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Slicing the Soaring Cost of Great Hawaiian Golf

September 30, 1990|LEE TYLER | Tyler is a free-lance writer living in Burlingame, Calif. and

HONOLULU, Hawaii — Once upon a time, every tourist arriving in Hawaii received a floral lei and a kiss.

This was before jet planes, of course. When they came into service, disgorging hundreds of travelers with each swoop, the official greeters couldn't keep up with the kissing.

The lei makers were also overwhelmed. And so the pleasant custom was dropped (except for those willing to pay for it).

Once, too, golf in Hawaii was everyone's game. Pro shops extended aloha welcomes, advance tee times were not necessary and it was a big deal if a greens fee consumed more than a $10 bill.

Today, everyone seems hooked on golf. Last year alone, the National Golf Foundation reported a 10% increase in Americans taking up the sport. Golfers now total 24.7 million, the NGF says.

Sometimes it seems as if they're all in Hawaii. And with the heavy demand by vacationers to play, greens fees in the islands are soaring out of sight.

There are, at last count, 64 golf courses in Hawaii--all but a handful open to the public. Twenty-one more are in the building or planning stage, with another 40 possible within the next 20 years.

Prices are another story. It is not unusual for the most popular resort courses (where the best golf is) to charge more than $100.

That's the fee at even the newest public course on Oahu, Ko Olina, out past Pearl Harbor. Ironically, Ko Olina means "fulfillment of joy."

"It's not that we can't afford it; it's the principle of the thing," remarked a vacationing couple from Phoenix recently, refusing to pay $130 each to play Mauna Lani on the Big Island. Instead, they made a two-hour drive across the island and played the Hilo Muni for $6. Liked it a lot, too.

If you also are a rebellious golfer, but still want to play the game in beautiful Hawaii, here are some ways to beat the system:

1. Become a kamaiiana-- literally, an island resident. With proof of a Hawaiian driver's license, you are eligible for lower fees for everything--as much as 50% off bus rides, inter-island plane fares, hotel rates and golf.

2. Don't be shy if you're of senior citizen age. At the afore-mentioned Hilo Muni, the Phoenix couple could have played for $3 if they'd asked to.

3. Watch the clock. After 4 p.m., greens fees plunge sharply on many resort courses. It's also cooler then, although there's a slight complication--the trade winds always come up in the afternoons, which can blow your shots wildly askew.

4. Play where the locals do--any of Hawaii's nine municipal courses, or the various nine-hole courses where the usual fee is $5. Originally built for the enjoyment of workers in the sugar cane and pineapple plantations, these include Kukuiolono on Kauai and Cavendish on Lanai. Hilly little Hamakua on the Big Island, the one where they play with macadamia nuts instead of balls once a year, used to charge $5. With fame, however, its price has shot up to $10, which is what tough little Ironwood on Molokai now gets.

Tip: Unless you want to be the recipient of cold, stony stares from usually amiable islanders, try the "where-the-locals-go" tactic only on off-hour weekdays.

5. Avoid coming in high season, Christmas through Easter. It's a battle to get tee times then on any course, resort or local.

6. Be aware that hotels within a particular golf course area have clout for tee times and preferential greens fees. Stay at any of the hotels or condos at Wailea, Maui, for instance, and it's $60 to golf (cart included) versus $105 for non-guests.

Same goes for Makena, Maui. Guests at the Maui Prince Hotel pay $55 for golf, non-guests pay $90.

Guests at the Kapalua Hotel and Villas on the northwest coast of Maui pay $45 plus $15 (per person, sharing) for the cart. Non-guests are zapped $75 plus $25 for the cart.

By contrast, good old Royal Kaanapali on Maui, where the surge to "neighbor island" golf began 28 years ago, charges the same--$90--to all.

A few other courses where greens fees vary greatly between guests and non-guests:

--On Kauai: The Kiele course at Kauai Lagoons (better known as the Westin Kauai) charges$105 for guests, $135 for non-guests. Designed by Jack Nicklaus, this is the most expensive golf course in Hawaii. Its sister course, the Lagoons, goes for $70/$90. Out at Princeville, it's $60/$85. On the south shore at Poipu, the Kiahuna Golf Course has the least price differential: $63/$70.

--On the Big Island: Mauna Lani, $65/$130; Mauna Kea, $48/$98 (guest rate excludes $34 for cart, which can be shared); Kona Country Club (owned by the Kona Surf Resort), $43/$70.

--On Oahu: Sheraton Makaha, $60/$125; Turtle Bay Hilton, $65/$80.

--On Molokai: Kaluakoi, $45/$65. Note: If you stay for a week at Kaluakoi, golf is on the house. Ask about the Colony plan.

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