RIP Gary Planos, aka “Mr. Kapalua”
By Stephanie Wei under RIP
gary planos

Gary Planos and I in 2011 at Kapalua

It is with a heavy heart that I report the golf industry has lost a true giant and friend with the death of Gary Planos. He was 62. He was a favorite among PGA Tour players for the years that he ran the Tournament of Champions. He basically helped build Kapalua into what it is today. He was found on Saturday in his home, where he’d live for over 25 years atop a hill overlooking the Pacific Ocean. No cause of death was given.

As longtime readers know, Gary was a very close friend of mine and I’m having trouble writing this post right now, but I wanted to pay my respects to him and note the lasting impact he had on many of our lives in the golfing world. 

Gary not only took care of the players and their families at Kapalua, but he also made sure the media was always looked after. He introduced me to the resort in 2010. We became email pen pals after he reached out to me in late 2009 and asked if I was covering 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.”

Months later in 2010, Gary and I were exchanging emails and I mentioned that I needed a vacation after my first year covering golf, where I literally went non-stop and hardly ever slept. He asked if I was interested in coming to Maui and said he could get me comp’d at the Ritz at Kapalua for a week. I’m pretty sure I booked my flight that same day.

My parents were jealous that I was on such a nice vacation, so Gary told me to invite them out and he’d get them the friends and family rate at the Ritz. The next day after they arrived, we played 18 holes at the Planation Course with Joe Torre and his wife. After the round, Torre, who was a regular in Gary’s office, signed baseballs for Gary to giveaway or donate. He signed a few for me, as well, and posed for a picture with the baseball for one of my contributors at the time, Merf.

I have so many wonderful Gary Planos stories and memories, but my computer might zap out from the flood of tears pouring down my face if I share anymore. Here’s a tribute I wrote on him in 2011, the last year he played a considerable role in the Tournament of Champions.

For the last six years that I’ve covered Kapalua, Gary has always made sure I, along with the friends I would bring, were more than comfortable, arranging golf, dinners and whale-watching trips for us. I know they are also in mourning today, as Gary touched so many lives — even briefly. He treated me like family and I thought of him as an uncle I never had. He was also the hardest person in the world to Christmas shop for.

I didn’t get to spend as much time with him as usual this past January. One of his beloved dogs, Fanny, was in poor health and when he wasn’t running the driving range, he was taking care of her. I should’ve made more of an effort to see Fanny and to visit with Gary at his home that week. I looked back at the text messages on my phone and the last exchange we had was on January 20th, when he told me dear Fanny had passed away. I told him I was sorry and she was in a better place.

I have to think the same for Gary now. Gary, you were one of my dearest friends and you will be greatly missed. Thank you for everything and for doing what you could to help with my career. I will never forget you and the memories we had together.

As Steve Stricker said after he won the ToC in 2011, “Gary is Kapalua.”

Mahalo, Gary. You will always have a special place in my heart and I’ll always be indebted to you for introducing me to West Maui.