Golf with Aloha

They say that golf is a “gentleman’s” game and  I’ve often wondered…Does golf attract “gentle people” or does it make people “gentle”?  It’s probably a little bit of both, but either way, my experience has been that, except for the very rare occasion where an unfriendly joins our foursome, 99% of the people I meet on the links are people I’d like to play with again.

But what about the people who work in the golf industry?  Well, quite frankly, I never thought much about them.   There are a couple of Starters who remember my name when I walk to the tee at my home course.  But other than that…I’m pretty much invisible. I have been playing the same public course for years and yet every time I walk into the pro shop to check-in, they ask for my name. 

But I learned on my recent trip to Maui that not all golf courses or employees are created equal. I knew I wanted to play a lot of golf in paradise, so I bought a couple of Ka’anapali’s golf packages and proceeded to book a bunch of tee times.

When we arrived at the course for our first round, we were greeted by a big smile and a very loud and enthusiastic, “Aloha!” from one of the guest services staff who immediately took care of getting us set up. 

Shortly after we checked in, it was “all about us” and everyone seemed to know our name.  It was Mrs. Kelly this and Mrs. Kelly that.  I laughed because the only “Mrs. Kelly” I know is my M-I-L. 🙂

When we finished our round, we were greeted with cool towels and more friendly banter from the guys who greeted us on arrival. And it occurred to me that there is more to Ka’anapali than great golf.

Out of the 17 golf courses on Maui and Lana’i, my golfguy and I have played 15 of them, more than a few times.  And although they all have things that make them special in their own way, I’ve never experienced staff who exude the “Aloha Spirit” more than those men and women at Ka’anapali.  Let me introduce you to a few of them…

Larry was the first person we met on Day 1.  Never without a huge smile on his face, a chuckle in his speech and a peck on my cheek, Larry is unforgettable with a wonderful head of “Alaska Blonde” hair.

My new BFFs at Ka’anapali: Jack (left), Larry (right)

You’d never guess it looking at him, but he’s 72 years old with 17 grandchildren and 5 great grandchildren. In his almost 32 years at Ka’anapali, Larry has met a lot of golfers and many of them have come to call him “friend”.  One fan treated Larry to a free 2-week vacation in Japan during the 1998 Nagano Olympics; another instituted an “open door” policy at his well known  hotel in Las Vegas for Larry and his friends.

Sammy Davis Jr., who Bob Hope once joked, “…hits a nice ball about 90 yards, but his jewelry flies 110.” was a regular guest at Ka’anapali.  He had met Larry’s son who was on policy duty at his hotel once and couldn’t hold back when he saw Larry at the couse, “Hey Larry! Your son is tall and good looking.  How come you so short and ugly?”  To which Larry was quick on the comeback with, “Well, I guess  us short and ugly guys gotta stick together!”

Jack, who has been at Ka’anapali even longer than Larry loves working there because he meets so many wonderful people – like his favorite professional, Tom Watson, who regularly played in the Champions Skins Game.

Jack was also delighted to meet Celine Dion and Sharon Stone, both of whom he described as “very nice”.  I found it amusing when he said they both dressed in baggy clothes so they wouldn’t attract attention.  I started looking for “stars” by checking out those with the baggiest attire. 😉

One day, Jack walked up to me and surreptitiously place a bright pink ‘Paula Creamer’ golf ball in my hand.  I normally don’t play bumble gum balls, but I decided to put this special gift into play.  And low and behold, I scored my best round of golf ever!  When I got back to the clubhouse I swear Jack was excited about it as I was. 

From that day forward, Jack brought me good-luck balls to play before each of my rounds. He also noticed that I like to drive the cart, so he used to move my bag to the driver side.  It was a smart move as it reduced the number of collisions my golfguy and I had on the course when we both got out of the cart to grab a club at the same time.

Most first tee gatekeepers (AKA Starters) I know have a tough job “herding cats” and usually don’t have time to get to know you.  But our experience was different at Ka’anapali where Justin, Roscoe or Kyle would pair twosomes who they knew would play well together even if it meant juggling a couple of tee times (with players’ approval of course).

Justin and Kyle “start” you off right!

On course we got to know one of Ka’anapali legends. 87 year old, Tommy (Tang) Sarashina has been working at the resort for 41 years.  For the past two decades, he has marshaled both courses and quenched the thirst of many a player with a chilly cup of Tang – the drink of astronauts.

Tommy “Tang” quenches our thirst on the Kai 8th hole

When Tommy was 19, the unthinkable happened — the teenager was drafted by the Japanese Army and spent two years in Siberia as a prisoner of war.  Oh my!

When he was finally released, he couldn’t return to America because of his compulsory conscription into the Japanese military.  It took him 20 years, but finally in 1971 he successful regained his citizenship and returned to the US. 

Talk about your hell-to-heaven life story, eh?

There are so many people at Ka’anapali whose #1 priority it is to make your golfing experience the best you’ve ever had.  It would take a novel to share all their stories, so let me just thank a few of them for the best 3 weeks of golf I’ve ever had…

Thank you June, Wayne, Patrick and Kathy

June started working at the club in 1963 and shared with me the history of Ka’anapali and all the changes she’s seen over almost 50 years.  June witnessed the first major tournament played in Maui – The Canada Cup in 1964.  And when they opened the Kai course in the late 60’s, it was completely walkable, so a lot of locals learned to play golf right there.  It’s still a huge draw when the course opens up for walkers everyday at 4 pm for FIT CLUB – a great deal for both locals and tourists alike.

Wayne, who always welcomed me by name when he checked me in, has given 12 years of service to the resort and says he wouldn’t want to work anywhere else.  I don’t blame you Wayne! 

Patrick started his career at a WA State ski resort just south of us.  He told me he woke up one day and decided he didn’t like the cold and moved to this weather wonderland.  He’s been with the club for 4 years managing the pro shop, where I spent too much time drooling over the fabulous selection of golf goodies.  BTW, as an aside…Ka’anapali holds a tent sale every November.  I headed there the day I landed on the island and bought 6, count em…6, Jamie Saddock golf shirts for $20 each! 

Kathy, who likes all the people she meets in the pro shop, enjoys great hours that let her play the game she loves at least twice a week. Oh my, Kathy…do I want your job!  

Kathy wasn’t able to join  the rest of us golfgals at this year’s Turkey Pluck, but plays most of the ladies’ monthly events.  I’ve got to get back some year for their Halloween tournament where the carts are decorated for the occasion and where ghosts, witches and bats are your only handicaps when it comes to scoring.

Yes, it’s a big mahalo from this golfgal and her golfguy to all the folks at Ka’anapali who made our stay so memorable. For us, Ka’anapali is now our “home away from home” and I’m homesick already for all your friendly faces.

But I’ll be back soon, so until next time…


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  1. Great Gentle People Selection – Loved the post

  2. Nice post for readers with shareable content to all.

  3. Fila golf apparel

    From what I’ve seen, its a dream job for many people. A lot of them are complaining, mostly about the money, but the majority are very happy with it.

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