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Honolulu Lite

by Charles Memminger

Wednesday, June 21, 2000

Good time hard
for golfers to get

"HEY buddy, wanna buy some time?" I turned around. Facing me on the driving range was a seedy-looking character in a trench coat, plaid pants and a baseball cap that read "Go Tiger!"

I had heard about time dealers on the city's golf courses. Everybody had. They lurked in the background, selling small chunks of time. I was a casual golf user back then. I wasn't addicted. I could handle the time thing.

But the hardcore players were another matter. They ate, drank and breathed golf. If they didn't get a golf fix several times a week, they'd get jittery, lose their grip. And having a good grip is really important in golf. If your hands are shaky from having to wait two hours to tee off, you're going to shank your drive and double bogey the first hole. From there, it will just get worse. Getting bad time in golf is like getting bad dope on the street: It turns what should be a fabulous experience into a bad trip. Or, as they say in golf circles, a "sucky round."

So, it's imperative for hardcore golfers to get good starting times. The earlier the better. In the early morning, the pace on the course is relaxing. The air is cool. The greens roll true. The hot dog musubi is freshly made.

This is where the time dealers come in.

When you sign up to play at a golf course, private or government-owned, you are given a starting time. The problem is that there isn't enough time to go around. The procedure at courses like the Ala Wai Golf Course was set up to be fair. They had a phone reservation system that was supposed to give both hackers and addicts the same chance at a good time. But in the seamy underbelly of golf, money talks and the rest of the rubes have to wait in the snack bar.

TIME dealers working for the city started a lucrative racket on the side, taking payola for time. At Ala Wai, one of the busiest golf courses in the nation, it was just a matter of time before the law got involved.

So, here's this guy trying to sell me time, right out in the open. My "wass up" radar starts singing. Smells like a set-up.

"Psst. Come on, buddy. Wanna by some time?" he repeated.

How good is it? I asked.

"Choice. 7:54 a.m. Tuesday. Ten bucks."

That's a little rich for my blood, I said.

He looks inside his coat.

"I've got 8:29 a.m. for a Lincoln and 9:05 a.m. for three bucks, but you got to play with two tourists and a 94-year-old man."

Actually, I don't mind waiting, I said. I think I'll stick with the time I've got.

"Rats," he said, throwing his hat to the ground. His undercover police badge fell out.

Trying a reverse sting, huh? I said. Why don't you go after the real dealers in the clubhouse.

"Takes two to triple bogey, my friend," said the cop. "We busted the dealers. Now we're going after the users."

If you want to catch the real time abusers, why don't you just show up at daybreak and see who's getting the best starting times?

"We already know," he said. "Wives of politicians. Friends of city department heads. Buddies of golf-course workers. And a couple of old retired dudes."

So, why don't you bust them?

"Sure," he said. "Then I'll be doing hard time. At a desk."

The funny-dressed man walked away. I heard my name called to tee off. This was one of my better starting times. With luck, I'd be able to get in three holes before it got dark.

Charles Memminger, winner of
National Society of Newspaper Columnists
awards in 1994 and 1992, writes "Honolulu Lite"
Monday, Wednesday and Friday.
Write to him at the Honolulu Star-Bulletin,
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, 96802
or send E-mail to or

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