Establishing a Path
“The Commish is a pioneer,” says Scott Head, vice president of resort operations for Waikoloa Land Company, who worked alongside Rohr for several years. “He developed and promoted a golf lifestyle that is now so popular at island resorts, and knew how to publicize that lifestyle to raise the state’s profile, encourage investment, and bring people to Hawai`i.”
Rohr landed in the islands on New Year’s Day 1960, “shanghaied” from Cleveland, Ohio, by his close friend Peter Revson, who went on to became a world-class Formula One race driver. Rohr went from living with Revson high on the hog in a home on Black Point — Honolulu’s ritziest neighborhood — to sleeping in a canoe on Waikiki Beach.
“That’s when I met Danny Kaleikini,” he says. “He was walking down the beach and I was just waking up. We’ve been friends ever since.”
Sleeping in the canoe lasted but a short time. Rohr quickly made a name for himself in the hotel industry, working first with Sheraton and then with Hilton. As he rose through the management ranks, he became acquainted with many of the state’s most dynamic businesspeople, and in 1974 he was named president and CEO of Kapalua Land Company. There, he played a major role in establishing the resort’s iconic butterfly logo and, working with Arnold Palmer, bringing professional golf to Maui.
Palmer — who with partner Ed Seay designed the Kapalua Bay Course — created an event called The Golf Party to help Rohr market the resort and sell real estate. It was such a successful venture that it became the foundation for the Kapalua Invitational (now known as the SBS Tournament of Champions).
“Arnold said, ‘I’ll throw a golf tournament for you,’” Rohr says, “and that created a lot of buzz and good publicity. Golf is one of the great word-of-mouth sports there is. And, Arnold was the King.”