The news began to surface on Easter Sunday, via social media:
Much admired golf guy Gary Planos, just 62, had died, suddenly and unexpectedly the day before of a heart attack in his adopted state of Hawaii. It was greeted at Facebook and Twitter with shock, disbelief, and sadness. Because in the global traveling circus that is professional golf, Gary Planos was one of the very good guys. In fact, if you listen to the stars of that circus, the players, he was the very best.
Said Adam Scott a few years ago: “He’s been an incredible host. 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.”
“Gary is Kapalua” said Steve Stricker when he won at there in 2011.
Tweeted Rickie Fowler upon hearing the sad news, “RIP Gary Planos…he was always looking to help anyway he could…Kapalua won’t be the same without him!”
And it wasn’t just the men who admired Planos. Morgan Pressel, who won the Kapalua LPGA Classic in 2008, posted a picture of her with Planos on Facebook, and wrote: “Very sad to learn about the passing of my dear friend Gary Planos when I finished playing today. He was a true gentleman, incredible supporter and friend. My trips to Hawaii will never be the same.”
I knew Gary just a little, but to know him a little was to like him a lot. We both grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago as caddies. We got to know each other years later when, as golf industry people, we learned of our mutual fondness for the Evans Scholar program, the caddy scholarship program supported by the PGA Tour BMW Championship and so many former caddies and golfers across the nation. Gary earned an Evans Scholarship to attend the University of Illinois, which is where his golf career began.
He would move to Hawaii after graduating in 1975 with $7000 in his pocket and no job. He started in the bag room at Kapaula, working for $3 per hour and playing privileges. He would eventually join the PGA of America, and after working at other golf Hawaiian courses, he arrived back in Maui and never left.
Planos was the tournament director for the Kapalua International, a non-tour event, from 1991 until 1999. He was the initial chairman of Kapalua’s season opening PGA Tour event, which first took place in 1999, and had that role until 2010. In all, Planos held nine positions at Kapalua before his job was eliminated in 2011 when Kapalua decided to no longer manage golf courses and tournaments.
Planos was one of those guys who gets very little credit when things go well and all the blame when things didn’t. As such, he befriended players, sponsors, caddies, agents, volunteers, media types, PGA Tour brass, television personalities, and anyone else that had anything to do with the delivery of a PGA Tour event. In a very real sense, he built this tournament into what it is today. Things never went wrong on his watch, and he made it look easy.
Planos was bigger than life, one of those rare people you come across once in a lifetime if you are lucky. He had a warm and engaging smile, a casual Hawaiian demeanor, and a desire to help. In fact, as many people recalled in social media tributes, his favorite phrase was “Can I get you anything?” And by anything, he generally meant anything at all, anywhere, but most especially at Kapalua.
The best comment I heard came from Gary’s friend John Romaine, who heads up Maui Jim’s efforts in the golf world. “He gave with his palms down,” he texted me one night this week. So beautifully said. So accurately said.
A final tale, related by PGA of America executive Dan Baker, who was mentored by Planos, one of many who can proudly make that claim: “Gary and I met for a Yankees game once and sat next to an older gentleman and his wife who were friends with Yankee Manager Joe Torre. Before the game Torre came up to chat with Gary and the older guy. We befriended this gentleman and he kept buying us a beer and a hot dog every two innings. By the seventh inning we were full and he asked us how we were getting back to Manhattan. “I have a driver, we will drop you wherever you want”. Gary turned to me with that great grin of his and said “Bakes, we’re on scholarship!” So many people were the beneficiaries of the “Planos Scholarship” but the real benefit was his wonderful smile that I’m sure has warmed the hearts of thousands of people.”
Planos never forgot where he came from. He became a director of the Western Golf Association, which operates the Evans Scholar program and he was a familiar face on the practice tee at every BMW Championship since 1997. Gary’s brother Rick posted an obituary on Facebook, where he asked friends to make a contribution to the WGA. You can do so via this link: http://www.wgaesf.org/site/c.dwJTKiO0JgI8G/b.6194185/k.5B29/Memorials_and_Honorariums.htm
God speed, Gary Planos. You left behind countless friends.