This is the best Spencer F. Katt column ever written and it’s about how PC Week pundit Richard Duffy crashed Bill Gates wedding on New Year’s Day, 1994. Richard, who has lived in Maui for about 30 years, sent me the original version a few years ago. –TDR
Note from Richard: This is the as-written version of the piece done for PC Week, the bible of the industry Bill Gates dominates. They published it in their Jan 10, 1994 issue, with my many photos. The as-printed version left out some of my Hawaii-centric mutterings about Murdoch.
By Richard Duffy
Bill Gates knew we wanted to gawk at his wedding New
Year’s Day, and he spared no expense to keep us out.
Which is certainly one reason he chose Lanai. The 192-
square-mile privately owned island is a fortress ten miles
off Maui–a manicured resort where privacy is what’s sold–
the dominion of David Murdock, a man as imperious as Gates.
I’m not sure what impelled me to GatesCrash. Perhaps it
was to flout the wealth and power of these two–and their
resolve to bar the press. Perhaps it was to lament the time
a few years back when no one man stood astride either the
lively PC software market or sleepy old Lanai. Or perhaps it
was just to answer the name Murdock had hung on the golf
course where the wedding would be: The Challenge at Manele
In any case, I persuaded PC Week I was the ideal person
to go. I’d once worked for PC Week, covered Microsoft, and
had met and interviewed Gates and many of his men. Since ’86
I’ve lived on Maui, literally looking out over Lanai as
Murdock has had his way with the island.
I knew that Murdock and his company own 98 percent of
Lanai–all but a couple roads and a few lots. Historically,
they’ve used this control to legally “evict” from the island
anyone they chose.
One spot beyond Murdock’s control is a 5-acre state-
owned small boat harbornear Manele. I knew the harbor is
serviced by a ferry that brings workers from Maui. Although
it would add an hour of travel time, the ferry seems safer
than the airport. It guarantees a toehold.
A phone call finds Lanai’s only car renter mysteriously
shut. Just as well, perhaps, I’ll take my bike on the ferry.
Sailing into Manele Bay at dawn New Year’s Day, I see
the first sign of the wedding, Charade, a 130-foot, sleek
white motor yacht with a paint job as crisp as a porcelain
Two fishermen fill me in. Charade is owned by Microsoft
co-founder Paul Allen, one of the lesser billionaires at the
party. She’s just sailed in from the Mainland.
Later, launches will shuttle wedding guests to brunch
I pedal a mile uphill to the 250-room Manele Bay Hotel.
I pass a Jeep Cherokee labeled “Security.” No one glances at
me. A tan guy on a bike is invisible in Hawaii.
The hotel is gorgeous, a low-slung complex notched into
a lush site. I stroll around seeking stray facts. Unlike
resorts on Maui, where workers sport island smiles, colorful
muumuus and aloha shirts, here at Manele Bay they wear
subdued brown uniforms and act servile. The Hawaiian word
Manele means “sedan chair.” The image perfectly fits Murdock’s vision
When he bought Lanai seven years ago, it was “The
Pineapple Island.” It had 12 hotel rooms and everyone worked
at the plantation. Now there are two pricey resorts, the
plantation’s been shut, and Murdock’s dubbed it “The Private
Contrary to news reports, Microsoft did not buy out all
the rooms at the hotel. There are just plain old regular
rich people here too. One tells me about airport security–
“they just weeded out reporters and anybody who didn’t have
a reservation and put them back on the plane.”
The buzz is the wedding will be late in the morning on
the seventeenth hole.
A woman staffer seems friendly. I make a random hostile
remark about Murdock. She complains he’s been jacking up his
own workers’ rents. Conspiratorially, she says the wedding’s
at noon. This, I figure, is as authoritative as it’s going
I bike out to the course for a look. The road is
barricaded. On my bike, I can get past, but I’d be easily
seen. Ditto for using the course or the golf cart path.
The other obvious route is along the coastline below
the cliffs. Maybe the cliffs can be scaled, but the
coastline looks narrow and easily guarded.
Back to the hotel. At the west end of the lobby is some
kind of security check. Just beyond it, I spy a large scale
model of the golf course encased in a five-foot square
table-height Lucite box. I line up behind two other men. The
guy in front says he’s David Hewler. The security woman
checks her list and gives him something. He walks out the
I wander away as if I’ve just thought of something.
Five minutes later, I’m back. The woman is checking another
guest. I interrupt. “Did Dave Hewler get here yet?” She
checks her list. “He just left.”
I grunt, check my watch and dump some papers atop the
Lucite box that holds the model. I rummage through the
papers. She ignores me and goes back to the guest.
As I rummage, I study the model. The Challenge is laid
out to the west of the hotel. The 17th hole looks to be a
mile west, swinging back and inland. The model shows that it
can also be reached through what remains of the low-lying
scrub forest that was bulldozed to build the course. There
are four gulches to traverse, but the mottled layout of the
course has left multiple routes…too many to guard.
As I plan my route, the woman tells the guest “the
Minutes later, I am at the western end of the hotel,
facing a wall of vegetation thick with Kiawe (kee-AH-vay),
the bane of Hawaiian feet, with thorns that puncture even
I’m at a disadvantage. I have in my small bag a couple
hats and shirts, so as to effect three different guises–
local, micro-dweeb, tourist–but I standardized on the
universal Hawaiian waist-down look: shorts and slippers.
The first 50 feet are dense. The vegetation is
uncharacteristically thick and there are lots of other
plants growing among the Kiawe. This is not how Kiawe grows.
Clearly this area’s been heavily watered to make it seem
Quickly, the brush thins from the lush green facade
that tourists see to the sparse brown stuff that really
grows along this coast.
