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Golf’s Mixed Financial Picture Amid Pandemic


Golf is on the upswing with kama‘aina in Hawai‘i. It’s outdoors and it’s perceived as a safe activity in the pandemic. But local courses have struggled financially without tourists and tournaments.

In Hawai‘i, golf is a more than $2 billion industry that employs about 15,000 people. And through the coronavirus pandemic, locals have flocked to those greens, and the chance to go outdoors for a sport where social distancing is not a problem.

The Aloha Section PGA tells PBN that many courses have seen a 20% to 30% increase in rounds played through the pandemic.

This is not, however, paying the bills. The kama‘aina rates for a round of golf are substantially lower than rates paid by visitors, typically about half as much.

A kama‘aina round at Ko Olina, for example, is $85 while a resort guest pays $195. Some courses pushed those kama‘aina rates even lower during the pandemic to entice local players.

Normally, tourists comprise 75% of a course’s business, but with travel restrictions, it’s now more like 25% even with the recent increase in visitation.

The problem is, those immaculate, green courses are not cheap to maintain. A course will spend between $1 million to $3 million a year on maintenance, even when, as happened for a while in 2020, no play is happening at all.

The gap between revenues and fixed costs has taken a toll on the industry. Koolau Golf Course closed in September due to the economic impacts of the pandemic.

The property owner, First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu, is looking to redevelop the land. It has partnered with Pono Pacific Land Management LLC, known for its natural resource management, and the environmental stewardship nonprofit Kupu, to come up with a long-term vision for the site.

A. Kam Napier is the editor-in-chief of Pacific Business News.
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