By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Richard Kilgo, left, and Don McIntyre enjoy pool during
lunch at the Sports Dome at Schofield Barracks. The Sports Dome
is one of the new breed of military clubs.
change with the times
Competition, social mores, lifestylesBy Gregg K. Kakesako
and attitudes about alcohol have evolved
forcing clubs to do or die
Military clubs, once considered as much a part of military life as the uniform, aren't what they used to be.
Facing severe competition and changing social mores, there are fewer available today.
In addition, the changing attitude in military and society in general toward alcohol is forcing club operators to alter the way they do business or face extinction.
Membership used to be mandatory for officers. Spouses joined the officers' wives club. Dinners were reasonably priced, served at tables covered with white tablecloths and shiny silverware.
"It's a place which fosters camaraderie," said Air Force Maj. Joe Davis. "Everyone there, whether they be on active duty or retired, has something in common with you by virtue of being in the military."
Clubs were places where off-duty personnel would go to hang out -- but lifestyles have changed. There are more married people in the service today, more using their spare time to pursue educational degrees and more living off base.
All of the services here report that patronage in their clubs has dropped.
The Navy reported that gross sales for its seven clubs at Pearl Harbor amounted to $6.7 million last year, compared to $7 million a year ago. At Hickam Air Force Base, sales were down at its officers club. In 1995, it reported revenues of $140,000, compared to $160,000 a year earlier.
Today, many of the officers clubs have been consolidated, catering to both officers and enlisted service members. Memberships are no longer necessary in many Oahu military clubs. Buffet lines are the norm since many no longer serve seated dinners.
And competition from the civilian sector is fierce.
"Military clubs acknowledge the fact that it's tough to compete with so much off-base activity going on," Davis said.
Tom Jones, food and beverage manager of more than eight lounges, restaurants and catering facilities at Pearl Harbor Naval Base, points out that sailors have many choices when its comes to places to eat.
Besides the galleys and Navy club system, Jones notes "there has been a bigger infusion of fast-food operations," such as Burger King, McDonald's and Subway on base from which the sailors can choose.
John O'Keefe, U.S. Army Hawaii's chief of club operations, acknowledged that "the challenge" is to keep up with off-post establishments.
"The military market is becoming more sophisticated and more demanding."
The Army used to have nine clubs in Hawaii but was forced to close two at Schofield Barracks and one at Wheeler Army Air Field a few years ago because they weren't making money.
There are no membership requirements at any of the six Army clubs on Oahu. Total Army club sales last year amounted to $5.3 million, employing more than 63 full-time and part-time civilians.
Next month, the Army will temporarily shut down the 52-year-old Cannon Club, located on the slopes of Diamond Head, with hopes of finding a private contractor to run it.
When it reopens in September, the Cannon Club no longer will be limited to the military and government civilian workers. All this is being done to stem the flow of lost revenues.
The idea of using private contractors isn't new.
At Norfolk Naval Base, Va., the club is operated by American Sports Bar, a private food-and-beverage company.
Only Hickam Air Force Base maintains a segregated membership-only officers and enlisted club system. The Army did away with clubs catering separately to officers and enlisted soldiers in 1996.
Pearl Harbor Naval Base used to have nine clubs, but because of financial reasons closed one of its officers clubs and did away with the rank-structure club operations in 1992, said Jones, who also serves as deputy director for the Navy's Morale, Welfare and Recreation programs at Pearl Harbor.
Revenues from the eight Pearl Harbor-based operations now top off at $7 million annually, but Jones acknowledged that profits have dropped over the past few years.
"The demographics have changed," Jones said, "we have more married sailors with children.
"All those family members are not likely to come back to the base after work to eat, drink and be merry."
Under a 1987 federal law, military clubs have to be self-
To stay current and to survive the fierce competition from the civilian sector, O'Keefe said, the Army surveys its patrons and makes changes based on those assessments.
The Sports Dome -- a bar and restaurant operation at Schofield Barracks that employs 75 civilians -- was renovated based on such input from soldiers. It now features outdoor volleyball courts, satellite television, a disco dance floor, pool tables, two bars and video amusement games.
"We pay the NFL (National Football League) so on Sundays we can get all the games by satellite," O'Keefe said. "We listen to our customers and give them what they want."
And it has paid off.
Ethel Manuel, a civilian clerk at Schofield's Family Support Division, said the Sports Dome can't be beat for both convenience and value. "It's reasonable and the vegetables are fresh," she said after a hearty salad and garlic bread lunch.
John Nishida, food and hospitality director at the Kaneohe Marine Corps Base, said similar plans are being developed to convert the enlisted club there to a sports bar operation with more emphasis on food and amusements.
"That's the trend now," said Nishida. "That's what the Marines are asking for."
Nishida said there is a corresponding drop in the patronage at Kaneohe's three clubs with the military's deglamorization of alcohol.
At Fort Shafter, O'Keefe said, the Army is building a new $5.6 million restaurant -- the Skyview Club -- which will open in December 1998. It will be a facility combining a dining room, catering, snack bar and golf pro shop operation.
