Golf good for island economy

LIHUE — Craig Sasada, director of golf at Poipu Bay Golf Course, says visitor spending makes up the bulk of revenue at his course.

“To be really honest, without visitors, we wouldn’t be able to survive,” he said.

About 70 percent of golfers at Poipu Bay are visitors, but Sasada empha- sized the importance of kamaaina spending.

“You need a mix of (visitors) and residents to play,” he said. “We do depend on the residents as well. If we were 50 percent kamaaina and 50 percent visitors, it sounds like a good mix, but the dollar value would be much smaller.”

According to its website, the standard rate for a round of golf at Poipu Bay is $250.

The cost for a Kauai resident: $81.

“The dollar of what a visitor pays versus what a resident pays — that part alone makes the difference for us,” Sasada said.

The golf market on Kauai, which includes seven public courses and one private course in Kukuiula, is still recovering from the 2008 recession, although the Kauai Visitors Bureau says things are improving.

According to the Hawaiian Tourism Authority, an estimated 90,000 visitors golfed on Kauai in 2015.

In order to attract more visitors, Poipu Bay Golf Course, Princeville Makai Golf Club, Wailua Golf Course, Puakea Course and Hokuala pooled marketing funds with the Kauai Visitors Bureau to promote golf to visitors.

“The marketing cooperative makes sense, both fiscally — by sharing the resources — as well as lifting up the golf message in a coordinated effort,” said Sue Kanoho, KVB executive director. “From fiscal year 2014 to FY 2016, year to date, rounds and revenue are up substantially, and partly due to joining the marketing cooperative in FY 2014.”

Although numbers are up, exact figures for fiscal years 2014 to 2016 could not be released without permission from the co-op of golf courses, Kanoho explained.

Poipu Bay is surviving, but its numbers haven’t bounced back from the recession, Sasada said.

“We used to do close to 40,000 rounds a year,” he said. “It’s down more than 25 percent than what it used to before. When 2010 hit, we closed to do some renovations. When 2011 went on, we opened for a full year. That’s how much golf hasn’t picked back up yet.”

But Sasada remains optimistic — especially when he sees courses like the Ocean Course at Hokuala investing $3 million for renovations.

“It makes the island, as a whole, a good destination for golf,” he said. “You want visitors on the island because regardless of where they are on the island, you may get that one round from that guest. It helps all versus takes away from anybody.”

For Jacob Thorp, owner of Kauai Golf Club Rentals, more visitors and revamped course work equals better business.

“The last couple months was a little slower, but that was with everybody within the industry,” Thorp said. “It seems like summertime has been picking up. Over the month, it was stronger than what it was last month.”

Visitors make up 95 percent of Thorp’s business, which includes club rentals and booking. The bulk of visitors are timeshare owners.

“About 40 percent of our customer base are people staying up north and the other 40 percent are down south like in Poipu,” he said. “What they tend to do is golf around where they’re staying, so they don’t usually travel more than 20-30 minutes to golf.”

Thorp said business is typically stronger in winter than summer.

“We see more of the longer stay, two- to three-week type clientele during the winter,” he said. “That usually produces more rounds, longer period club rentals.”

And the course formerly known as Kauai Lagoons Golf Club – Kiele Course, now the Hokuala Ocean Course, began renovations to its front nine greens and bunkers in April and is set to reopen on Nov. 1.

“We’re easing up some of the tougher bunkers and making the course a little bit more fun and playful for the average golfer,” said Mike Cuthbertson, managing director of Timbers Resorts.


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