Playing for Change

Local golf tourney finds a way to give back to the community while bringing business to the Second City.

PACIFIC LINKS FOUNDATION has a goal to preserve Hawai‘i’s cultural and natural resources while providing educational opportunities for students in Kapolei and the Leeward coast. It has done so below the radar of the very people the foundation is committed to serve—until now.

Most of the funding (80 percent) for those initiatives come from the Pacific Links Hawaii Championship, the PGA’s Championship Tour event hosted by Kapolei Golf Club.

To date, the foundation has donated approximately $300,000 to area non-profits including Ka‘ala Farm, Kapolei Community Development Corp., UH West O‘ahu, Malama Learning Center and Kupu, a youth community service and education organization. The course, along with other Pacific Links properties, is also the home for the University of Hawai‘i’s golf teams.

At the same time Pacific Links was acquiring courses, it was setting up the foundation to serve the local community. How to do that had yet to be determined. After a meeting with Ko Olina Golf Course general manager Greg Nichols, who presented Pacific Links Hawaii chief operating officer Micah Kane with examples of how other PGA events target very specific non-profits, the foundation discovered a model that piqued the interest of everyone involved.

“We wanted to do things that would be transformable to communities that are ready to move forward and we are going to do this based around the growth of Kapolei,” says Kane.

To further focus their mission, foundation board members tapped into the combined expertise of some 40 community leaders from Kapolei to Makaha and identified four priority projects: watershed restoration, lo‘i restoration, the disposition of the Kane‘aki heiau in Makaha valley and the Makaha Beach bypass.

“Whatever we do out here needs to complement the good and uplift the bad,” he says. “When you look at the Leeward coast, poverty grows by a rate of about 8 to 9 percent per ahupua‘a and it peaks in Makaha at about 30 percent.”

In the foundation’s two years of existence, it has donated more than $300,000 to area non-profits, not including in-kind donations that push the number up even further. One of its most successful endeavors was securing $500,000 from the state legislature for a watershed effort in Makaha Valley. Pacific Links kicked in $65,000 and the Board of Water Supply another $250,000 to protect the area’s vital natural resources.

Kane says golf course management and environmental efforts not only make sense from a community perspective but it is also good business. Water and pumping costs are two of the biggest expenditures for golf courses and reducing their water’s use benefits both the course and the entire island. Kane has recently reached an agreement with the Board of Water Supply to take more non-potable water.

“We are almost 100 percent non-potable water on the Kapolei course,” he says. “It also opened our eyes [to] a long-term plan toward water that we have gone through during the planning process for all our courses.”

Pacific Links is a U.S. holding company with regional offices in Toronto, Las Vegas, Hawai‘i and China. Its Hawai‘i properties feature not only Kapolei, where it employs about 110 area workers, but Olomana Golf Club, Royal Hawaiian Golf Club and both Makaha courses. Since its arrival into the local golf market, the company has invested heavily in its property to, as Kane says, to create a private experience in a public setting.

Makaha West is currently in the middle of a redesign by World Golf Hall of Fame member Greg Norman. A $5 million update of the original Pete Dye designed Royal Hawaiian course has also been completed.

“The directive we gave Norman is reduce the number of balls the average golfer loses by 50 percent,” says Kane, to the great relief of Hawai‘i golfers.

Golf, both as a national and local past time, is in decline. Expense and long-playing time make it challenging for operators to entice players. One effort Pacific Links has created to make golf more affordable is its Golf Oahu PLUS program. For a $60 monthly membership, club members get a discount at all Pacific Links courses, preferred access, free driving range privileges, free junior golf play after twilight and invites to special events.

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