Round and round: Big Island golf demand increases in 2017

  • A couple plays a round on Hapuna Golf Course. Business is up so far this year at Mauna Kea Resort. COURTESY PHOTO/MAUNA KEA RESORT GOLF
    A couple plays a round on Hapuna Golf Course. Business is up so far this year at Mauna Kea Resort. COURTESY PHOTO/MAUNA KEA RESORT GOLF
  • A beers on tap bar and new menu at the renovated Mai Grille have significantly increased business at Kings’ Clubhouse in Waikoloa Resort since October. COURTESY PHOTO/WAIKOLOA BEACH RESORT GOLF
    A beers on tap bar and new menu at the renovated Mai Grille have significantly increased business at Kings’ Clubhouse in Waikoloa Resort since October. COURTESY PHOTO/WAIKOLOA BEACH RESORT GOLF

KOHALA COAST — During the first quarter of this year, tee times have been in hot demand at golf courses along the Kohala Coast and elsewhere on the island.

Josh Silliman, director of golf at Mauna Kea Resort, has seen more than 200 players on the Mauna Kea and Hapuna golf courses combined daily.

“Through the first quarter of 2017, we’ve been doing an average of 7,000 rounds per month for both courses,” he said. “The coast definitely is busier this year than last, so we’ve seen more rounds from our non-hotel guests. There’s also been more of an uptick in visitor play this year, but fewer local rounds. However, as we move out of our typical visitor season, we will be offering promotions and specials to encourage our kamaaina friends to come out and enjoy both courses.”

The golf operators have also become more creative, adding new options for players.

“We’ve had Golfboards now for almost two years, and the notoriety of them has grown quite a bit so that is always a draw,” Silliman said. “Another focal point for us is reaching out to local charity organizations to partner with them in raising money through golf tournaments. Having 36 holes on our property allows us to be creative and flexible in offering two different price points. We customize any tournament package to suit the needs or desires of the group. We also recently starting offering ‘glow golf’ night putting courses for groups at the resort.”

Another addition at Mauna Kea Golf Course is TrackMan.

“We offer private lessons and swing analysis with our head golf pro who can help players get their numbers with TrackMan – the latest and greatest technology in golf which helps you to better understand your golf swing,” he said.

Revenue streams for golf courses have shifted over the last decade from golf course play to food and beverage, and other sources.

“Having a clubhouse that offers a full menu and bar is definitely an important part of the overall golf experience” Silliman said. “Something new and fun that we’re working on now is enhancing our beverage cart offerings. We recently purchased a new beverage cart that is bigger and ‘beefier’ with a custom Mauna Kea paint job and colorful roof that adds some flare. With the recent increase in popularity of food trucks, we’re using that concept as a model for our cart. We’re not just serving canned beverages and cold sandwiches, we’re making blended signature cocktails and serving hot foods such as chili and spam musubis.”

Golf courses are usually less populated by younger golfers during the winter months.

“In Q1, we’ve had a few more ‘little ones’ out to take lessons with our pros, and we’re hoping to see that trend continue this summer as we begin to see the families here for vacation,” he added.

Further down the coast and mauka on Mamalahoa Highway in North Kona, Big Island Country Club draws adults and children alike. On April 14, Hawaii Island Young Life will host the Golf Fore Kids fundraising tournament there. The national nonprofit organization runs a youth outreach program that has been working with kids on the Big Island since 1991, offering weekly clubs, mentoring, counseling and outings.

During the winter season, nearly 200 players flock to BICC each day. Open to the public, in addition to members, the 18-hole course is also a bird sanctuary filled with nene — the official bird of the state of Hawaii — and turkeys that wander among the mature trees with mountain and coast views as the backdrop.

“We definitely have more residents playing than visitors this year,” said BICC Golf Operations Manager Debbie Dunagan. “We haven’t had as many Canadian golfers this year due to the difference in the exchange rate.”

Local golfers are also drawn by frequent players’ cards.

“We’ve issued around 3,000 since we started the program in February 2015,” she said.

Down along the Kohala Coast, PGA Director of Golf Kevin Ginoza manages two 18-hole courses — Kings’ Course and Beach Course — at Waikoloa Beach Resort Golf.

“2017 is off to a solid start with plenty of sunshine and light winds, which has a positive effect on golf rounds,” he said. “We are seeing an array of golfers starting to come out — everything from the avid golfers to the beginning golfers who want to play nine holes in the afternoon.”

There has also been a steady increase in local and visitor players there.

“Waikoloa hosts a number of local group outings, fundraisers and tournaments throughout the year that benefit the community,” Ginoza said. “As for the visitors, we offer great options to play either the Beach or Kings’ Course with multiple round packages, twilight specials or our favorite family golf specials.”

Many golfers take the sport seriously.

“Golf is a unique sport in which the player can miss a 3-foot putt on the last hole that ruins the day, so they may not return for a couple weeks. On the other hand, if the player breaks 90 or makes that 20-foot putt on the last hole, they want to make a tee time the very next day,” he said.

In Waikoloa, the game remains traditional.

“Golf has definitely become more diverse over the past several years with the concept of FootGolf and TopGolf,” Ginoza said, “But Waikoloa has stuck to the traditions of the game.”

Food and beverage is also important at the Kings’ Clubhouse with the addition of the Mai Grille a year and a half ago. Renovated this past October, new offerings include a beers on tap bar and a reinvigorated menu by Chef Allen Hess. He said these additions have caused business there to increase by 15-20 percent.

The Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau sees golf as a draw for travelers.

“In general, golf is always among the five markets we target,” said Ross Birch, the bureau’s executive director. “We focus on the golf travelers in our promotions, and are in the midst of creating a package or a call to action that focuses on golf that will be launched sometime this summer or fall.”

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