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HOW TO PLAN YOUR HAWAII GOLF ADVENTURE
November 14, 2019
Trying to plan a golf vacation to the most exciting golf islands on the planet is not as easy as it should be in this day and age of the Information Superhighway. While Hawaii’s golf courses have really improved their websites during the past five or six years, there remains a serious void when it comes to a critical mass of information that helps the un-indoctrinated make the all-important decision about which islands to visit and how long to stay & play.
GOLF COURSE CLOSURES IN HAWAII
A scan of Hawaii’s golf landscape will reveal that about 17 courses/324 golf holes that were entertaining golfers in 2007, no longer do. Three Maui favorites closed their tees: Kapalua Village, Makena North & Makena South, and it looks like Kahili GC may remain closed permanently in the wake of the pandemic; Two of Kauai’s venerable 18-hole layouts shuttered: Princeville Prince & Kauai Lagoons’ Resort Course (also known as the Lagoons Course), and it looks like Puakea GC may never reopen in the wake of the pandemic; The Big Island has lost four enjoyable tracks: Waimea Country Club, The Mountain Course at Kona Country Club (The Ocean Course remains a desirable venue), Sea Mountain GC and Volcano Golf & CC; Oahu, with its substantial population base, has lost the Makaha Resort Course (aka Makaha West), Koolau GC and it appears the Fazio Course at Turtle Bay may well never reopen in the wake of the pandemic; Lanai shuttered the upcountry gem known as The Experience at Koele GC; And the Island of Molokai was the first to lose a real sleeper of a resort layout designed by Ted Robinson. Most of these intriguing courses closed their doors without much notice and with little or no fanfare.
There’s no joy in reporting the closure of a golf course, but it is a reality all over North America during the great golf downturn of the past dozen years. Hawaii was certainly not immune long before Covid reared its ugly head and forced a handful of more courses to close.
OTHER OBSTACLES TO YOUR HAWAII GOLF ADVENTURE
Hawaii suffers from little discernible golf marketing, lack of critical mass in the golf milieu, high resort golf rates that sublimate very affordable rates at a plethora of very marketable “must visit” independent (non-resort) golf courses, and the very fact that it is difficult for golfers to visit all the islands and see the extraordinary palate of golf offerings.
There is also no joy in telling golfers that it now costs $359 (+ tax) per-golfer to play The Plantation Course at Kapalua or $295 (+ tax) to play Mauna Kea Golf Course. Since the vast majority of avid golf visitors to Hawaii are golfing couples, how many are willing to and can afford to spend $615-$748 on one round of golf? Even if a well-healed couple can afford to spend such resources on one round, how many rounds can be justified at prices such as those? All that being said, the cost of building and maintaining golf courses in Hawaii is higher than in most U.S. locations.
And of course, there is the vast expanse of ocean that separates Hawaii from the continents. Yes, there is no question that the Hawaiian Islands are the most isolated islands on the planet, which does make getting to the Aloha state a real effort logistically and financially.
THE HIGH COST OF HOTEL ROOMS
Avid golfers like you are among the longest duration visitors to Hawaii. This fact really puts a damper on hotel stays, which are exceedingly high on all of the Hawaiian Islands. In fact, in the wake of the pandemic, hotel prices have become theater of the absurd. Clearly, the proliferation of condo, villa and home accommodations have failed to drive hotel rates down. To beat the high cost of hotel accommodations, a two-pronged strategy must be employed: If you are contemplating a visit of 10 nights or less, be sure to consider hotels that offer a 4th or 5th night free and confine your visit to 4, 5, 8, or 10 nights for the best value. And be sure to stay away from including breakfast in the package, which is always a bad deal. If your visit is to be more than 10 nights, it is hard to ignore the multitude of benefits afforded by condo/villa accommodations.
THOSE ANNOYING RESORT FEES
In the early 2000s, we started seeing a newfangled ways to increase revenues at Hawaii’s hotels. Parking fees came first. Then came the ubiquitous resort fee or amenity fee, which by 2014 virtually all of Hawaii’s hotels implemented. Some include parking in the resort fee, but lately we are seeing a separation of the two, which add as much as $75 per-day to the cost of the hotel. Very few condo/villa complexes have resort fees, but guests must be cognizant of out-cleaning fees that can be built-in to your package or paid for upon check-in or check-out.
Only one golf course—Poipu Bay GC—on Kauai has instituted a resort fee. In this case, a nominal $5 (+ tax), but that appears to be an outlier.
