Open for business

  • Jason Blasco / The Garden Island

    Ron Cunningham follows through on a shot on the front nine of the Princeville Makai Golf Club course Saturday afternoon. There are many changes in procedures after Princeville Makai reopened in early May.

Editor’s note: This is part one of a three-part series that will examine how various golf courses are dealing with the reopening of courses on Kaua‘i that will print every Monday.

PRINCEVILLE — Andrew Schmidt admits he was in a state of panic when Kaua’i County announced they would temporarily close the golf courses in mid-March because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Schmidt, a professional golf assistant at Princeville Makai Golf Course, found himself unable to make a living doing what he knows best: teaching people the game of golf.

Schmidt immediately went into self-preservation mode after hearing the devastating news.

“I was thinking ‘wow, how am I am going to survive?’” Schmidt said. “Most of my revenue came from teaching golf. I do all of my instructions out here on the practice range, and all golfing development in big groups on the weekends.”

Schmidt persevered, and so did his 65 co-workers, who were able to retain their positions after the nearly-three-week shutdown. Schmidt still works on reduced hours after the golf course reopened May 5.

The reopening hasn’t come without change, according to General Manager Doug Sutter.

One reason for the change in the club’s format is that their clientele has transitioned from vacationers to locals with different schedules.

The offers vary, but some include complimentary deli lunch and complimentary breakfast, all offered throughout the entire week.

Don Cunningham, who has been golfing for 35 years, had trouble filling the void after not being able to hit the greens for nearly a month.

Cunningham spent a lot of his time walking his Australian shepherd dogs.

“It was just a quiet time. My dogs got a lot of long walks, and I missed getting out there on the course,” Cunningham said. “Golf is such a big part of my life.”

Cunningham, who is retired and worked on his short game with his 40-yard-wide backyard, admits that was his only choice.

Cunningham is a member of a 70-person Kana Club on the North Shore, and gets out to the Princeville Makai course every Saturday morning.

Sometimes groups of seven or eight, while practicing social-distancing protocols, will get out and fire a round of 18 together.

“It’s great the community of Kaua‘i can pull together, especially when we are hit with stuff like this,” Cunnigham said.

Steve Hunt, a long-time golf patron at the makai course, was also excited about returning.

“We are lucky in Kaua‘i to have a lot of outlets, and if everyone can follow the rules, it is great to feel back to normal,” Hunt said.

The golf club has revamped Kama‘aina Club specials and menus that offer various specials for golfers who pay to play an 18-hole round of golf.

The club offers activities like ball golf, disc golf and tennis, and has a new feature called a “Sunset Stroll.” With a purchase of food and drink, people can walk the course from 4 to 5:30 p.m. seven days a week.

The reopening of the club has allowed them time to get creative to draw more people into the multiple amenities available with the course.

The course has provided more options for people still suffering from being on lockdown.

“Some people were ready to open up, and some are taking their time to get back out there,” Sutter said. “We’ve always been in full stride throughout this whole thing. Golf is a great sport to play and be socially-distant, but people were downright scared about the future.”

The transition to normalcy has been slow, as the majority of the 65 workers have alternated shifts and are on reduced hours.

“They’ve kept us busy doing a lot of things,” said Assistant Golf Professional and Head of Food and Beverage Eric Belmonte, who has worked for the course for 30 years. “We’ve done painting and power-washing. It was great for our owner to keep us on.”

By providing these additional services and revamping their menu, the club views it as helping the community through this uncertain time and bringing back patrons to the game to retain their business.

“I think it’s needed more than ever, because I’ve heard some sad stories of people I don’t know directly but from friends that have picked up some bad habits during this lock down,” Sutter said. “From domestic violence to alcohol abuse to people hurting themselves. A lot of people are having a hard time mentally, and getting outdoors and being with your friends can make you a happier person.”

Daily golf specials offered at Princeville

The Princeville Makai Golf Course has a host of specials designed to bring locals back to the course:

Sandwich Saturday

Any golfer who pays the $99, 18-hole kama‘aina greens fee will receive one complimentary deli lunch (choice of turkey or ham sandwich, French fries and a soft drink).

Kama‘aina Sunday

All kama‘aina golfers playing 18 holes of golf will receive the special rate of only $59 for their greens fee, including golf cart.

Merch Monday

Any golfer who pays the $99, 18-hole kama‘aina greens fee will receive one free sleeve of Callaway Super-Soft golf balls and 20% off any full-price merchandise. Mahalo Makai card members receive a breakfast sandwich with an 18-hole round.

2 for 1 Tuesday

Any golfer who pays the $99, 18-hole kama‘aina greens fee will receive a complimentary replay for an additional nine or 18-holes. (Carts must be returned by 4:30 p.m.).

Sandwich Wednesday

Any golfer who pays the $99, 18-hole kama‘aina greens fee will receive one complimentary deli lunch (choice of turkey or ham sandwich, French fries and a soft drink).

Pau Hana Thursday

Any golfer who pays the $99, 18-hole kama‘aina greens fee will receive three domestic beer tickets or two specialty beer tickets.

Foursome Friday

Any foursomes of nine-hole or 18-hole guests will receive one free round (pay three greens fees and get one free).

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Jason Blasco, sports reporter, can be reached at 245-0437 or jblasco@thegardenisland.com.

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