A brief look at our rich golfing history… from past-to-present.

Borne on the feathery back of a snow goose.

The little white ball we all hold so dear came to Hawaii hitchhiking on the proverbial backs of the Scots. But unlike the seeds that made our island so green today—borne upon the backs of birds blown here accidentally by the virulent winds eons ago—the introduction of the game of “gawf” by the exploring and enterprising isle transplants from the land of the Gaels was no accident. Yes; ’twas the Scots who introduced the game to Hawaii on the island of Oahu first. It was in the late 1800s, and as the “first sortie was made by two members of the old Scottish Thistle Club of Honolulu: Alexander Garvie, a bookkeeper, and John Cook, a cashier,” its effect was immediate and contagious. Hawaii was hardly “adrift” from the rest of the world! In short order the first formal golf course in Hawaii, Moanaloa, was open for play on Oahu, before the turn of the century.

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Maui, just a 30-minute flight away today, wasn’t immune to the plague. The little white bug quickly made its way to the Valley Isle, which was (and is) home to some very big ranches. Their owners and managers were quite busy trying to figure out how best to grow those silvery-green things we call pineapples and, at the same time, tending to their livestock. Surely, while resting after all of that cattle ranching and pineapple herding, they must have plied their mashies from hole to hole across the fertile red Hawaiian soil on fairways groomed by sheep and goats and with holes situated upon fenced-in greens. Likely there were many links iterations and starts as the 20th century unfurled itself here on this far-away Pacific outpost. Ranchers, Scots, laborers and managers alike, would find a way to play golf on Maui. The popularity of the game was in its infancy, and its growth was borne out of good intentions back then, just as it is today. One might imagine Maui golf being played by David Fleming, and his cohorts, on a hill overlooking Honolua Bay. After a hard day of roping the cattle or canning fruit


But, in all likelihood, there might have been another way to imbibe in the game. Perhaps a more civilized approach… a leisurely and genteel pastime…. “The Golf Links at Kahului presented an animated appearance on Saturday afternoon last, the occasion being the opening of the golf links. “A marquee prettily decorated with flags, served as a rendezvous for the refreshments delicately prepared by the ladies of the club. “The opening “drives” were made by Messrs. Penhallow and Thompson respectively, following which, a bevy of ladies and gentlemen played in doubles and foursomes. “A pleasing feature of the afternoon’s sport was the keenness and adaptability evinced by the players nothwithstanding the condition of the links which are not conducive to the showing of one’s best form,” the Maui News reported on March 2, 1912. That Golf Links at Kahului must’ve been a sight. But it didn’t last, and would eventually be repurposed, likely for some pasture or coral. Many golf courses come and go. Golf is an ever-evolving process… a reflection of life itself. And so it wasn’t long before that old links was replaced with something more lasting.


Early Maui golfers had much ado in their hearts and minds, and in spite of any setbacks, like a core closure here or there, they refused to let the game lose an inch of ground.  Today, we think austerity is hard, such as having to live with one scoop of rice, but in those days getting any kind of money whatsoever, for a golf course on Maui or anywhere else, from public or private sources, was a major undertaking. It took a concerted, rigorous, non-stop effort and an investment of time and money to build awareness and a consensus to accomplish the feat of building a lasting golf venue for Maui back then. In many ways, this requirement—to never give up and push ever-harder—still remains true today. Golf needed good men, and women, of action and resolve. It needed them then, and it needs them now. One driving force behind the expansion of Maui’s golf world was a man regarded by many as “Mr. Golf of Maui” and the “Father of Maui Country Club.” This prominent agriculturalist, rancher, political leader, territorial senator, Maui mayor, and County of Maui Board of Supervisors chairman and executive officer was none other than Harold Waterhouse “Pop” Rice. Rice was a man of action. When it came to moving Maui golf’s agenda—from the stone ages into the new millennium of the 1900s—it was he who took it upon himself to get it done and done right. Rice made headlines for golf. On November 3, 1922, a story in the Semi-Weekly Maui News, entitled: “Maui Golf And Country Club Project Is Taking On Shape”, noted Rice’s early efforts: “Expert Brought Over From Honolulu and Tentative Course Laid Out; Plowing and Grassing to Start Soon.” The report went on to describe, in further detail, how Rice had brought then-Honolulu Country Club “pro” Alexander Bell to Maui, arriving by boat on the Kilauea, to lay out 18 holes which were to be “plowed and sowed to grass speedily”.


