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Sports & Fitness // Hot Air
Steve Murray

The Five ‘Majors’ Of Hawaii Golf

Hawaii boasts a billion-dollar golf industry that includes 90 courses, millions of local and visiting participants and junior programs equal to more populous and well-heeled areas.

What it doesn’t have is an appreciation of its history or a unifying theme around which the various courses and tournaments can rally.

The Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame has inducted just five golfers – Francis I’i Brown, David Ishii, Ted Makalena, Jackie Liwai Pung and Lenore Rittenhouse.

A worthy list, no doubt, but one that should include, at a minimum, eight-time Mid Pacific Open champion Lance Suzuki, seven-time state amateur champ Arthur Armstrong, four-time Hawaii Pearl Open winner Greg Meyer, and the entire Kop and Castillo clans.

The USGA and Royal and Ancient have preserved their histories through the playing, promotion and celebration of the four major championships.

Hawaii needs to do the same.

Admittedly, Hawaii has no course the likes of the mythic of Augusta National or the six centuries of tradition that St. Andrews can claim.

But it does have a history that is longer and more accomplished than even those in the industry and the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame recognize.

The Manoa Cup, which began in 1907, is the fourth oldest tournament in the United States behind the U.S. Open, U.S. Amateur and the Western Open. The Hawaii State Open, which began as the Hawaiian Open before the event became a PGA tour stop and eventually the Sony Open, dates back to 1928. Its 1934 champion was none other than Gene Sarazen.

And for 100 years, the Hawaii State Amateur Stroke-Play Championship has been the ultimate goal for nonprofessionals.

Add in the Mid Pac Open, the only four-day tournament on Oahu besides Sony, and Hawaii Pearl Open, which has been a major draw for local, Japanese and continental U.S. golfers since its 1979 founding, and you have five local tournaments worthy of Majors consideration.

The Mid Pac is, for the time being, the most active organization attempting to bridge the historical gap.

At the suggestion of famed teacher and 1996 champion Casey Nakama, the private Lanikai club began hosting an annual champions dinner seven years ago. Each April, past winners gather for an evening of friendship, good food and the remembrances of past performances.

It’s like the Masters dinner, but more inclusive and with infinitely more “da-kines” and “howzits” than anywhere in the greater Augusta area.

This year’s highlight was Ron Castillo Sr.’s recollection of his two holes-in-one at the 1982 Mid Pac. His good-natured tale ends with the former champion revealing how he left the course after his third round eagle, while “sticking the general manager with the bar tab” for the beer-drinking crowd that suddenly switched to brandy and champagne in anticipation of free booze that traditionally follows a hole-in-one.

Under the direction of Hawaii State Golf Association and Aloha Section PGA, one would assume the state’s golf industry leaders should create a system of awards that identify and celebrate the winners of the Mid Pac, Pearl Open, Manoa Cup, Hawaii State Open and the Hawaii Amateur.

Call it the Hawaii Grand Slam of Golf or whatever. Create jackets with badges that list the tournaments and title years. Hang duplicates in the Hawaii Majors’ home courses and the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame exhibit at Bishop Museum. Celebrate with a party grand enough to at least get a mention by the national golf writing press, then use all this to do what’s really needed: Grow the game of golf.

The sport is struggling, as high prices and slow rounds have eroded the game’s popularity. Hawaii’s golf industry needs to identify ambassadors and invite them to celebrate in their accomplishments.

Introduce them to players as not just instructors and course administrators, but as PGA veterans and Masters participants who have attempted to achieve a feat that is even more rare than their PGA counterparts. Since Bobby Jones won the career and single-season grand slam in 1930, only five other golfers have won all four PGA majors.

The Hawaii Grand Slam boasts just one member, David Ishii. Others have come close.

It’s not listed here, but both Ted Makalena and Ishii won the Hawaiian/Sony Open, adding to the luster of their careers.

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