Tribute to Kapalua’s Unofficial Mayor: Gary Planos
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

Me and Gary Planos hang out on the first tee in between starting times during the final round of the ToC

I’ve been trying to write this post for three days, but I kept getting too choked up when I started. It’s been an emotional week, mostly because it was probably tournament host Gary Planos’ last hurrah. For the last 12 years he served as tournament chairman, and for the past 20-or-so years, he’s become an icon and the face of Kapalua.

Just about anyone in Maui will tell you that Gary practically built golf in West Maui and the Kapalua brand. Gary Planos is Kapalua.

And if it weren’t for Gary, who’s known as the unofficial mayor at Kapalua, among other things, I probably wouldn’t have been at Kapalua for the Tournament of Champions. (Loyal readers know he was my host last October when I came here on vacation.)

Unfortunately, Gary’s position as the senior vice president of resort operations was eliminated last August when the resort changed management.

The testimonials and tributes to Gary somewhat officially started the Sunday before the event. Gary invited a group of about a dozen friends, which included members of the media, tournament staff, industry reps and Tour officials, to his home that sits atop a hill on Kapalua’s old village course with a mind-blowing view of the ocean for a BBQ.

After chowing down on some delicious steak, thanks to chefs Jon Brendle and John Heilmann, Nancy Cross, this year’s ToC tournament director (a role she’s shared with Gary in the past), gathered us together to watch an incredible DVD tribute that her daughter had put together to honor Gary, beginning with photos from his childhood to the good times he’s shared over the past 27 years in Maui.

I got misty-eyed and I’ve only known Gary for a little over a year. I felt honored to have been invited to the intimate gathering. The impression he’s had on me in such a short period of time is indelible. I can’t imagine the impact he’s made on those who have known him for many, many more years.

Just before last Christmas, I received an email from Gary introducing himself and asking if I was coming to Maui for the SBS Championship. He quipped, “Weather will be ‘ok’ and it is always fun kicking off the PGA TOUR season on beautiful Maui.” Naturally, he also sent a picture of the 17th hole at The Plantation Course (which coincidentally is my favorite). I sent my regrets and said, “Maybe next year…I’ve never played the course or even been to Maui.”

Now, a few thousands emails later, I’m lucky to call Gary a dear friend.

I know the past week was difficult for him, but he handled it with incredible grace and continued to deal with the gazillion requests from the “32 prima donnas” and their families, media members, the Tour, industry reps, friends, officials — you name it.

Here are some excerpts from players via Doug Ferguson’s AP article:

“He’s been an incredible host,” Adam Scott said. “I can’t say enough about the guy. He has to deal with 32 prima donnas every year, and somehow he caters for all our needs. He’s done a hell of a job and there’s always a smile on his face.”

It’s not just the players whom Planos looks after.

Ernie Els came to Kapalua for the first time in 2000 when his daughter, Samantha, was 7 months old. He was amazed at the lengths Planos went to look after her.

“Out on tour, he’s just the best,” Els said. “I know they have had a tough time here, but I cannot say enough about Gary and the way he has handled the tournament and the players all these years. I don’t think there is a better tournament, really.”

Rocco Mediate brought his sons to Hawaii, and the day they were to leave, he forgot to arrange a ride to the airport. He made a phone call, only to learn Planos and his staff had already taken care of it.

“He takes care of everything, most of the time before you even know it,” Mediate said.

Scott brought his parents to Kapalua this year. Planos put them on the Maui Jim, let them play the Plantation Course the day before the tournament week got under way and arranged for golf anywhere on the island.

“My parents think he’s the guy’s meant to book all that stuff,” Scott said. “They have had the best time. More than making the players happy, he makes the people around them happy, which makes the players really happy.”

Scott’s parents got to see some amazing whales show off last Monday on the Maui Jim boat. I happened to be on the same trip and they seemed very happy. Here’s the last 20-something seconds of a two minute whale of a moment.

If you haven’t seen enough, check out this shot:

Anyway, that was partly just an excuse to throw in the video and a picture since I didn’t have time last week. But I digress — what the players said is spot-on. Gary is the best in the industry. Whoever is making the decisions at Kapalua needs a big smack in the face. The ToC will never be the same unless Gary is standing on the first tee and running things. Unfortunately, it’s their loss. No doubt he’ll be a great addition to any resort, tournament, company, etc.

Every time Gary sees you, he’ll ask, “Do you need anything? Everything OK?” I finally had to start replying, “Just awful. Can you try to make things a bit more perfect?”

On the first tee before Sunday’s final round, Steve Stricker walked over to Gary, shook his hand and said, “I’m going to miss you.”

Thank you, Gary, for everything, especially being my friend.

(*This article in Maui News is an informative read and touching tribute. Golf Channel also aired a segment on Monday, honoring Gary.)