“Realization of Maui’s ambition for golf links and country club is drawing near,” the story eagerly announced. Rice and Bell would take their clubs to the area near the “S.E. Kalama place” and play what they imagined was the future of golf on Maui—holes etched out on a site then known as the “corn crib.” Maui golfers, as Rice illustrated over 100 years ago, were people of action. We will never know what went on behind the scenes to bring it all about. Thus, like today, the game’s early advocates used any pulpit they could find to assert golf’s place. Maui News accounts were chock full of editorials advocating the Rice-like visions, of that era, on behalf of the game: “Possibly there may be found a pastime which gives to folk of all ages more healthful outdoor enjoyment than golf but to date that game has not been found. Without belittling tennis or any other out of door sports golf has its advantage over all of them, perhaps not for all but taking all in all for there are many persons who can indulge in the ancient Scottish game for whom other games are too violent. It has a fascination and gives a satisfaction that is hard to explain and is only really understood when one takes it up. So, for many persons on Maui it is unfortunate that there are no links and the effort to secure a course is well worthwhile,” one writer reported, back on February 1, 1924. “However, there is a considerable class on Maui that would benefit much if there were a course at their disposal. To get those persons together and cooperating for their own good, is what is necessary to put the Valley Isle on a par with the sister Islands in this one respect.


While Rice was working on Maui’s first lasting golf venue, what is now the site of the front nine at the Waiehu golf course was a “a couple holes, maybe six” that the future members made good use of. But difficult access to the Waihee layout was too much, so they ‘moved’ to Pauwela Lighthouse in Haiku, where a nine-hole course was built by the managers of Hawaiian Commercial and Sugar Company (HC&S). Rice, then part of a hui that had bought a 2,000 acre pineapple plantation from the Doles, called the Haiku Company, was certainly in the thick of it all. But Pauwela was still too far out of the way. So, at some point an executive committee had been formed, comprising David Rattray, W.A. Baldwin, Harry Duncan, Jim Fantom, and Roswell Howe. Things were arranged with HC&S financially, and the committee ultimately had the solution in hand by Sunday, July 3, 1927, when they unveiled the 3,413-yard Maui Country Club—Maui’s most-lasting golf venue. History has a funny way of being rewritten, and while it is clear that Alex Bell and William McKewan were surely involved in the club’s original design, it was Jim Kelley who did the actual plowing and sowing. “A wonderful golf course, a vantage point from which to gaze upon as beautiful a scenic panorama as ever fell within the vision of man…” a news writer, who played the links with Kelley on May 14, 1927, wrote so eloquently. “It was hard to believe that less than eight months ago most of it was a huge red dirt expanse over which the sweeping trade winds carried clouds of sand and then mingled them with a flurry of red dust as they blotted out the view of those traveling along the country road towards Paia. Velvety greens and fees, rolling, springy fairways are the order now; the fruit of earnest labor, the reward of visionaries who said a good golf course could be built.” Soon after Black Tuesday, when the stock market had crashed in 1929, two-time Manoa Cup (Hawaiian Amateur) champion Charley Chung—once named the “greatest Chinese golfer in the world” by “Ripley’s Believe It or Not”—came back from a sojourn in California to win the 1930 Territorial Hawaiian Open (now known as the SONY Open in Hawaii), at the now very elitist Maui Country Club. It was the first of three times the event would be held there. That year, Chung would beat a young host professional named Art Bell, who happened to be the son of Alex.


Golf for Everyone

Maui’s hunger for golf was growing. The average worker didn’t have enough position to join the prestigious Maui Country Club, and so the people of action came though, and plans for a second nine-hole golf course were approved in 1926 by Gov. Wallace R. Farrington. It was designed and the links at Waiehu were built by county engineers, under the leadership of the old County Board of Supervisors, including longtime local politicians Eddie Tam and then-Chairman Sam Kalama in 1930. It was then, and remains now, Maui’s only seaside treasure—exclusively made for the working class golfer. One such boy, Willie Goo, was a caddie there. “I made 25 cents a round,” the now 94-year-old Maui golf legend explains. “I would caddie after school and used to fool around,” Goo says, explaining how he took up the game in the 1920s.  Across from the house where Goo grew up and still lives today is Waihee Elementary School. But in that era it didn’t exist. “Over here,” he pointed, waving his arm at the school, “this ground, they used to have this tree. You know that round thing (macadamia fruit), on what they call a tree, so I used to use that as my golf ball,” Goo said. “You know a guava tree?” he asked. “I used to use parts of the tree, you know. Was like a golf club. So, I was hitting that. You see I was fascinated with that. I liked to see the ball going in the air. I was just fooling around, you see. No golf course, no golf balls, no golf clubs, nothing like that. Just the guava stick,” he grinned.


