's field includes four teams from the 2016 NCAA championship tournament, Miami, Middle Tennessee, USC and Hawaii.

Hawaii Bowl:  College football loves sunny, tourist-friendly locations for its bowl games, and Hawaii certainly scores high on the criteria. Two lucky teams will get their tickets punched to Oahu for this college postseason game held on Christmas Eve. The bowl, held at Aloha Stadium, pits one team from the Mountain West Conference against a team from the American Athletic Conference each year.

Golf: The beginning of the new year brings several top-flight golf tournaments to Hawaii. It kicks off with the Sentry Tournament of Champions (Jan. 2-7) at Maui's Kapalua course, which is open to only winners of tournaments from the previous season, which is followed by the Sony Open (Jan. 12-15) at Oahu's Waialae Country Club, and the Mitsubishi Electric Championship (Jan. 18-20) at Hualalai on Hawaii Island.
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