Profile: Henry Yogi

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MGR senior writer, Jack Byrne, talks story with PGA Professional Henry Yogi, a man he describes as: “the Professor of Maui Golf.”

Written by John Byrne

This is the Grand Old Man of Golf on Maui, but the emphasis is on “Grand” and not on “Old,” for Henry is hardly an old man and has no apparent reason or any apparent intent to not go on doing what he does best, imparting golf knowledge and life ethic to the youth of all ages on Maui.

Although it seems he was always here, Henry was not. He was born in Kailua on the windward side of Oahu, where his parents owned a small restaurant right on Kailua beach. But, in 1944, during a time of blackouts and rationing that followed Pearl Harbor, Henry, at the tender age of 11, started weekend work as a caddie.

Soon, Henry lost interest in water sports: he was learning to swing a club. The members of the Mid-Pacific Country Club, where he toted bags, liked young Henry and, since he had no clubs of his own, would let him use their clubs at the end of their round, and he would hastily practice until the member’s time to go home. His skills, learned on everybody else’s equipment, developed quite rapidly playing with the likes of Ted Makalena and Masa Kaya growing up. Soon he was invited to become a member of the club, and eventually its pro.

Before that, Henry entered the U.S. Army and had the opportunity to hone his skills even more. Before his discharge, he had won a number of service-related tournaments and gained considerable confidence in his game.

One Mid-Pacific club member, a doctor who also played on Maui, asked Henry if he would consider leaving Oahu to help pioneer golf on the nearby island of Maui and sign on as pro at the Maui Country Club. “It sounded great to me at the time, but when I got there, the club hired me but kept me on probation for six months. After my probation, they signed the contract. It was a long try out.”

Maui Country Club was a nine-hole course that comprised half of the holes on Maui. “There were really no tourists on Maui then, and maybe only 50,000 people lived on the island. Most of them worked for the plantation. But many took a liking to golf.”

A year later, in 1962, the mayor, who was a member of the Maui Country Club, “asked me to breakfast at his house and told me across the table he would like me to take over as the pro for the Waiehu Municipal Golf Course, which also had just nine holes. I guess I wanted badly to work with the people and quickly agreed. I spent the next 23 years of my life at the Muni.”

“In 1986, with Maui golf growing and tourism becoming so important, I joined Makena Golf Club. Nine years later I went back to Waiehu, again as head pro at our Municipal Course. Now I think I have made my final move. When the former director of instruction at The Dunes at Maui Lani, Bill Greenleaf, asked me to join The Dunes, their golf school so impressed me that I just had to join the program. That was in 2002 and I’ve never had more fun or more satisfaction at my job than I am having right now.”

Teaching is buried deep in the roots of Henry S. Yogi. Few professionals or even professors have given so much to students and done so over such an extended period of time. He is respected, perhaps revered, by those who have grown up learning golf. His junior programs have often embraced a fledgling golfer at the age of seven, and carried that golfer right through high school which then resulted in the grant of a golf scholarship to a highly accredited college on the mainland. The number of these students is large and their gratitude may be even larger.

Last year a tournament in his honor was staged on Maui. It was named MAHALO! (Thank you!) and attracted so many of his past students from Maui and the outer islands that the tournament was oversubscribed, and many had to watch the 200 who competed showing their peers the skills they had learned from Henry. Since a number of these students are now golf professionals and teaching pros, the play was quite respectable.

Henry has spent most of his golf time at teaching, but has at times participated in such events as the Hawaiian Open (twice), the Senior PGA Tour’s Kaanapali Classic, The PGA Club Professional Senior Championship (twice), and he has joined TOUR events in Florida several times.

At one tournament, he was paired with Australian Bruce Smith, who scored a course tying record of 64. Says Henry with a big smile, “Now that was something to watch.”

But, truth be told, he enjoys watching a beginner develop even more. “I have lots of housewives coming here now. They may come only once a week, but they practice hard at home. The progress they show, at times, it really surprises me.”

But it seems the young ones are his favorites. “The kids? You work with them and it’s like you are a painter and they are the canvas. They suck in what you teach and give you 200% back. I just love that.”

Riley Kaneshina, the retired principal from the Maui Department of Education, who has worked with Henry on his junior programs since 1968, says: “Henry has been such a good influence on kids, it’s not only the golf, they want to model themselves after him, live like him and take on his values. I heard that over and over and over again last year at MAHALO, the tournament event in his honor.”

In person, Henry is quite reserved until he talks about his associates at The Dunes at Maui Lani Golf School.

“We have a great teaching group here: Don, Mike, and Eric. They are all great teachers. They all love what they do. I don’t think you could go wrong coming to anyone here.”

And Henry is proud of the school set-up itself. “We also have a great place to teach. Our 15-acre practice facility, which was designed by course architect Robin Nelson, includes a 390-yard driving range, 45,000 square feet of tee area, five target greens—plus the large practice putting green, a sand bunker, and a short game practice area.”

With all that, Yogi advised us, the price is what “was meant to be paid.” A half-hour lesson is just $45, and an hour a very fair $65.

And when the student wants to carry the professor with him, he can buy a 9-hole every stroke teaching lesson for just $145. A price one may quickly recoup at a friendly game of skins.

Has Henry Yogi advice on the play of The Dunes of Maui Lani? Yes, and it is as basic and sound as the rest of his teaching.

“The Dunes is not a typical layout in Hawaii, and it has some surprises for you. Play within your game. Don’t try to try for more power than you know you can deliver. Don’t underestimate the tradewinds or overestimate your chance to land a birdie. Don’t take a chance with your driver unless you can really control it. A 3-wood off the tee will cut down on costly mis-hits. And don’t try things that have not worked for you before. Play within your game. You’ll have more fun and a better score when you do.”

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