61st Annual Maui Womens Golf Invitational

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There is, I am pleased to report, still a pulse of tradition and aloha left here in the world of golfdom in the Hawaiian islands….

It emanates from the hearts of Maui’s women, who this past weekend (as has been a long tradition) held their 61st Maui Women’s Annual Golf Invitational at the best event venue on our island: The King Kamehameha Golf Club.

“Honoring our Past, and Embracing our Future” were the words I found on their program this year, part of an elaborate and truly unique celebration of the game, the participants, and the charity in which they were all united in supporting:  the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge.

I had just come in from riding the course on Sunday, as the final round was winding down. The players were getting buffeted by high winds and it was clear the 36-hole event was a true test for the Maui women, who mostly comprise of weekend warriors. Jami Ullrich, the tournament chair, was abuzz with all of the last-minute details. I will say, without question, for a cool event, this was tops. Live Hawaiian music, hula dancers, audio pro on site, huge catering affair, just an immense effort all coordinated by Jami, an accomplished golfer in her own right, but focused on making this event something memorable.  

Tournament Chair Jami Ullrich

Before I delve too far into my little essay, I would like to note that here on Maui, we have great sports writers like Robert Collias of the Maui News, who wrote a great news article for this event here.

Now, the job Jami did, in fact the jobs she and all of her volunteers did, was a stellar effort with an awards ceremony to rival any that I have ever seen, including hula performances by Halau Kamaluokaleihulu (Kumu Hula Kahulu Maluo) on stage, eloquent words by speaker Anna Mayeda, of the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge; as well as heartfelt words from speaker Kerry Phillips, a survivor; and the entertaining effort by auctioneer, Pattie Ann Aranio; and lastly awards presentations by the ever affable and gracious host pro Rick Castillo, and scoring done by host head pro Frank Luchowski.  

Halau Kamaluokaleihulu

Jami was on the ball, after the event was over, insofar as putting me straight on making sure special thanks went to Gwen Haa Po, for her awesome leis. Gwen makes all of the winners’ leis by hand, one-by-one, and joins in presenting each player with their prize, including these brilliant floral creations. (I have no idea, but I’d wager that this is one of the great efforts of all for the Maui women, and you probably won’t see anything like this anywhere else. The women of Maui really do it right.) 

Gwen and Jami present awards to 2015 champion Kimberlie Miyamoto

This event is one of two Maui women events that really stand out from the pack. It is celebrating 61 years and was summed up nicely in this year’s program:

Honoring our past… How it began… On that day, April 12, 1954, Maui golfers were treated to a fine exhibition by Jackie Yates, then Hawaii’s premier amateur golfer, who teamed with the late John Leong in a four-ball match with the duo of Elizabeth James and Willie Goo. It was on that day also when the idea was brought up to unite the Waiehu Women’s Golf Club and the Maui Country Club Ladies division and inaugurate a statewide invitational tournament. Elizabeth James got the ball rolling and the Maui Women’s Golf Invitational Tournament became a reality in October of 1955. It was held at the same time as the men’s Maui Open Tournament as side attractions to the Maui County Fair. The 36-hole kickoff event, held at the Maui Country Club and Waiehu Municipal Golf Course. The inaugural tournament attracted 33 players and the second event, again held during the County Fair, drew 48 entries. The ladies went on their own after that and the Maui Country Club hosted the 1957 tournament during the Fourth of July weekend. The sponsorship of the tournament alternated between the two local women’s Groups from then on until 2012.

It continues:

Embracing our future….2012. Maui Country Club Ladies Division and Waiehu Women’s Golf Club gave the Invitational up to all of the Women’s Golf Clubs on Maui. A handful of golfers determined not to let this prestigious tournament end started to embrace our future with sponsoring Charities to help build our community and camaraderie amongst women golfers island wide.  From 2012 to 2014 this tournament has raised over $10,000.00 to the Maui Food Bank, while keeping the integrity of this great golf tournament that supports all women golfers State Wide. We hope you will continue to support this tournament for years to come.  Mahalo for helping us “Honor our past and Embrace our future”.

Jami Ullrich is the new standard bearer from what I can see, taking the reins from two Maui women I think most Mauians share a tremendous amount of respect for: Dot Tam Ho and Wilma Vorfeld. I didn’t see Wilma at this year’s Invitational and must give Twiggy, as she is affectionately known as, a call.

Dottie and Twiggy were always inviting me to their events. They would provide me with all I needed to give the Maui women some press, at a time when I was actually doing a monthly newspaper, and the ‘press’ I was able to give had some degree of timeliness. “Thunderhead” was my nickname, Twiggy used to call me that….

