The story behind the man who is as infectious as the game itself: Mark Rolfing.

A tribute to Mark Rolfing with Da Game Show host Dave Ward.

In our recent interview, Da Game Show host Dave Ward asked Mark Rolfing how he ended up on Maui 40 years ago… “Well you have to have a lot of good luck, first of all Dave,” the Hawaii golf Hall of Famer began. “It’s interesting when I look back on my time on Maui. I’m sitting here right now, in a golf cart, by the practice putting green on The Bay Course and I can see the roof of the first apartment I lived in on this island, which was over in Napili Sands on the far side of the fifteen hole here. That was early in 1976. I had been a political science major in college and intended to go to law school. I have a masters degree, if you can image that, but I started playing really good golf in college and got derailed… won a couple of tournaments and got way to big for my britches,” the popular NBC golf analyst explained.

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Dave chimed in with a question: “You had a famous roommate who was…?” Mark replied: “Dan Quayle, vice president of the United States. What’s amazing about that now, and I see him a lot and we still play together, is all of a sudden when he became VP his college career was a lot better than mine! And I kept telling people: ‘Take a look at the records, and let’s see exactly what happened here. And the further he gets away from playing college back then, the better he gets.’  So he went into politics and did pretty well for himself, obviously, but I got side-tracked by golf, Dave.” Rolfing continued, “And I got a little too far ahead of myself, thinking that ‘I was going to be the next Jack Nicklaus.’ I kinda packed in my whole education for chasing this little white ball around the tour for three years, which I didn’t do very well, fortunately, looking back….” he says, smiling.


Dave pressed on how he had gotten here: “What happened was I played in the Hawaiian Open, in 1975, and that was the first time I’d ever been to Hawaii, and I kinda fell in love with it and I remember thinking: ‘Wow! This is exactly what I had imagined… I had grown up in Chicago and now I was hearing ukuleles and Elvis Presley and it was just soooo perfect,” Rolfing explained. “After that year, when I had a really bad season, I had to go back to the PGA Tour Q-school again, and I missed qualifying. I couldn’t figure what I was gonna do, so decided to come back to Hawaii. I met this lovely girl named Debi, in California, who came with me and we were flying to Honolulu… ‘gonna go right back to the Sheraton Waikiki and spend a week there’. The flight attendant talked us literally into coming to Maui. I had no intention of coming to this island.  We went straight to Hana, where we stayed in a house. Then we rented a car and drove up to this side of the island. We had no idea what was here and there wasn’t much at Kapalua. The Bay Course had just opened, there was a little temporary building over in the village which was a pro shop,” he said. “Neither one of us had a whole lot of money at the time, so Debi ended up taking a job—as a cocktail waitress at the Sheraton Maui—and I got a job washing golf carts at Kapalua. Interestingly enough, I fell in love with the island so quick that I knew that I really liked it here and so did Debi. So I went into the pro shop at Kaanapali. I hadn’t applied at Kapalua yet. I went into the pro shop there and asked if there were any openings, and the answer was ‘no’.  But they said ‘there is a new course that just opened up the road about 10 minutes, you should go up there and ask them’.  So I left the parking lot at Kaanapali, got a job interview at Kapalua, and the next thing I was hired to wash the golf carts.”


Dave Ward was still interviewing Rolfing. “Were you getting paid big bucks for your advanced degree,” Ward asks, grinning. Rolfing replied, “No I think it was $4.75 an hour, or something like that. It was pretty good,” his smile broadening. “I did manage to crash a cart on my first day of work. I was so nervous. I was taking it into the cart barn back there,” he motioned toward the barn, “to be washed in the back. I was not paying attention and I hit the corner of the bumper on another cart. Then the back of the cart swung around and hit another. I had a three-cart crash my first day at work! Dave Ward was still sitting with Mark Rolfing at the Bay Course, chatting on Da Game Show. “So, you go from this,” he points at the NBC logo on Rolfing’s shirt, “to…?” “I actually got hired as an assistant pro, and gradually became the head pro and then the director of golf. I started working my way up in the organization, Kapalua Land Company owned everything at the time and that’s who I worked for,” he said. “The great thing about golf is you know you meet so many great people and important people and so many interesting people. For me, no matter that I couldn’t beat anyone on the PGA tour, I was still the best player on this island ‘cause there weren’t very many players here at that time. So, when Arnold Palmer started coming out to design the second course at Kapalua, when the President of the United States came, or Jackie Stewart—or when any of those people came—they would take me right out of the shop and have me play golf with these guys.


