Day by day, improvements are being made to the Waiehu Municipal Golf Course, which Mayor Alan Arakawa had proposed to be shuttered because of millions of dollars in financial losses.
But, after outcries from the public and golfers, the Maui County Council decided to keep the course open while looking at ways to help the Department of Parks and Recreation improve the finances of the course.
About a year later, the course’s online connection system finally has been improved so workers can take credit card payments instead of cash only. And the installation of seashore paspalum grass on the course’s back nine has been completed.
The parks department and the council are working to update the County Code’s provisions for management and operations of the course. Other Hawaii county officials have described the Waiehu course as “a gem.”
The updated code passed the first of two readings before the full council on Friday. The measure includes options for the course to host special events such as weddings and receptions, to generate more revenue, along with streamlining the process for Maui County residents to receive their resident golf rates. If the bill becomes law, the changes go into effect Jan. 1.
Parks Director Ka’ala Buenconsejo said the staff has been doing an amazing job of improving the course in all aspects from greens to operations.
He noted that upgrades and other improvements were already in the works for Waiehu, prior to Arakawa’s call to close the more than 85-year-old course in his State of the County address in 2017.
But the mayor’s proposal raised community awareness about the need to care for and to maintain the course, Buenconsejo added.
Also in the works is a request for proposals for a company to help the county with online reservations. The Finance Department’s preparation of documents should be completed in the next month or two, Buenconsejo said.
Currently, golfers can call to arrange a tee time. The phone option will remain available when the online system is up and running.
Buenconsejo did not have a timeline for when the online reservation system would be ready because it depends on what types of proposals the county receives.
As for the greens and fairways, Buenconsejo said the transformation of the back nine, which reopened Sept. 15, is like “night and day.”
“It’s amazing,” he said. “I like to say, you can’t find a weed on the green in the back nine.”
Work on the back nine included pulling out the course’s old Bermuda grass and replacing it with the highly tolerant seashore paspalum turfgrass.
The back nine was closed for the work beginning in June.
The parks department forecast a drop in golf course revenue during the renovations, but it was not as bad as expected, Buenconsejo said.
“But we are making it up with the heavy play now due to our renovated back nine,” he added.
Similar work is scheduled for the front nine in the spring.
And, new restrooms will be available on hole No. 14, Buenconsejo said.
The course’s restaurant remains empty because the facility’s grease traps needed work, Buenconsejo said. Funding for that project is pending before the County Council, he added.
The last restaurant at the course, Fatt Chicks Burgers, closed in late March. Its owner cited financial challenges, a lack of maintenance and issues with the county over terminating a lease that would have ended in 2019.
As for the changes in the County Code regarding the management and operations, Buenconsejo said many were housekeeping changes.
But one proposed change would make it easier for Maui County residents to receive the resident rate at Waiehu. The measure would eliminate a cumbersome application process for residents to receive their special golf rates, Buenconsejo said.
The course would instead allow residents to just show their valid driver’s licenses to obtain a resident fee. Buenconsejo said that golfers without a valid driver’s license still would need to go through an application process.