The 1950 Hawaiian Open, held in conjunction with the 28th Maui County Fair, contributed two milestones to the history of golf on the Valley Island. It started the ball rolling for the reorganization of the Maui Golf Association. That, in turn, led to the birth of what was then called the Maui Invitational Open Golf Tournament in October of 1952.
Dr. Harold Kushi, one of Maui's staunchest golf supporters, was president of the MGA. That summer, he called a group of golf enthusiasts together for a discussion on plans to start a territory-wide tournament on Maui and make it an annual event........
Once things got rolling, a tournament committee was formed. Serving with Kushi were some of Maui's leading business and golf leaders, including Shizuichi Mizuha, Scotty Kinnear, F.P. James, Jim Fleming, A.F. Anderson, Ben Silva, Dean Shigeta, J. Harvey Ruth, Charles (Kas) Ota and pro Charley Chung.
Melvin and Tokunaga and 87 amateurs -- five from the neighbor islands -- participated in the inaugural classic held on October 11 - 12, 1952 at the Maui Country Club. By the second year, entries swelled to 156 amateurs and 14 pros, who competed for a $1,000 purse.
Before long, the Maui Open came to be known as "the biggest little tournament in the Hawaiian Islands".
In 1968, through the generosity of Ben and Dorothy Kaneaiakala, the pro purse was boosted to $2,500, which represented the largest cash pot of any tournament in the State, with the exception of the Hawaiian International Open. The pro-am event that year offered an additional $500 to the PGA golfers.
The tournament was played at the Maui Country Club, its birthplace, for the first four years. It extended out to the Waiehu Municipal Course in 1956, to the Royal Kaanapali Course in 1962, and the Wailea Course in 1972. All play at the nine-hole Maui Country Club layout ceased after the 1967.
A pair of local amateurs emerged tied for first place in the initial Maui Open, won by Willie Goo in a playoff with James Tokunaga. Invading pros dominated the title for the next nine years until 1962 when amateur Masa Kaya, a former Waiehu caddy, broke the string.
Jimmy Ukauka, pro at the Kaneohe Klipper Course, held a monopoly on the Maui Open crown for six consecutive years. He was finally dethroned in 1959 by Guinea Kop, a three-time runner-up. They finished in a tie after 72 holes and Kop birdied the first hole of a sudden-death playoff to win.
Ukauka never regained the championship, placing second three times in seven more tries after that, including another play-off loss to Paul Scodeller in 1964. Scodeller and Kaya repeated as champions, as did Ted Makalena, Art Fujita, Morgan Fottrell and Clyde Kahalehau.
Fottrell of Royal Kaanapali with his victories in 1970-71, became the first since Ukauka to win back-to-back titles.
Kaya, then an amateur, nosed out pro and defending champion Makalena by two strokes in 1962 to stop the professionals domination of the title. Dave Bettencourt, another amateur, won in 1963 by outlasting Scodeller by one stroke.
Greg Dikilato in 1965, Allan Yamamoto in 1974 and Frank Sanchez in 1977 were others out of the amateur ranks to capture the title.
Kapalua became the new attraction in 1977, hosting the first round. The 54-hole tournament moved to Waiehu on the second day and finished at Wailea that year.
In 1978, the Aloha Section PGA was adamant in its demand for a minimum purse of $3,000. Unwilling to meet the demand, the MGA decided to go with an all-amateur Maui Invitational Tournament, won by hometown favorite Norman Yagi.
It happened in 1966 also when a similar request by the pros was turned down. More than 200 amateurs entered the tournament and Kaya emerged king for the second time.
The Maui Open was buried for six years from 1978 to 1984 when Charlie Aruda, promotions director for Maui Beach Hotel, brought it back to life. Amfac (Kaanapali) and Kapalua came through with major support, as did Maui Toyota, Hawaiian Airlines and Maui Beach Hotel.