And slowly I started meeting people, and it really was because of my ability to play golf—and I had no designs on becoming a marketing guy, or television announcer or anything like that…. It all happened because I was in the right place. Maui—Kapalua in particular—at the right time. I just got real lucky,” Rolfing noted. Our Da Game Show chat with Mark Rolfing continued: “How did you manage to bring professional golf to Maui?” Ward asked. “I had become the director of marketing and recreation for Kapalua in the early 1980’s.  I had played a couple more times in the Hawaiian Open and I started realizing the most famous golf course in Hawaii was Waialae Country Club, which was private and nobody could play it. So, I started thinking: ‘If I’m in charge of marketing at Kapalua Resort, and we’re having trouble getting people to play golf out here’—we’re at the end of the road, or whatever reasons there were—‘maybe if we had a tournament… maybe we could make this course as famous as Waialae Country Club’.  Rolfing continued his answer to Dave Ward’s question: “And, so that basically was the premise that started the Kapalua International in 1982.  Back then, because I had relationships with people, I could go to Arnold Palmer and say: ‘Hey, we are having a tournament, will you come out and play?’ And he said, ‘Sure. I’d do that for you.’ Of course… nobody believed me around here—that we could actually have a tournament, and Arnold Palmer would come and play—but I knew a lot guys who play… from having played myself. And we put it together and it worked,” Rolfing said.


Dave Ward is still seated next to Rolfing at the Bay Course. The answer to Dave’s original question about the event follows: “And so that event was played at the Bay Course for about five years, and became so big, so fast… network television, and all the best players in the world playing, that it basically outgrew the facility. Not so much the golf course itself, but the limited facilities. So my real motivation in going up to the Plantation, which was nothing but pineapple fields, was to create a facility which could host a big championship.” Rolfing begins to explain to Ward how and why he chose Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore to design the Plantation Course: “This was Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore’s first course. They’re now the number one architects in golf, and have more top 20 courses than… they are really, really good. But this was their first one. I was pretty close with Ben. I had played a lot of golf with him, and I needed someone who I knew was going to be on this island a lot, building that course. Because it was a severe piece of land, it had elements and conditions that—sitting in an office in Florida—you would never be able to figure out how to draw a golf hole here.  And even though I took a little bit of a chance with Ben maybe… it worked out great, because he kept fine-tuning that thing until he got it exactly the way we wanted it before we opened it, and ever since then, we’ve tweaked it quite a bit. It was a great decision. He literally drove the Sand Pro, and did the final grading on every one of those eighteen greens up there.” Rolfing added, “He’s a visual kinda of guy. He’s a lot like me. And I’ll never forget the way I was convinced Ben Crenshaw was the right guy…. He called me up and he said: ‘What are doing?’ It was about 11:00 in the morning. ‘Let’s have lunch at the Honalua store. I’m up here.  Can we have lunch?’ And so I said ‘Sure.’ And I came up and I had lunch with him and Bill Coore. He bought a big bag of Maui potato chips and we were having trouble trying to figure out the third hole on the Plantation and he took out that bag of Maui chips and he emptied them out on the picnic table, up on the Plantation. He started leafing through this bag and pulled out one of these chips and he said, ‘There’s the third green.’ And I’ll be darned… that is the third green. That’s when I knew he was the right guy. That’s the story.” Rolfing adds,“In the early years when were doing the post season event before the Tournament of Champions, we actually played the Bay and the Plantation, but now just because the PGA Tour has gotten so big, it’s the only facility on Maui or any neighbor island that could host an event that big.



