Growing church blessed with greener pasture
First Presbyterian will move to Koolau Golf Club, as foretold
After a five-year search in which church leaders examined more than 500 potential sites, the burgeoning, 1,200-member First Presbyterian Church of Honolulu has secured its promised land.
The church closed a deal yesterday to acquire the Koolau Golf Club in Kaneohe from a Hong Kong investor for an undisclosed amount. The deal gives First Presbyterian a 110,000-square-foot clubhouse and 365 parking spaces.
It also makes First Presbyterian the only church in Hawaii with its own 18-hole championship golf course.
For First Presbyterian the motivating force was not a desire to be able to hit the links after worship services, but simply to have growing room, said Ron Mathieu, First Presbyterian's executive director. The church had only 83 parking spaces and had resorted to shuttling people to services from the Roosevelt High School parking lot, which the church rented on Sundays.
The general public accustomed to playing golf at the course will not see many changes, Mathieu said. Although the entire clubhouse will be dedicated to church services and classes on Sundays, golf course operations will not change. The course will continue to be managed by its current operator, American Golf Corp., Mathieu said.
Likewise, Honey's at Koolau restaurant will remain open to the public. Moreover, he said, the golf club will be open for the general public to use except on Sundays. And the club's banquet division, Koolau Catering Inc., will remain intact for people having weddings and other special events at the club.
Nonetheless, Mathieu said, the church does envision reaching out to other denominations and nonprofit groups to offer the facilities for conferences and other events at more affordable rates than those typically offered by hotels.
"We look forward to sharing this facility with a lot of other churches, not just our own," Mathieu said.
As he sees it, the move is nothing short of providential.
"This is kind of an out-of-box thing," he said, "but the reality is it was a phenomenal opportunity for us."
The problem for First Presbyterian was that it needed more space and could not find anything suitable for less than $25 million to $40 million, which was a lot more than the church figured it could raise, even if it sold its building in Makiki.
According to the story that has become part of church lore, church leaders decided to explore the possibility of moving to the course after a member had a dream in which the Rev. Dan Chun was preaching at the golf course, which is located at the foot of the lush, plunging Koolau mountains.
Having exhausted virtually all other options and looked at hundreds of properties, church leaders went to talk to the owners of the golf course, who expressed a willingness to sell. Mathieu acknowledged that some longtime members had expressed concerns about relocating the church to the other side of the island. But other members have described the move as one of destiny.
"We believe, like Abraham, that we're being led to a new home," longtime church member Lee Alden Johnson Chapman said during a Nov. 27 service, according to a recording of the service posted on the church's Web site. "We've been blessed in this home with much growth and enrichment, and we believe that if the move is God's will, that we'll also be blessed with growth in our new location."
Although Mathieu declined to say how much First Presbyterian paid for the course, Chun previously had told the congregation that the asking price was about $20.5 million.
As part of the deal, First Presbyterian has sold its existing church at the corner of Nehoa and Keeaumoku streets to Catholic Charities Hawaii. Although Mathieu did not disclose terms, Chun previously has said the church had an offer of about $15.6 million for the site. Combined with $8 million raised through a capital campaign, that would be enough to buy the golf course and have money left over for renovations.
First Presbyterian's last service in its current location will be Aug. 20. Although the church plans to hold services at the new location the weekend after that, Mathieu said it likely would take a few weeks to get up and running. A grand opening at the new location is scheduled for January, he said.