But the ties to meaningful causes our Maui Women have demonstrated time and again have always excelled. As I have already mentioned, the women golfers of Maui have a long tradition of using their gifts on our finest fairways to help bring much-needed aid to those who are less-fortunate, and this year, it was the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge on Oahu, that was the focus of everyone’s attention last Sunday….

I was fortunate enough to have a minute with the American Cancer Society’s Anna Mayeda. It was valuable time as she was preparing for the festivities, yet she was most gracious under pressure, which as we all know, was a volunteer effort for all there.  

The American Cancer Society's Anna Mayeda

It is one thing to have a big name charity like the American Cancer Society to bring credibility to an event, but it is wholly another to put a face to it. Like so many things I noticed with the Maui Women, it was the substance of everything that stood out in my mind so much. Rather than just having a logo and a silent auction, the Maui Women humanized the cause for which they were gathered bringing to the podium a young woman named Kerry Phillips, an actual survivor who was the recipient of the very aid all were there to give. It was a heartfelt moment and I was fortunate to have been there to capture it for you.  

Survivor Kerry Phillips

In addition to the great cause that the Maui Women supported this week, there was of course golf, and something we just don’t ever see at a golf event: genuine hula.

We live in Hawaii and yet are so often removed from the culture of these islands, complaining about our inability to pronounce street names or recall important historical facts.

The King Kamehameha Golf Club is truly a special venue for golf here on the Valley Isle. It isn’t only about a Ted Robinson father-son collaboration of verdant ribbons of verdant fairways weaving through rocky waterways and sloped terrain, or the immense, mauve-colored clubhouse that can be seen from miles away, with its circular-shaped ballroom protruding out against the dense Waikapu tropical forest and West Maui mountain foothill…. There’s so much more to this unique place… a museum and a tribute to the culture of Hawaii.

The 61st Maui Women’s Annual Invitational Golf Tournament embraces our culture unlike few others here, and the choice to hold it at The King Kamehameha Golf Club was hardly accidental. From the event’s opening blessing and prayer by Clifford Naeole, to the greeting on this year’s program:

“Hawai’i Aloha”
E Hawai’i e Ku’u one hanau e,
Ku’u home kulaiwi nei
Oli no au i na pono lani ou,
e Hauoli e na opio o Hawai’i nei
Oli e! Oli e!
Mai na aheahe makani e pa mai nei
Maui ke aloha no Hawai’i

Nobody does it like the Maui Women.

And that goes for their games too. In 2015 they crowned a Queen in Kimberly Miyamoto. I use that term carefully, and it is not even mine to be credited with.

Last weekend, the winds funneling through our island’s valley formed a circular vortex and wreaked havoc on even the best golfers the Saturday that the opening round was played.

Kimberlie Miyamoto, the “Queen of Maui Golf“, as Taija-Rae Tagalan dubs her in a tribute written for the 2014 Maui Interscholastic League Girls Golf Individual Champion in the Baldwin High School Courier, was unfazed by the stiff tropical breezes that day. It was something else that would get her goat….

“The wind started blowing before the tournament began,” the East Washington University golf team sophomore wrote to me in our post-tournament interview. “We practiced at Kahili at 6:45 in the morning and it was already windy. It got a lot more windy as the day went on,” the 19-year-old three-time champion of this event told me.

I wanted to know if the venue or the breezes had affected her mentally, but she is apparently devoid of the fear factor weakness that most of us mortals possess: “I always approach any tournament with a positive frame of mind,” she explained. “That is what my swing coach Cathy Torchiana, LPGA, has always reinforced in me.” (Cathy is a golf icon in the Hawaiian islands, and in 1999 was inducted into the Women’s Golf Coaches Association Hall of Fame after 12 years as head coach of the USC women’s golf team. )

Meet Cathy Torchiana
Kimberlie was playing in one of the event’s four flights, which were organized by age groupings:

  • Na Liko (the bud) 16-23
  • Na Pua (the flower) 24-54
  • Ka Piko (the stem) 55-69
  • Kuma (the root or source) 70 and up
Her opening round was not tottered by high winds, or even jittery nerves, but instead was cast slightly askew after a battle with her putter…. My interview with Kimberlie continues:


JB: Walk me through the front nine. Tell me about each hole and in particular par saves, birdies, and others.


Kimberlie Miyamoto: I Started off hitting a good drive and was on the green in regulation on my 1st hole, however I three-putted the hole… not a good start. I continued to hit my driver well, and hit 12 of 18 greens in regulation, but my putting was not working for me. I struggled all day with my distance control and finding a rhythm and ended up 5-over-par for the first day. I had a few good par saves, but could not make any birdies.


JB: You’re heading home. What is your strategy? Are you attacking, playing it safe? What? Just like on the front side, walk me through your back.


