Story by Diane Haynes Woodburn | Photo courtesy of John Byrne/mauigolfreview.com
Tadd Fujikawa skipped his high-school graduation ceremonies to play the 2009 Maui Open, and won the tournament with honors.
If golf professional Dave Gleason has his way, the Maui Open will become one of Hawai‘i’s most competitive tournaments—one that appeals to some of the best golfers from around the world. “Of course,” Gleason adds with his signature smile, “Maui is the big attraction, but Maui and a great open? That’s a winning combination.”
Gleason is director of golf for The Dunes at Maui Lani, which will host the Maui Open for the first time in the tournament’s long and illustrious history. The two-day, thirty-six-hole open runs August 7 and 8, with registration accepted through mid-July.
It began in 1952 as the Maui Invitational, and was held at the Maui Country Club. The early years were dominated by Hall of Fame great Jimmy Ukauka, who won the title five years straight (1952–1956), losing his bid for a sixth title to another Hall of Fame legend, Guinea Kop. Since then, winners have included many who would become Hall of Fame inductees, including Ted Makalena, Paul Scodeller, Art Fujita, David Ishii, Allan Yamamoto, Morgan Fottrell, Masa Kaya, Dick McClean, David “Bones” Bettencourt, and Lance Suzuki. After a five-year hiatus, the tournament was resurrected in 2008 by golf pro Brad Bowen, and hosted at the Kahili Course in 2008 and 2009.
Last year, a younger generation dominated the tournament. Fifteen-year-old Seabury Hall sophomore Alex Chiarella generated excitement when he emerged as the overnight leader. The next day, Tadd Fujikawa was the only golfer to break seventy in the final round. The Moanalua High School senior had had to choose between tournament competition and his graduation ceremonies. He chose well, walking away with his first Maui Open title. Three years earlier, in 2006, Fujikawa became the youngest golfer ever to qualify for the U.S. Open. He’s now a professional, and, Gleason hopes, will be back to defend his title.
“The Maui Open is an especially appealing tournament,” Gleason explains, “because truly anyone who wants to compete with great golfers can enter.” To play in the championship flight, golfers must have a handicap of 6.2 or less, and amateurs are invited to compete with the pros. There is also an “A” flight, designed for golfers with a handicap of 15.4 or better who will play net competition (actual score less handicap). Each division offers prizes, including cash prizes for the pros, and merchandise for amateurs.
“The Open has such a rich, storied past,” Gleason says. “We felt our course would be a perfect match.” Indeed, The Dunes at Maui Lani is built on and around the natural sand dunes of the area, and modeled after the old championship links courses of Scotland and Ireland. Features like pot bunkers and firm greens make the course both unique and challenging. The Dunes also boasts the distinction of being the highest USGA slope-rated golf course on Maui.
“We’re in this for the long term,” says Gleason. “With more amateur participation, we could have A, B, and C flights designed for golfers of all abilities, and involve two or three courses, as it was played in the old days. There is lots of room for expansion.” Gleason is also introducing seniors (ages fifty and above) and super seniors (sixty and above) divisions for the pros, “which will be lots of fun.” Gleason plans on playing with the super seniors. “We’re committed to growing this tournament,” he says. “It’s right for Maui.”
The Maui Open will kick off with a Friday night party, August 6, at The Dunes clubhouse restaurant, Café O’Lei. Proceeds from the tournament will benefit Maui Junior Golf. For more information and registration, visit the official website at www.open.mauigolf.org, or call the Pro Shop at (808) 873-0422.