Dave asked, “How did you get the PGA Tour to bring Tournament of the Champions to Maui?” “Actually,” Mark replied, “they convinced me. Believe it or not, we were having the post-season event, Kapalua International. Lincoln-Mercury was the sponsor for a long period of time, and that was still being played all the way into 1997.  It was the PGA Tour that came to us and said: ‘We would really like to have an official money event at Kapalua. It’s a great site. We want to start the season in Hawaii. What do you think about Tournament of Champions?” Rolfing was looking at Ward thoughtfully, “And frankly Dave, I was not totally sold on the idea at first. It turned out to be a great idea, but what we had going was pretty good. We really liked it. I was worried, you know, about how to pull off an official money event. It was going to be a new sponsor. It was going to be painful ‘cause they’re going to eliminate Lincoln-Mercury, who had been a good partner of ours, and replace them with their competitor, Mercedes…. That was not an easy conversation. But it worked and the tournament is going strong now. I think as the world of golf changes that tournament is going to have to change some, but it has been very effective for Kapalua,” he said. “I think, if you look at the Kapalua brand, the facilities here are not that different than they were for all the 40 years I was here, other than the Plantation being developed.  Just the fact that this has become the home of the PGA Tour out here, it changed everybody’s viewpoint, it changed everything,” Rolfing notes. Then adds, “We’re still at the end of the road. And the wind still does blow, but, it’s a totally different mindset. All of the people, the years invested in the tournament, and all the years here… so many of the pros realize rather than take a job somewhere else, that to be here for a just one week a year and meet Jack Nicklaus… in the end it’s going to be a great thing…. The tournament has done a lot for this resort, not just in terms of how many television viewers watch it on TV, it’s done way more than that,” Rolfing told Ward.


“Mark, I still need to know: How did you get from Kapalua to announcing on NBC Sports? Mark replied, “I wake up every morning and have for 27 years now and ask myself the same question. It started right out there on the sixteenth hole is basically what happened. It was 1985, the Kapalua International. I was playing in the tournament still back then, even though I was running it and putting it together. I happened to play a good round on Friday, they brought me up into the announce booth, right here on the eighteen hole. The announcers were Vin Scully and Lee Trevino. That was pretty cool, I couldn’t believe I was up there.  You have to remember that back then there was no Gary McCord, no David Feherty and no Mark Rolfing. When you came up for an interview they asked you what holes you birdied, what clubs you hit, and that was it, see you later.  So as I’m up there Peter Jacobsen is out on the sixteen hole and we’re on live  TV and he has hit his ball into the hazard in the center of the fairway. I said: ‘That is a lateral hazard, which gives you another option. He can go to the other side of the creek and drop the ball in the fairway.’ It didn’t even cross my mind about what Trevino would think of me saying that.  We went through 10 or 15 minutes of this scenario, trying to figure it out and engaging in a conversation about this ruling, and this drop, and my understanding of the course. When I left, Mr. Don Ohmeyer, who was the legendary producer back in the day, and ended up doing Monday Night Football, he called me at home that night and said: ‘You were phenomenal in there today.  How would you like to come up and do a little guest segment tomorrow?’ And I said, ‘No matter what I shoot on the course?’ And he said, ‘No matter what you shoot.’ So I said ‘okay’ and sure enough I shot 76 the next day and back up to the announcer booth I go and I’m in there for half-an-hour the next day. Now, I’m telling stories just like I am with you, talking about the course or what Arnold and I did out here ten years before.  We went through the whole weekend, I did it everyday during that round. So who was waiting at the bottom of the steps on the last day?  The producer was, and said: ‘Do you want to go to work for me next week, and be on ESPN for the World Cup in Palm Springs, California, as an announcer?’  That’s how it happened. You know he gave me the greatest advice, I’ll never forget it.  When I got to Palm Springs, I was scared to death. I knew nothing about television. I don’t think I ever had a microphone on. And he said to me: ‘I want you to think about one thing, no matter what: However long your career goes, Mark, I want you to think about one thing and that is always be you. Just be you. Don’t ever try to be something you’re not. Don’t try and be a jokester if you’re not a jokester. You are the common man.’ And that’s what worried me…. ‘Why would people listen to my analysis as a club pro from Maui?’ I asked him that, and he said: People will listen to you if they believe you, and your going to be able to make them believe you if you’re you.  If you try to be something else, then they’re not going to believe you.’ And he is so right. I think about that, ’til this day, when I get into situations. Especially if I’m out with Feherty…. How can you not start acting like him? It’s almost impossible. I try to be true to myself, and just be me, and it’s worked.