Many isle championship records, from the 1920s through the 1950s, are sketchy. Golf was just beginning to evolve here, but isle legends did exist. One, in particular, was Francis H. I‘i Brown. Brown, a renowned and gifted athlete, loved boating and fishing, but it was his skill as a golfer that was legendary. (He once held the course record at the Old Course at St. Andrews, after carding a 62 in a practice round prior to the 1924 British Amateur.) At one point he was the concurrent amateur champion of Hawaii, Japan and California. We’ll never know how much golf Brown played at the Maui Country Club, or Waiehu for that matter. But he was a presence here. Just three years after Brown won the 1930 California State Championship, another moment in golf history would take place at Maui’s Waiehu golf links, where its first-ever caddie tournament had just crowned a new champion. His name was Willie Goo. “I won that in 1934… I think. It was my first trophy,” Goo recalls. By then, Goo, a humble caddie, was styling with his own golf bag full of real equipment! “I had wooden clubs… a driver, a brassie, and a spoon. My iron… they used to call it a mashie… all wooden shafts,” he recalled. Over the remainder of the 1930s, Goo would continue to improve his caddie swing.


The forties brought wartime when Pearl Harbor was attacked. Golfers and non-golfers alike joined the cause. Goo enlisted immediately and eventually became part of the 100th Infantry Battalion, where he was seriously wounded in Anzio, Italy, while attacking a machine gun nest. Goo’s injuries were considerable. His German doctor, named “Thompson,” was particularly instrumental in putting the former Waiehu caddie back together: “I remember… all I wanted to know from the doctor was: ‘Can I ever play golf again?’ But, I don’t think he knew what golf was,” Goo recalled. Goo would return home a decorated hero, and in time, make Maui golf history again. The war’s aftermath brought an explosion of baby boomers who ushered in the 1950s. It had been 20-years since Waiehu had opened, and Maui’s core golfing community was growing.


By 1950, Maui golf was growing fast. Numerous golf clubs had formed, and pros and amateurs alike were battling it out on the Valley Isle’s two courses. The once-caucasian-only Maui Country Club was beginning to loosen its policies, and Dr. Harold Kushi was among the first Japanese-Americans to become a member. Kushi, another ardent Maui golf supporter, decided the island needed a championship of its own after Mauiian Herman Coelho would make history winning the third and final Territorial Hawaiian Open to be held on Maui, at the Country Club, in 1950. He put a plan into action, and in 1952, the Maui Golf Association (MGA)—led by Kushi, who was its president at the time, staged “the biggest little tournament in the Hawaiian islands,” billed as the Maui Invitational Open. Held in October at the Maui Country Club, the inaugural event had just two pros and 87 amateurs. Two Maui amateurs would play to a tie and ultimately, Willie Goo, the caddie, would prevail over his fellow competitor, James Tokunaga. One shot behind the two was pro Bill Tokunaga. The Maui Open event was so immediately popular that by its second year all of the great neighbor-island pros were invading the Valley Isle each year to have at it. One of them was Jimmy Ukauka, an Oahu pro from the Kaneohe Clipper Course, who cemented a newfound nickname for himself in the history books: Mr. Maui Open—and for good reason…. The Maui Invitational Open was, at this point, increasing in size and prestige. Maui golf fans would line the fairways in huge galleries to watch Hawaii’s best players battle it out. Jimmy Ukauka, who had dominated the fledgling Maui Invitational Open Golf Tournament, won it six consecutive times from 1953 to 1958. Over time, the Maui Open would see numerous starts and stops, but always, there is a person of action daring enough to face whatever obstacles are presented for the betterment golf.


In 1960, the sands of time were changing and Maui was evolving with the times. There was a post-war shift from sugar and pineapple to a newer, more promising crop: tourists. Commercial aviation, with WWII’s break-through military aircraft development, brought newer, larger, more economical commercial aircraft online and at a rapid rate.  The end result was lower airfares and a greater capacity to move visitors here. Hawaii was ripe for tourism, and Kaanapali led the way as Hawaii’s first golf resort. The year was 1963, and the first-ever televised golf event in the Hawaiian islands-: Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf, on ABC. Airing in livingrooms across the country, the match-play event featured pro Dave Regan, from the USA, and Bob Charles of New Zealand. Regan took the early lead with a birdie on the first hole, which is the downhill par 4 16th today, but Charles was unflinched and would go on to shoot a 6-under 66 to win the event. TV coverage of golf was still in its infancy, and so too was Maui and Kaanapali. The resort’s owners, American Factors, Ltd. led by Henry Walker and George Sumner, the latter being the driving force behind the resort’s creation. To spur more awareness for Kaanapali, the executives arranged yet another event, with hopes that it would attract even more attention and build greater awareness. “The Royal Kaanapali course is a sound one, long, tough and designed by Robert Trent Jones. What is more, the course is a kind of preview of Hawaii’s golf future. The islands, a mixture of thick jungle, wide stretches of plain, still-frothing volcanoes and lava-studded desert, will soon be dotted with some of the world’s foremost golfing spas. Until recently only a man who hated pineapple corporations would bet that golf and tourists who play it could become this faraway state’s biggest industry. But a combination of superb climate, the native enthusiasm for the game and a rich flow of dollars from real estate developers who hold golf and gold in about equal esteem is transforming the islands,” said Gwilym Brown, of Sports Illustrated. What was billed as “the first truly major sports event to be played in Hawaii”: the 1964 Canada Cup and International Golf Championship Matches at the Royal Lahaina Beach Hotel, Cottage Colony and Golf Club-—took place and was a resounding success.


