Junior golfers get inside the ropes

KAPALUA – Despite trekking more than four miles over the hot and hilly Kapalua Plantation Course, Maui junior golfers Caylyn Villatora and Kali Jones were still in high spirits Saturday afternoon.

“I’d skip school any day for golf,” Jones said to her new golfing buddies, Kevin Streelman and Ryan Moore, after spending the day as their standard-bearer.

About two dozen junior golfers were given the chance to walk with the professionals during the Hyundai Tournament of Champions that began on Friday and ends Monday. All of the Maui golfers, who range from middle to high school, were given a signed ball by the players in their pairing.

“I’ve done this for four years so it’s gotten easier,” said Villatora, a sophomore at Lahainaluna High School. “Every year I’ve kind of learned off of some of them and how they swing and just their routine. Sometimes they talk with us, just small kine.”

Jones, a 7th grader at Lahaina Intermediate, got her first experience at the tournament and said she is eager to see the golfers again in the remaining rounds – and hopes to come next year.

“It’s cool. If you golf you can learn how to hit the shots good,” she said.

Lahaina Intermediate 8th-grader Beau Johnston was somewhat star-struck after his day with Matt Kuchar and Masters champion Adam Scott.

“I was standing backwards and spacing out at the ground and (Scott) comes up to me and says, ‘Nice to meet you,’ and I’m like, ‘Nice to meet you too,’ ” Johnston said, smiling with a mouthful of braces. “I was pretty happy.”

The youths arrived before Saturday’s 7:30 a.m. start of play. Adult volunteers handling other preparations such as food, beverages and transportation arrived as early as 5:30.

“Oh my gosh they’re here early,” said Nancy Cross, the tournament’s executive director. “And the great thing is they’re doing the tough volunteer jobs,” such as cart maintenance and cleaning up.

About 450 visitors and residents volunteer daily at the tournament, which has six main beneficiaries: Hale Makua, the Maui County Council Boy Scouts of America, Friends of the Children’s Justice Center, the J. Walter Cameron Center, Ka Lima O Maui and the Lahainaluna High School Foundation.

Another 100 volunteers are involved in the Golf for Maui Charities program, which allows nonprofit organizations to sell tickets and retain the net proceeds.

Cross said that since 1999, the tournament has donated more than $4.4 million to local charities and nonprofits.

“This event not only has a significant impact to the state but it is a huge benefit to Maui’s nonprofit community,” she said. “We’re really proud to partner with them because their work is worthwhile.”

Mac Pascual, the girls and boys tennis coach at Lahainaluna, said he prefers the opportunity for students and volunteers to work at the tournament rather than receive a check from Hyundai.

“This is better than doing bake sales,” he said, adding that the money will help pay for uniforms and cover travel expenses.

While delivering bags of ice on a cart, Pascual said he has 18 players working shifts of six to eight hours. He also said other groups, such as the baseball team, cheerleading squad and boarding department, are helping out.

Although many of the groups have benefited from the tournament’s monetary donations, Maui Junior Golf Association president Ralph Miyamoto calls the chance for his group to rub shoulders with the pro golfers a “once-in-a-lifetime experience.”

“It’s awesome for them, especially since these are the world’s best players and they get to stand inside the ropes with them,” Miyamoto said.

PGA champion Jason Dufner walked the course with a pair of Lahainaluna golfers – Ennah Cabading and Caitlyn Villatora. Dufner said he remembered doing the same thing when he was younger.

“I grew up in South Florida and we had the Honda Classic down there so when I was a kid 12, 13, 14 years old I got the privilege to do it a couple times,” he said. “It’s a lot of work, especially this golf course. The walk is tough, the winds can be tough holding that sign up, but if the kids are into golf and are playing golf it’s a real treat for them to kind of walk inside the ropes.

“Hopefully most of the players are in good spirits and playing well.”

When Johnston was asked what his favorite aspect of the tournament is, he said he enjoys seeing the golfers “hit good shots.”

“It’s fun to see them hit it close to the hole and to know what our future could look like if we want to go pro,” he said. “I was looking at where they placed the ball in their stance and the way they did their routines. It was a pretty cool experience.”

* Chris Sugidono is at