And he is so right. I think about that, ’til this day, when I get into situations. Especially if I’m out with Feherty…. How can you not start acting like him? It’s almost impossible. I try to be true to myself, and just be me, and it’s worked. Johnny Miller and I have worked together since 1991. That’s 23-years, and we haven’t killed each other yet.  He didn’t talk to me for about 20 minutes, on the air at the Players a couple of years ago…. I was with Tiger’s group, and Tiger hit a ball in the water, and Johnny didn’t particularly like where he had taken his drop. I was listening to Tiger talk to his playing competitor… I was ok with it.  And Johnny kept saying: ‘It’s not right.’A half-hour later and we were on the 16th hole,  and Johnny says: ‘I just gotta say: I just don’t feel good about this drop that Tiger made.’ Live on the air. And I said: ‘Johnny, let it go.’ I don’t think I heard back from him for the rest of the show…. That’s Johnny, and I love him. He has the best eye of any golf analyst I’ve ever worked with, but he doesn’t have a filter between his brain and his mouth, which gets him into trouble sometimes. He’s one of the few people that viewers are gonna tune-in to listen to. They’re not going to tune-in to listen to Mark Rolfing, but they’ll tune-in to listen to Johnny Miller.”


“What is your impression of golfers today?” Dave Ward asked. “Well, there’s a couple problems. The first problem is so many of the young players that are coming out now are so robotic. You’re not interested in watching them play, and neither is anybody else, and that’s part of what they are being taught. They are being taught, and prepared, for PGA tour play—to go into a zone and not acknowledge what is going on around them—filter out anything bad and everything is positive. It’s truly changed the dynamic of the game. You don’t have any characters anymore. The other problem is: the equipment has become so good that it’s leveled the playing field; which means you don’t get guys that are necessarily the most talented guy, or talented shotmaker, and they come out and play and be really dynamic and dominate the game and make you to want to watch. You know how many guys are putting great with this thick grip?” Mark points at Dave Ward’s putter. “It has turned bad putters into good putters. I’m not saying it’s bad. I think it’s great for the average player, but in terms of separating the true stars—at the highest level—these, the 60° wedges, and these forgiving thin-faced drivers…I think the playing field has been leveled…especially with anchored putting. I’m not saying Keegan Bradley wouldn’t have won a major. I’m not sure he would have won a major like that without anchoring a putter. Golf needs to have a rooting interest, if you think about the other successful sports, Dave, take a look at the NFL… anybody who is watching an NFL game is rooting! They’re either rooting for their favorite team… or they’re rooting because they made a bet on the game… or they’re rooting for a variety of reasons…it’s their hometown… you name it. Same thing with NASCAR… they root for a driver because they hate another driver, so they root against that guy and for the other guy. In golf, we never had much of that. It started with Nicklaus and Palmer, and people hated ‘fat Jack’, in the beginning, and despised the fact that he was unseating Arnold Palmer. But that was the only situation we had in my entire playing career that we had a love-hate relationship. You gotta have that in sport to have interest.  Even when Tiger went through his hard times, and people starting rooting against him, for the overall good of the game it wasn’t that bad because we were still creating a rooting interest. In today’s world, when you talk about these players—that you don’t even know—how are you gonna cause a viewer, in the audience, to either root for him or against him? It’s gonna be extremely difficult. So, I think any of this rooting is good. That’s why I love the Ryder Cup. It’s totally different. It’s wild, it’s crazy, it’s a hard place to announce golf, it’s partisan, it’s all for—or all against—depending on which country your playing in. But man… that is good. That is why that event, which has gone from being maybe the 10th, or 11th, or 12th-best tournament in the world, I think it’s number two now. If you took a poll among all these people listening to us they would tell you it’s the second most-popular tournament in golf… after the Masters.


