Understanding Hawaii’s appeal to golfers can help boost your bottom line.

Even agents who can’t tell an iron from a wood, much less know that those are types of golf clubs, can take an effective swing at selling clients on the idea of Hawaii golf vacations.

Each of the major islands sports a number of resort courses; indeed, some of the master-planned destination resorts boast two or even three of these manicured gems. Every year the pros compete in tournaments conducted on a number of resort courses, so agents can appeal to the cachet of playing where the pros do.

More fundamental, of course, is the fact that the roster of course designers and architects who have fashioned Hawaii’s greens and fairways reads like a Who’s Who of the golf world. Among them are Arnold Palmer, Robert Trent Jones Sr., Robert Trent Jones Jr., Arthur Jack Snyder, Ed Seay, Frances Duane, Ben Crenshaw, Bill Coore, Ted Robinson, George Fazio, Jack Nicklaus and Greg Norman.

This is a firm one-two punch. First, it is a powerful tool in attracting the interest of clients to whom the identity of the course designer is somewhat important. Second, it assures golfers who may have only a nodding acquaintance with such information that a course’s claim to high standards is more truth than fiction.

Despite the pedigree of Hawaii’s resort courses, agents can feel comfortable recommending a day on the links to golfers no matter what their skill level. Resort courses tend to offer several tee locations, or tee boxes, for each hole, which means that each member of the group can choose the distance he or she finds most comfortable–beginners may want to choose the shortest, while those with low handicaps may opt for a longer course.

Jim Richerson, general manager of Ko Olina Golf Club in West Oahu, notes that one hallmark of golf in Hawaii is an array of course styles, such as seaside, mountain and links, in a relatively compact area, so that golfers can plan for a variety of experiences during a single Hawaii vacation.

Winning Weather

Geographically speaking, Hawaii has a competitive edge that makes it appealing to golf-minded travelers. Weather conditions are pleasant year-round, and because the state doesn’t switch to daylight-savings time, it’s possible to book “twilight” games later in the afternoon. This may appeal to travelers on a budget or those who prefer to book several activities each day.

Resort courses tend to attract players of varying skill levels, so players should be alerted to the resources that await them in terms of both education and scheduling. “All courses have some kind of teaching program,” says Howard Kihune Jr., director of golf at the Makena Golf Courses. “Most of [them are] a quick fix, a half-hour or one-hour session, because [guests] might not have played for a couple of months.”

It’s worth checking on the availability of individual and group lessons, early and late tee times, and nine-hole rounds. With this information you can assure clients that it is possible to book a room-and-golf package and still schedule time for guided soft adventures and exploring the countryside in a rental car.

Indeed, while habitual golfers tend to prefer earlier tee times, Kihune says that couples may appreciate the suggestion of starting play at 3 p.m. or even later. “The weather’s ideal. The sun’s starting to set, there’s no one behind you,” he says. “It’s a nice time of day. I like to play at that time of day myself.” He adds that playing later in the day frees travelers for sightseeing and time at the beach in the morning. It also meshes with golfers’ desires to play at different courses.

“The way people think has changed,” Kihune says. “They want to play a lot of different places,” he adds.

Travel agents can parlay this knowledge into money-saving advice for their clients. While avid golfers may be booking a room-and-golf package or selecting a hotel based on the preferred rates it provides at the neighboring resort course or courses, more active travelers or those who want to stretch their budget a little farther may be grateful for the suggestion of booking late-afternoon rates at courses beyond their home base.

So who’s hitting the courses around the state? Richerson says that he and his staffers see players who have a wide range of skill levels, as well as couples and families playing together.

Wide Appeal

At Wailea Golf Club, on the island of Maui, senior head golf professional Rick Castillo says he’s noticed an increase in new golfers playing rounds. And Liana Mulleitner, marketing and public relations for Hawaii Prince Hotel Waikiki and Golf Club on Oahu and Maui Prince Hotel Makena Resort and Golf Club, says Prince Resorts Hawaii has seen an increase in women golfers. “With Tiger Woods being so popular,” she adds, “we’ve also seen an increase in families and teens.”

Kihune points out that most people who are hitting the links in Hawaii are couples. Even so, he has seen an increase in women golfers in the last four to five years for business reasons, camaraderie or love of the sport itself. He’s also observed groups of women who have planned golf vacations in the islands. “They’re avid golfers and they’ve done some homework,” he says. “They know where they want to play–four or eight or 10 women taking a five- or six-day vacation, playing 18 holes most of the days.”

Castillo notes that the game’s appeal encompasses an ever-broader cross-section of the country. Until the softening of Hawaii’s group market this year, he says, this segment had been growing at a fast clip at Wailea, especially during 1999 and 2000. in addition to an increase in inserting golf into group itineraries, the frequency of group lessons was increasing. Such lessons appeal to beginning golfers and nongolfers, and also serve as a reminder to travel agents to keep current on their clients’ interests. The customer who wasn’t interested in taking a golf vacation several years ago may now have taken a few lessons and may welcome the suggestion of visiting a beginner-friendly golf destination.

Another segment to consider is the cruise fan. Kenneth Kimura, golf operations manager at the Kauai Lagoons Golf Club, says the club’s greatest growth has come from players who are in Hawaii on cruises. Kimura estimates that the number of rounds has risen by approximately 25 percent in the past two years.

A cruise itinerary that calls on several islands provides golfers with the chance to play courses on different islands without the need to relocate lodgings or make day trips.

Golf by the Numbers

Crunching golf-related numbers has shown the Hawaii Tourism Authority and Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau (HVCB) that attracting travelers who golf is good business. Many of the traits that make these visitors attractive to the state of Hawaii endear them to agents.

For example, a 1998 profile of golf travelers by the Travel Industry Association of America (TIA) showed them to be more likely than the average domestic traveler to be married, college-educated, working in a professional or managerial post, or to be a member of a household with more than one wage-earner, and have a higher average annual household income.

In addition, 12 percent of domestic visitors to Hawaii play golf during their stays, according to information from the HVCB, the state Department of Business, Economic Development & Tourism and the TIA.

A useful resource in locating golf events is the HVCB Web site (www.gohawaii.com]. Searches can be performed by event type, island and date range.

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