Kimberlie Miyamoto: My dad always tells me to trust my swing and believe in myself, so I kept my focus on my target from tee-to-green. I was in survival mode for most of the day trying to find a putting rhythm and stay in contention for the final round. The back nine was a mirror image of the front nine, where I continued to struggle with my putting. The only good thing I had going were my drives off the tee and my iron shots. And even when I did hit it inside of 10 feet, I could not make the putt for birdie. After I completed my first round I headed straight for the putting green to work on trying to find a rhythm for my putting.


JB: Now, today’s final round is where the rubber meets to road, so to speak. What was this morning like for you? Any nerves creeping into you mind?


Kimberlie Miyamoto: It started off a little more windy than the day before as we warmed up at Kahili golf course. I was calm and feeling good. My dad told me that I always play good at this course, so don’t let it beat you. His words are always “trust your swing and believe in yourself”. After my first birdie on my 3rd hole I settled down and felt dialed in. Plus I really had fun playing with my past Baldwin High school team mates and my good friend from Hilo.


JB: Walk us through your round, scoring highs and lows. Great shots, saves, bad shots, etc.


Kimberlie Miyamoto: I started on the 14th hole and made par, I bogeyed the 15th, came back with three birdies on the 16th, 17th & 18th holes, parred the first, birdied the 2nd & 3rd, double bogeyed the 4th, birdied the 5th, parred the 6th, birdied the 7th, bogeyed the 8th, parred, 9, 10, 11, 12 & 13. I made careless mistakes on the 15th hole, the first hole and the 4th hole. I felt good about my swing that day unlike Saturday, so I was attacking every flag and I was fortunate to hit several approach shots within a foot for some easy birdies. But what really was the difference was my putting, my distance control and putting rhythm was so much better than the day before. I guess making three birdies in a row on holes 16, 17 & 18 was one of my highlights along with hitting my approach shots on holes 2 & 5 within a foot for birdies. The lows were a four putt on no. 4, especially after making birdies on nos. 2 & 3. However, I came back on the next hole with a birdie.


Kimberly Miyamoto plays her tee shot on No. 10


JB: What does this victory mean to you?
Kimberlie Miyamoto: It means a lot for my confidence even though it was short course. But winning always helps anyone’s confidence. I’m hoping this confidence will carry over to my 2nd year at Eastern Washington University as qualifying is just a month away.


JB: Tell us a little about your college career, how it’s going, who you admire, where you want to go career-wise, etc.


Kimberlie Miyamoto: I was really nervous going to a place that I hardly knew, however I met some great teammates that really helped me feel comfortable and everything kind a fell into place. As a freshman, at Eastern Washington, it was a very humbling experience to be the only member on the team to qualify for all 10 tournaments, including the Big Sky Conference Championship in Chandler, Arizona. I truly enjoy attending this school, and have met and made some really great friends there. It will always be a special place for me and I’ve got three more years on my scholarship to fulfill. I can’t thank coach Brenda Howe enough for believing in me along with this opportunity to play Division One golf, which I always dreamed, especially with all of the hard work and the sacrifices I and my family needed to make throughout my junior career. ‘Thank you” to all my past coaches and my present swing coach, Cathy Torchiana, LPGA. I admire my mom as she is my rock and my dad for all of his support and for being there for me through the tough times and the good times. They always made sure I had the support and opportunities to succeed in life. They have been a big part of my life and I love them dearly. I also want to thank my grandparents, auntie’s and uncle’s along with my extended family and my brothers and sisters. After graduating from Eastern, I am planning to continue my education, and hope to earn a master degree in education. I enjoy people and I want to make a difference in my community. Golf has given me so many opportunities and I have been blessed to have met so many great people which many I consider as my extended family. I am so humbled by their kind words and can’t thank everyone enough for their support and generosity throughout these years. I’m hoping one day I will be in a position to give back to the game of golf as my dad has done for so many years. To All: Thank you so very much. You all have played a big roll in who I have become today and I will never forget all of you!


JB: Well done, Kimberly.



La Liko, 16-23
Kimberlie Miyamoto (Low Gross): 77-69-146
Andi Igawa (Low Net): 71-79-150
Na Pua, 24-54
Desi Ting (Low Gross): 76-72-148
Tracy Navarrete (Low Net): 69-68-137
Ka Pico, 55-69 (largest group)
Mia Hew (Low Gross):  80-83-163
Kyong Ae Park (Low Net):  75-67-142
Kuma, 70 and up
Dorothy Tam Ho (Low Gross): 93-96-189 (past winner, 1968)
Aulani Morton (Low Net): 78-70-148
Side note: Roselle Armitage, at 90 years of age, shot 98-107-205 gross in the howling wind. She is a past winner (1970).
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  • David Austin

    Wonderful article John!! Mahalo for the support!

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