“Tell me a little history of Da Game and how it got started, Mark?” Dave asked. “It’s so near and dear to my heart, and it has been… for 40-years. It’s not as big a part of my life now, as it was back then, but if I take a look at all the great things that have happened around Kapalua, and all the great things that happened to me, Da Game had a lot to do with it. It was as much a part of the Kapalua institution as the Kapalua International was. I still, to this day, tell the stories about when that thing started, and what it was like. The fact that, if you came up here early and you were a decent player and if you wanted to meet some nice guys and play golf, all you had to do was go see Al Vida in that cart barn and put your name up there and be here at 12:30 and pretty soon there’s 30, 40 guys doing this.  We actually bought and sold a hotel from a guy that played in Da Game.  It was unbelievable. It was so much a part of the fabric of this resort. I will always look at the institution of Da Game and think about what it did for this place. Dave asked, “Who are the top professional golfers that you met over the years here that meant something to you or that you really have fond memories of?” “Arnold Palmer is number one. Matter of fact, he’s number one and two, three, four, five all the way down to a million. Arnold has had such an impact on me personally, and my career, that it’s really hard for me to put it into words. I never met anybody in my life like Arnold Palmer. I’ll tell you what’s interesting is: he’s 85-years-old now, and I still think Arnold Palmer is the most popular golfer on this planet. I truly believe that. I don’t get to spend that much time with him. I had lunch with him at the U.S. Open, at Pinehurst. I watch him walk around and everything he does to me embodies what a golf professional should do… even including signing his autograph.  I learned to sign my autograph from him.  I remember him telling me: ‘Someday, you’re gonna be famous. I don’t ever want to see you scribble your name.’  I said: ‘Nobody’s ever, ever gonna ask me for my autograph,’ and he said: ‘You wait and see.’ To this day, I watch him sign autographs, and they’re perfect. I watch him shake people’s hands, and look people in the eye, and be genuinely concerned about them. I love the guy so much…. So he’s number one.  I had a group of guys that I played some with and that became the little Kapalua group of national professionals. That helped me out. Davis Love became one of my best friends in the world. Fred Couples, most of the guys that were part of the original Kapalua International group that won the tournaments here, but also helped me organize things, and helped me get everything together. Starting a tournament is like throwing a net, in Hawaii, which is difficult to do. If you throw a net out there on the water, and you got the net out there in perfect position, but you pull in one side of your net too fast… all your fish are gone. Yes, Davis Love and Fred Couples are gonna play so that the TV would televise it, but you had to convince Davis and Freddie to play because they were gonna be on TV, and then you had to get a sponsor to get them to pay Fred and Davis to play and you have all these things and you had to pull them all in at the same time. And so I had a group of guys that really helped me in that regard, they would be right at the top of my list. But then I go to the complete other end of the spectrum: Craig Williamson was director of golf here when I first started, and got me going. I think about him all the time and then I think about Mike Jones today, who is my guy here at Kapalua, and I love him to death, and he does a great job.  The job that he plays in the world of golf is just as important as the job that Rory McIlroy plays, ’cause Mike Jones is the heart and soul of the club professional, and Rory McIlroy is the best player in the world, but Rory McIlroy wouldn’t be that without Mike Jones, and Mike Jones wouldn’t be that without Rory McIlroy.” Dave knew he had time for only one more question with Mark….


“That answer might take up your entire book! But let me take a stab at it…. There is no doubt that tourism in general, is booming on Maui right now but golf is not enjoying the same run-up in revenues that the hotels are. The hotels, other rental properties and most of the activities are doing very well, but the golf courses are stuck in the revenue doldrums. That has to change for Maui to continue to be a leader in the golf marketplace. Here are five things that I believe will be critical for the Maui golf marketing and operating plan over the next decade:

  1. It is essential for all the golf course operators and marketers, on Maui (and Lanai) to come together and work as a group. Each individual property will benefit from having an association with Maui golf as a whole.  All boats will rise with the tide.

  2. Maui’s wonderful array of golf facilities needs to continue to be upgraded. As you’ve seen with our historical perspective, many of Maui’s best courses have been here for quite some time. With very stiff competition from new and spectacular golf destinations around the globe sprouting up all the time, Maui’s facilities will need to keep pace.

  3. Maui needs to engage in an ultra-aggressive golf marketing campaign.  This program must be all inclusive.  Including advertising, public relations, promotions, special events, social-media and sales. A cohesive and comprehensive effort like this has been lacking for some time now.

  4. Maui must make a big investment in our junior golfers, an area that, alarmingly, is not growing. Providing instruction, access to our facilities and competitive opportunities for our young golfers is critical. They are the future…not only as customers, but as being part of the backbone of the industry.

  5. We must aggressively address the three fundamental issues that face the game today.

    A. It costs too much;

    B. It takes too long to play;

    C. The game is too difficult.

“Throughout the 40 years of my career here on Maui, I have been extremely proud to watch Maui grow into one of the most attractive and sought after golf destinations anywhere in the world. I don’t want to see that change now,” Mark told Dave.