People Who Made a Difference: Sports Edition is a special series honoring those in the Maui County’s sports community who have made a significant impact. Stories will be posted regularly in The Maui News this summer.
Chris Armanini saw a need and decided to look into it.
The 33-year-old graduate of Baldwin High School and University of Hawaii-Hilo is the lead teacher at Kaanapali Golf Courses. But he coaches many of the young golfers in West Maui.
With the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out the Maui Interscholastic League’s golf seasons and travel restricted on the Hawaii State Junior Golf Association’s calendar since March 2020, Armanini has set up several programs to bring young Maui golfers to the course.
Last week, Armanini led his inexperienced 17-under Kaanapali team to a runner-up in the Aloha PGA Section Junior League Championship at Kapolei Golf Course.
“It was great to see how many of these new kids came out, it was really good to see these kids come out and play competitive golf.” Armanini said Friday between his one-day class schedule.
Since graduating from UH-Hilo, he has worked at Wailea, Kapalua and now Kaanapali.
Since earning his Class A license in 2017, he has been nominated for Teacher of the Year in the Aloha PGA Section, won the Aloha Section’s Biennial Development Award in 2019, and was named one of the 50 Best Trainers in USA in 2020 as a Children’s Golf Trainer.
The 18-strong Kaanapali team comprised partners Gavin Melikidse and Amadeo Drechsel, Christopher Chung-Salem and Tyzo Kaska as well as Arjun Patel and Andrew Nguyen in a team scramble format over two match days.
“Of the 18 children who showed up, 17 who had never done anything like this before, went to Oahu, or played a different course, a different environment – it was completely new to many of those children.” said Armanini. “If we give them the chance to experience it, and when the state tournament returns and more tournaments get back on track, our Maui kids will get a little more used to being in the spotlight.”
Armanini said the players on the Oahu team that won the 17-under-Junior League title were much more experienced than his team.
“The guys held out really hard, it was great to see”, said Armanini.
Chung-Salem, a 14-year-old freshman to Maui Prep, said all of his opportunities to play golf under Aramnini’s tutelage are valuable for his future in high school golf and beyond.
“It’s great for me, it’s a great experience”, said Chung-Salem. “I like the scramble format because it teaches leadership, it teaches collaboration, it’s really good for team building. I also think it teaches you how to strategize with your partner, what shots to hit, who is trying, who is playing it safe.
“Yeah, it’s great for team bonding and great experience as always.”
Melikidze, a freshman at Lahainaluna High School, said he was happy to have the opportunity to play golf in an organized, competitive environment.
“It’s pretty cool because I can hang out with my dad and make new friends and keep working on my golf game.” said Melikidze. “It was really helpful because I can practice a lot more and probably wouldn’t go on the course as much. It was much fun.”
The Junior League game on Maui lasted from March to July with 56 teenagers in the program. Armanini also has a more relaxed program for younger golfers, the Kaanapali Keiki Program.
“I have about 100 in my Keiki program right now, they come to class, the practice is after school.” said Armanini.
There are some Keiki Scholarships available through Lahaina Junior Golf, but Armanini is fighting hard to keep costs down for all participants. In the Keiki program, a once-a-week class worth $ 25 after school also allows players and family members to play as many holes as possible all week after 4:30 PM.
“Transferring lessons to the golf course and bringing what you have learned to the golf course from the tee – that is golf” said Armanini. “That’s so much fun about taking the kids out and watching their faces when they get a good shot.
“They run up to you and give you a high five. It is great.”
He takes Keiki from the age of 4.
“They’ll be chasing butterflies by the age of 4 and that’s perfectly fine.” said Armanini. “It’s part of the process. I don’t believe the four-year-old. When we have to play around in the dirt, we play a little in the dirt. The children, they have a great time at this age. “
He has ages 4 to 7, 8-10, 11-13, and a high school group of 14-17 in the Keiki program. He also categorizes players based on skill and sometimes moves younger players to an age group to keep them going.
“It’s great to have this really big, positive drive to new golfers, and it’s great to put programs together that they enjoy.” said Armanini. “Parents love it, parents have fun going for a walk with their children and learning to play golf through their children.
“Many new parents also played golf through this (Keiki) program. So a lot of good has happened and I hope that I can do it even better next year. “
* Robert Collias is at email@example.com
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