YET, THERE’S MUCH TO RECOMMEND
Hawaii’s extraordinary weather and trades (ocean breezes) provide ideal conditions to enjoy the game of golf throughout the year. Temperatures generally vary about 3° cooler in the winter months from the summer months. There is no bad time to come to Hawaii for a golf vacation, except perhaps from the last week of April thru the third week of May and the last week of August thru the third week of September when many of Hawaii’s golf courses endeavor in aeration and other maintenance practices. If some punched & sandy greens and tees are not your thing, that leaves about 44 near perfect weeks to enjoy your Hawaii golf adventure. The northern most island—Kauai—receives the most amount of rain and cooler temperature. The southern most island—The Big Island of Hawaii—has slightly higher temperatures, but quite a bit less precipitation, especially on the Kona–Kohala Coast.
THE YEAR OF LOW AIRFARES IS UPON US
No doubt, 2020 was to have been a banner year for consumers looking to visit Hawaii due to the long-awaited entrance of Southwest Airlines into the Hawaii market. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic fares were coming way down with rates that were already reminiscent of the 1990s, if not even better. Southwest was seriously challenging the way air carriers service the skies to and from Hawaii. They were also presenting a competitive set to Hawaiian Airlines, who have monopolized the inter-island marketplace for the past decade or more with little or no competition. As a result, transpacific and inter-island airfares have been plunging. We expect the fare wars to extend well into 2023, so take advantage of each sale and each mini fare war. GOLFERS TAKE NOTE: Southwest also breaks the mold on charging for bags. They offer two free bags for every passenger. This feature alone can mean $140 (or more) savings per-passenger on a two-island visit.
It is also worth noting that virtually all the Hawaii carriers are now offering an improved class of service where for as little as $60-$90 the consumer can access a little extra room & comfort, and some other expanded benefits. Most infrequent flyers are not aware that, for at least the past 30 years, Hawaii service has been limited to coach and first-class (which is really akin to business class on international flights). Since the flight time is close to six hours from west coast airports and much more from points east, these extra comfort seats are a real plus for the consumer.
Of course, the pandemic has thrown virtually everything to the wind, so to speak. We have no idea what to expect in 2022 and beyond. As long as foreign travel is difficult to access, Hawaii will continue to be a much sought after destination for North Americans and Koreans (Japanese, Aussies and others are not likely to return to the islands until Covid disappears. But there is always the possibility that Hawaii can shut down at any moment if hospitals start to fill up. What most visitors do not realize is that on Hawaii’s neighbor islands (Big Island, Kauai, and Maui), in particular, there is an incredible lack of ICU beds. And if those beds fill up with sufferers of the virus, there will be no ICU beds for folks with other illnesses and the injured. To the best of our knowldege, those three islands have about three dozen ICU beds in total. Oahu, with a population of almost one million has many, many more.
THE VEHICLE DILEMMA
Hawaii’s rental agencies returned more than 30,000 vehicles (40% of the fleet) to the mainland during Summer 2020. Most were sold to private parties. This means there were, and still are, far fewer available vehicles in Hawaii. Accordingly, the price has gone way up and be prepared for serious sticker shock wherever you are renting a vehicle.
Your best value will be full-size, premium and certain SUVs, not the small vehicles that are not well suited for golfers. We advise you shop early and reserve a vehicle with no prepayment. Then, shop it out every couple of weeks and react to the best deal. We suggest examining AutoSlash.com, Priceline, Hotwire and HawaiiDiscountCarRental.com, where we see some of the slightly better deals. CostcoTravel.com has resumed Hawaii vehicle rentals, so be sure to check there.
TALK TO AN EXPERT
There is certainly a substantial lack of expertise when it comes to travel providers and thorough knowledge of Hawaii’s golf assets. The online travel behemoths—which proliferate—not only have the highest pricing, but deliver no Hawaii golf expertise whatsoever. When you can get someone on the phone, they are reading off a screen and don’t dare ask about golf. If you want a great Hawaii golf vacation be proactive and willing to talk to someone who is really an expert. Most golf travelers who contact us want to be contacted by email rather than engage in a pertinent and useful discussion. Then, they go off and search for hours for pricing for air, vehicle, accommodations and/or golf without complete knowledge of where to stay and where to play. Expertise is a valuable and underrated asset, and after all, aren’t you about to spend thousands of dollars for a golf vacation in paradise?
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