Sports Dome is
right up a GIs alley
State-of-the-art TV and anBy Gregg K. Kakesako
all-you-can-eat buffet make the club
rival any in Waikiki
A cacophony of noise, lights and sound from the dance floor, video game machines, nine 8-foot projection televisions and other TV monitors engulf you as soon you enter Schofield Barracks' Sports Dome.
Just over a year old, the 19,000-square-foot Army facility is a far cry from the Paradise NCO Club that it replaced after undergoing $799,000 in renovations.
Keeping the structure, the Army gutted its interior, added a second-floor mezzanine and built two outdoor sand volleyball courts.
It's the second such military club in the Army system, and with its state-of-the-art audio and satellite television hookups, it rivals anything in Honolulu or Waikiki with gross revenues of more than $1 million last year.
"I don't think there is another club that can match this," says Tom Castell, its general manager.
The club is linked to three satellite television systems and a local cable company.
This gives Castell the ability during the fall football season to present nine live professional football games simultaneously, channeling them to any one of the many monitors scattered throughout the club.
Speakers are so arranged that the sound can be "isolated" in seven areas of the club, but it does take some concentration.
Picking up the pace is the dance floor, where a mix of music plays continuously from 9 a.m. until closing -- midnight on weeknights, 2 a.m. on weekends -- and two full bars.
But with the military's deglam-
orization of alcohol, Castell said, "there is more emphasis on food service."
The "all-you-can-eat buffet" is what brings Sgt. Ron Brosius to the Sports Dome a few times a week for lunch. "This type of buffet is right up a GI's alley," Brosius said.
Brian Dougherty, a civilian and community development specialist at Schofield's Family Support Division, says it's not only the buffet but the atmosphere that attracts him.
Although there is no membership requirement to eat or drink at the Sports Dome, patrons either have to be a member of the military or Reserves, or a Department of Defense civilian worker.
"It's good to get away from the office," added Ruby Batalona, a civilian worker at Wheeler Army Air Field's community service center. "It's relaxing and I love the salad bar."
Doreen Provost, the club's assistant manager, said another untapped market was high school graduation parties sans alcohol.
So far, three high schools -- St. Louis, Leilehua and Kahuku -- have expressed interest in renting the club after it closes so students can spend their graduation night together.
"We'll open up the dance floor, the school can bring in their own activities, and we'll end the evening with a graduation buffet breakfast," Provost said.
The Sports Dome also is expecting to accommodate a capacity crowd of 350 when it televises the Tyson-Holyfield fight June 28.
sad about closing
The 52-year-old military facilityBy Jim Witty
shuts down June 1
It was a Sunday brunch to savor.
Patrons of the venerable Cannon Club, some of whom were around when the landmark facility on the slopes of Diamond Head opened 52 years ago, gathered yesterday to witness the end of an era.
"It's like the death of a battleship," said Retired Army Col. John Sheedy of the storied military club scheduled to close June 1. "This is a sad day. Terribly sad. This is a wonderful place. It's kind of like the day I retired from the Army. Or a friend's funeral."
The Army has said the the closureil,26p,7p may be temporary if it can find a private contractor to run the food and beverage operations. It also may open the club to the general public.
The facility, once considered the gem of the Army's club system with it's commanding view of Waikiki, the Ala Wai Canal and beyond, was "losing significant amounts of money," said 25th Infantry Division spokeswoman Lee Ferguson.
"We're all going to be sorry to see it go but we don't know how to save it," said Sheedy, who spearheaded a grass-roots effort to attract a private vendor. "You need a Sheraton or an Aston or a Hilton. Somebody could take this and make a gold mine out of it."
Thirty-six year Honolulu resident Rita Weymouth said the club has been a good gathering place."There's a camaraderie here that you don't find anywhere else," she noted. "I'm in tears."
For Warren Lum, the Cannon Club wasn't about the food, although he said that was good."It's nostalgic," said Lum. "It's right on the slopes of Diamond Head. It's not a concrete jungle. It's going to be closed. And I don't think they'll ever reopen it."
He brought his wife Audrey and two small children to experience the Cannon Club "one last time" yesterday.
"I've got a lot of memories," said Wolfgang Schmidt, club manager for the past 19 years. "And I'm out of a job now. And some of the other employees too." In between handshakes and hugs, Schmidt said the club's decline is a sign of the times. Since it's always been essentially a retired officers club, membership declined over the years because retirees left the state to escape the high cost of living, he said. And some have passed away.
"We're living in a different era," Schmidt said. "We used to be coat and tie years ago. You couldn't get in without a reservation."
Joining the clubMilitary clubs are not open to the general public, but to those who have a military connection.
Some of the clubs in Hawaii include:
Sports Dome Hawaii*: Schofield Barracks
Aloha Lightning*: Schofield Barracks
Nehelani*: Schofield Barracks
Skyview Terrace*: Fort Shafter
Cannon Club*: Fort Ruger
HICKAM AIR FORCE BASE
Enlisted (Tradewinds): Membership
Officers Club: Membership
PEARL HARBOR NAVAL BASE
Beeman Center* (Sub Base)
Banyan Club* (lunch only and catered affairs)
Pearl Harbor Palms
Oceans (only open to chief petty officers)
19th Puka*: Navy-Marine Golf Course
Oasis Cafe*: Ford Island
KANEOHE MARINE CORPS BASE Officers (Membership)