Reading how Maui winds nearly blew away the island's premier golf tournament this week revived memories of a story told by a local golfer during a 1985 "Maui People" interview.
The event took place decades before the first PGA tournament of the year was played at Kapalua. The event took place on the opposite side of the island just a few years after the first course at Kapalua was built.
A little context. Up until after World War II, recreation in Maui County was organized and supported by the plantations and Alexander House, a nonprofit, youth-oriented welfare group put together originally by the distaff side of Maui's plantation bosses. Golf wasn't a game for kids.
Edwin Isaburo "Jojo" Nakashima was one of the first full-time recreation workers in the county. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team, 100th Infantry Division veteran of the fighting in France was hired by Libby Plantation Manager Harry Larson on Molokai. At the time, there was no such thing as a recreation manager, but that's what the one-time Maui High football standout wanted to do. Larson was impressed by Nakashima's service record.
After a couple of years on Molokai learning what a recreation leader needed to know, the Lanai Community Welfare Association lured him away to run its recreation program. In 1951, the Hana Community Association recruited him to run recreation in the East Maui town. The $325-a-month Hana job was funded by the William G. Irwin Foundation set up by Mrs. Paul Fagan of Hana Ranch and named for her father.
In 1969, Nakashima applied for a county job funded by President Lyndon Johnson's "War on Poverty." Nakashima was hired to coordinate recreation, transportation and nutritional funds for seniors at the multipurpose center at Kaunoa in former elementary school buildings.
A not-so-small irony: As a Paia plantation kid, Nakashima couldn't have attended the Kaunoa English Standard School because his first language was Japanese. Hawaiian and pidgin were also banned at the school.
Although football was the big sport in the 1930s and Nakashima was named to the Maui All-Star football team as a tailback - what is known as a quarterback today - golf was an early love. He learned the game on the Maui Agricultural Co.'s nine-hole course in upper Paia.
The course was located roughly behind Holy Rosary Church. Milk cows kept the grass chewed down. Barbed-wire fences kept the ruminants off the greens. The animals also supplied cow chips that could be used as tees instead of the then usual mound of sand. Nakashima and other Paia youths caddied and played when they could.
Clubs were way too expensive for plantation workers. The youngsters assembled their own. It wasn't that unusual for hickory shaft clubs to break. Frustrated players would give the heads to the caddies, who would carve shafts out of guava wood.
There was another source of shafts. During that 1985 interview, Nakashima said, "I used to walk up to the old polo grounds in Haliimaile and look for broken polo mallets." He recycled the shafts into golf clubs.
As an adult, Nakashima twice qualified for the Hawaii Public Links Tournament. He enjoyed the game for its own sake, but . . . "Golf is a game. It's like poker." He left the impression golf could be a little boring "if you don't play with something at stake."
He told a story about playing at the Maui Country Club, but asked that it not be included in the interview. E kala mai, Jojo, for putting the yarn into print now. The story is just too good to be left behind.
It was during the mid 1960s. Jojo wound up taking on two teams of two players each. They were high-rollers from the Mainland and liked to bet on each hole. So, here they were, playing with a 5-foot-2 local. Easy pickings, yeah?
The seaside Maui Country Club is notorious for wind. Nakashima knew the course intimately. If I remember correctly, he said, "They kept lofting their shots. I kept 'em low. They never figured it out." He walked off the course with his wallet bulging. Nothing like the winner of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, but still an impressive wad of money.
One of the big visitor selling points is Maui's proliferation of stunning golf courses, and there's no telling how many snowbound players watch the tournament at Kapalua on television and dream of playing in paradise. They're all welcome but should be warned: Don't underestimate the locals.
* Ron Youngblood is a former staff writer for The Maui News. His email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.