Golfers Ready for ’13 Maui Open

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Today golfers from all islands, and even some from the mainland, arrive at Café O’Lei at The Dunes for the 2013 Maui Open’s 6pm welcome ceremony. This is the fourth year that The Dunes has hosted the storied 36-hole Maui Open since it was revived by pro Brad Bowen and the owners of Kahili Golf Course in 2008.

Affectionately known as “the biggest little tournament in the Hawaiian Islands”, the Maui Invitational Open Golf Tournament—named possibly as an inadvertent oxymoron when it was birthed in October 1952—has spanned seven decades. It was the culmination of an impassioned group of local golfers led by then Maui Golf Association president, Dr. Harold Kushi, who envisioned a Valley Isle-based, territory-wide event to rival the Hawaiian Open.

Throughout its history, the Maui Invitational Open Golf Tournament has struggled with the pros to keep its identity as an open for the everyday golfer. That was how it was when 89 amateurs played in its 36-hole inaugural, which was won by amateur Wille Goo when held at the nine-hole Maui Country Club; the event’s shared venue, until 1967.

But the next year Kaneohe Clipper’s Jimmy Ukauka, along with 13 other pros, joined the rapidly expanding field of players in the event’s new 72-hole stroke-play format. Ukauka, a Hawaii golf hall of famer, would dominate that year and onward, winning the event a record six times in a row before his putter failed him with a three-putt and a loss to yet another legendary pro, Ginnea Kop, on the first sudden-death playoff hole in 1959.

The ‘60s ushered in three double-winners, and two were pros: Ala Wai pro Ted Makalena and Navy-Marie pro Paul Scodeller, who paired up as a team in the storied 1964 Canada Cup at Kaanapali, and the Spreckelsville-born amateur great Masayoshi “Masa” Kaya, whose son Adrian, is in charge of irrigation at The Dunes at Maui Lani G.C., host of this year’s Open.

The 15th iteration saw a confrontation that would rear its head more than once in the event’s history: pro pressure to raise purses. Rather than caving to the pros, the event’s organizers whose to hold it without them in 1966, and 12 years later, this would spell the demise of the event until a modern-day version of Dr. Kushi came along, named Charlie Aruda, to revive the Open in 1984.

Those were interesting years, as California-transplant and Kapalua pro John McClean would win the revived event and go on to capture the championship title yet another three more times; Oahu pro Lance Suzuki would win three times; hall of famer Lori Planos would become the event’s first distaffer in 1989, and amateur Bill Keogh would win in 1996.

For the second time, the event would be shuttered, in 2001, when Aruda saw many volunteers and veteran committee members retire.

In 2008, something of an ironic twist would revive the Maui Open—in its current carnation—as a 36-hole, mostly-pro event. The former Kahili Golf Course head pro, Brad Bowen, somehow wrestled the event from its grave and, with help from his course’s new owner, brought a smallish field of mostly pros to his course for a new iteration.

Two years later its current host, retired pro Dave Gleason and The Dunes at Maui Lani G.C., took over the reins and have been running the event ever since, as mostly a pro venue.

Charlie Aruda, with recent help from many local businesses and Maui golf enthusiasts, have remained true to the Maui Golf Association’s original vision of an every man’s open event, and in 2012 inaugurated the Maui No Ka Oi Golf Association and with it, the Maui Aloha Golf Classic.

Editor’s Note: Were it not for the great retired sports editor of the Maui News, Wayne Tanaka, this story would not be possible.

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