Yet, before that all happened, Brown, in his 1963 Sports Illustrated article about the impending Canada Cup at Kaanapali, noted that mainland perceptions of Hawaii were that the 50th state was “geographically and psychologically” “adrift” from the rest of the United States. “Mainlanders,” he said, “see it only through an exotic haze of coconut palms, ukuleles and swiveling hula skirts.” If that was indeed the perception, then Kaanapali was doing it right! Kaanapali saw the benefits of televised golf from the very beginning, and made the advertising investment in tourism. Any misperceptions about Hawaii would quickly change, with Kaanapali hosting 33 countries the resort planted itself into living rooms around the world. It would help lay the groundwork for an eventual tourism boom for Maui. In 1962, Bing Crosby hit the ceremonial first tee shot as his foursome led the charge when the resort opened. In 1963, Bob Charles won there on ABC-TV, and in 1964 Jack and Arnie were shooting 65s and breaking the course records while battling Argentina, their closest pursuer by 11-shots, to win the event for their fifth straight title. The success of the event would set forth a continuing legacy of televised Hawaiian championships. Isle golf legend, Francis Brown, was at Kaanapali that week in 1964, and what he saw inspired him to work with New York golf promoter Ed Carter to get Chinn Ho’s Makaha Country Club, and Hawaiian Airlines, to underwrite the Hawaii Open’s entree onto the PGA Tour in 1965. Kaanapali’s championship legacy, and that of Maui’s overall, was just beginning, as our timelines reveal how things went down, then and now.


As Maui rolls into the 1970s, its evolution as an unspoiled, yet glamorous destination is beginning to morph into that of something more. Elmer Cravalho, Maui’s longtime mayor from 1969 to 1979, is responsible for Maui’s surge in development, politically muscling the building out of the waterline from Wailuku to Wailea, which enables the development of Kihei. With South and West Maui both in the works, Maui is beginning to grow up. The island’s citizenry is becoming more prosperous as a result of the impact of affordable air transportation, the extensive marketing of tourism, and the expanded capacity to meet demand too. This strategic shift, from an agricultural based economy to one of tourism, closes the local job gap created by the mechanization of the sugar industry. Golf benefits from this transformation. Mayor Cravalho pushes hard to close the deal and make Wailea a true reality in the late 1960s. Golf in the City of Flowers, as it was first named, comes to fruition. “At Wailea Golf Courses,” Blue and Emerald course designer Arthur “Jack” Snyder writes, “the views are so vast that they are apt to overpower anything we design,” he said. “When I looked over the expansive views, it became apparent that we would need to compensate, so to speak, for the tremendous impact of the scale of the ocean view. We decided to make the greens a little larger and the fairways somewhat wider than might normally be built.” Our Story continues with the Wailea Timeline which will be available for viewing within the week. Stay tuned!


Colin Cameron, Kapalua resort’s visionary founder, spent 20-years doing early studies, making plans, and recruiting a small army of talented individuals to “set the tone and the direction for Kapalua”, which he was proud of saying, was “an uncompromising commitment to quality.” Cameron believed man’s “improvements in facilities are one thing; improvements on nature are harder—if not impossible.” Thus, he ensured that his resort’s buildings and grounds were designed to blend into their setting, “rather than dominate”. His prime example was the Kapalua Bay Hotel, made in a style that was often referred to as “disappearing architecture.”  Kapalua made its entree into golf with the help of the legendary Arnold Palmer, who has left an indelible mark on the Valley Isle in countlesss ways. The resort, which celebrates 40-years since the days when Palmer and his co-deigner, Frank Duane, weaved the Bay course’s holes up and over pineapple fields down to the crashing sea.  The No. 4 and 5 holes at Kapalua’s Bay course are as memorable as it gets. And, Kapalua Golf continues to maintain its place on on the leaderboard with continuous updating and their long tradition of sweating the details. Soon after the Bay course opened, Kapalua would continue its growth opening the Village, once again with Palmer’s help. A young Mark Rolfing was on board by now, and the campy patrician resort (and Maui) would make history, as you will see right now… .Our Story continues with the Kapalua Timeline which will be available for viewing within the week. Stay tuned!