Better, Murdock’s bulldozers have left me a present.
Amidst the Kiawe are millions of rocks, cleared from the
fairways and away from tourist eyes. They’ve been pushed
together into long, barren archipelegos through the brush.
Wow! Thorn-free freeways for rock-hopping paparazzi!
After 90 shirtless minutes of hot sun, five gulches,
two falls, many thorns and one sharp stick in the eye,
enthusiasm has waned. I’m bloodied, drenched in sweat and
dehydrated. Stupidly, I brought no water, expecting an
irrigation spigot or unattended fountain.
I’m on a small rise overlooking the wedding site. It’s
not at the 17th hole, as I’d been told, but on the green of
the 16th, The Challenge’s “signature hole.” The 16th is
built on two 300-foot high sea cliffs that jut into the
Pacific. Golfers tee off from the western one, aim at the
eastern one, and hope the ball doesn’t drop to roiling waves
The site is set up on the east cliff, the green. There
are 130 white chairs, in rows, separated by an aisle,
looking out to sea and facing a slim white wooden lecturn. A
white sheet covers where Gates and his bride will stand.
Queerly, dozens of potted palms and plants line the
edge of the green along the cliff. Perhaps the unadorned
dropoff looked too untamed. Or perhaps they’re to keep the
billionaires from tumbling to the sea.
The only other object is a large party tent, maybe 75
feet from the chairs. One side of the tent is open. It looks
empty except for some equipment. A dozen people are standing
around between the tent and the green. I am early.
There’s little cover on the hill, but I see that if I
move east and then down, I can put the tent between me and
the people. I run for it. Once the tent is blocking their
view, I turn and cross the course, making a beeline for the
Inside there’s a stack of folding chairs and tables. I
grab one table and prop it against the tent corner closest
to the wedding. I crawl behind it and stretch out for the
next ninety minutes–sweating.
Just on the other side of the tent wall, I can hear
staffers and security people talking to each other on walkie
talkies. I can raise the bottom of the tent a few inches
from the ground and see the site, see the staff people
I also see a black mini-tug taking up position below.
It’s Cap’n Jim Stegmuller out of Lahaina. He’d been looking
for reporters to ferry. Now, two men with huge telephotos
are on deck. One, I learn later, is James Wallace, a Seattle
reporter who wrote “Hard Drive”–a dandruff-and-all
biography of Gates.
Wallace and his cohort have already been kicked off
Lanai–notwithstanding room reservations. They tried for a
helicoptor, but found Gates had hired every one. All they
can do is to sit offshore, telephotos defeated by the
Down along the coastline route, I also learn later,
security men were picking off the paparazzi who’d reached
Lanai. A busted AP man wrote Gates hired special security.
An evicted Honolulu Advertiser reporter complained Hawaii
law guarantees public shoreline access. Yup, it does.
As for me, profuse sweating and scraped legs are making
me question my plan to pop up at a key moment and commingle
with whichever crowd–staff, guests, service–best matches
one of my guises.
I’m too far away to shoot with my camera. I’m lugging
clothes, not optics.
As I sweat in my spot, two women festoon the tent with
pink and blue bunting. I’m so hot, I fear they can smell me.
They refer to the tent as “the changing tent.” As I puzzle over
this, another fact emerges from their banter: “…when
things get underway around five.”
Five? Five? I wasn’t just early. I was humongously
early. Disinformation. The word rings through my head. In my
mind, I see Bill Gates.
I face facts. I have no water. Every hour increases my
being discovered. Every hour renders me sweatier, more
bestraggled, less likely to blend in. And worst of all…a
sunset wedding could even mean LONG PANTS, a possibility I’d
dismissed as unthinkable under a high Lanai sun.
OK. I make a conscious decision to discount the future.
If I see a high-risk opportunity now, I’ll take it.
Monitoring the activity on the green, I realize the
people there are actually different groups coming, fussing,
going. Every few minutes. There’s no fixed cadre.
After 30 minutes, there’s one group, and then they get
in a golf cart and leave. Momentarily, the green is clear.
The only people on the course can’t see it.
I dash for the green, snap a close-up, turn back to the
tent but…Damn! A golf cart clears the horizon, coming
right at me.
I jump a potted palm and cling to the side of the
cliff. Hmm. Not that steep. And there’s some kind of weird
netting pasted onto it. The billionaires wouldn’t roll far.
Two minutes later, “You’re tresspassing.” I look up and
momentarily consider arguing my right of shoreline access.
“OK, you got me.” I climb up to face him. He’s already
called for backup. I pull out my Spencer Katt, Rumor Central
T-shirt and show it to him. He looks at me blankly. He works
for Murdock, I learn.
A few minutes later, I’m turned over to Al, the head of
Murdock’s security, and Tom Sullivan, the head of Microsoft
security. Al is writing up my eviction notice. “Got any
Cheerfully, I reach in my bag and again wave my Spencer
Sullivan cringes. “Jeez, get that thing out of here.”
Ahh, there’s the reaction I wanted.
And Gates? I heard he married some girl named Melinda
French. 29. Microsoft product manager. Warren Buffet was
there. Willie Nelson. I heard it was formal.
The sunset? It was so-so.
Explanation for those unfamiliar with PC Week:
PC Week prides itself on printing industry
secrets first. It prints them in a gossip column called
Rumor Central, authored by the fictional character Spencer.
Spencer T-Shirts are given out as rewards to people who
tip off PC Week to what’s going on. In short, Spencer is
anathema to anyone in the industry–like Microsoft–with
secrets it wants to keep.