Hawaii's Hot Links

Hawaii's golf courses continue to be a big draw for visitors.

By: Marty Wentzel

These days, golfers can afford to be picky about the courses they play in Hawaii. The abundance of high-quality resort greens from one end of the islands to the other has course officials working that much harder to maintain market share.

According to Tim Herek, golf pro at Oahu’s Hawaii Prince Golf Club, vacationing golfers are paying more attention to their pocketbooks now due to economic concerns.

“More clients come out simply to play the course, without stopping in the pro shop, restaurant or bar after their round,” Herek said. “This trend has really kept us on our toes, prompting us to promote a variety of specials.”

Thanks to the Internet, travelers are better informed about golf resorts, said Brendan Moynahan, golf pro at Lanai’s Experience at Koele.

“Golfers do their homework much more than before,” Moynahan said. “Golf resorts must define what kind of facility they are and go after their customers accordingly.”

Boasting a high staff-to-guest ratio, Experience at Koele provides great flexibility of play, Moynahan said. “Clients can take three hours per round, or five,” he said. “They can go out as a single, twosome or foursome, whatever they want. It’s like being at your own private course.”

At the same time, world events have caused travelers to rethink their priorities, noted Greg Nichols, Ko Olina Golf Club general manager.

“They plan their vacations more around family-oriented activities in safer destinations,” Nichols said.

Resorts have an advantage, he said, because they provide travelers with everything they want to do on their vacation. “At Ko Olina, we offer golf packages that encourage multiple playing opportunities for the entire family, including a junior academy for the kids,” he said.

Four Seasons Resort Hualalai on the Big Island is responding to the family travel trend as well.

“We now let juniors play free every other day, as long as they’re with their parents,” said John Freitas, Hualalai’s golf director. “We want our customer service to be as good as possible, because we may only get one chance to impress our guests.”

Matthew Hall serves as director of golf at Turtle Bay Resort on Oahu’s North Shore. Hall said he’s seeing an increase in visitors who stay in Waikiki and drive to the North Shore for one day of golf.

“Turtle Bay Resort is keenly aware of this,” Hall said. “We’re doing what we can to make the drive worthwhile.”

On Oahu, the average play for visitors tends to be two to three rounds per golfer, in sharp contrast to Big Island golfers who average five to six rounds, Hall said.

“Since visitors are playing fewer rounds,” he said, “they are looking to play the best courses. They expect great service and course conditions.”

With three courses and a golf academy, Maui’s Kapalua Resort is promoting itself as a destination that can handle practically any golfer’s needs, according to Gary Planos, vice president of Kapalua Resort operations.

“Guests want to play fewer rounds of golf,” Planos said. “They’re looking for other ways to fill up their time on Maui. Our golf academy has been a tremendous enhancement to the golf experience. It lets guests focus on improving their games through private lessons or the golf schools offered here, while not taking away a lot of time from their vacation.”

Client expectations for customer service are higher than ever, according to Jack Baker, Princeville Resort’s head golf pro.

“Golfers are more discriminating because there are so many wonderful resort facilities offered in Hawaii and on the mainland,” said Baker.

To remain competitive, the Prince Course provides cold face towels, chilled water on the golf cart, a Global Positioning System (GPS) device and an updated yardage guide to make the North Kauai greens more navigable.

For similar reasons, Wailea Golf Club on Maui recently added GPS units to its entire fleet of 270 carts. “Our customers are beginning to expect such amenities when they play at a high-end resort club,” said Barry Helle, marketing manager at Wailea Golf Club. “We’re also devoting significantly more time and energy to staff training, a critical part of providing exceptional service to our guests.”

Airport security restrictions have made it harder to travel with golf clubs, so more guests are renting clubs now, Helle added.

“Many resorts offer top-of-the-line brands in their rental program,” Helle said. “We’ve had guests who had brought along their own clubs, choose to rent clubs from us instead, because ours were of such high caliber.”

Kauai’s Poipu Bay Golf Course wants to make sure guests know that they’re not playing on their course back home, so it has imbued the golf experience with an atmosphere of Hawaii.

“We share the uniqueness of our culture, from the aloha attire of our uniforms and our warm island-style greetings, to our golf shop decor and our signage,” said Michael Castillo, Poipu Bay head golf pro.

The facility also lets clients know that it hosts the annual PGA Grand Slam of Golf. “Our guests get the added thrill of playing on a course where the pros play each year,” he said.