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Monday, July 3, 2000

Ala Wai access
now a breeze,
former teed-off
golfers say

Golfers easily get on the
green after arrests in the
alleged bribery scandal

By Treena Shapiro


With the starters away, the average golfer can play.

Following last month's arrests of two starters at the city's Ala Wai golf course, standby golfers have found it much easier to get on the green, with the average wait at the nation's busiest golf course reduced to minutes from hours.

The starters were arrested for allegedly accepting bribes in return for tee times without the wait or hassle of dealing with the automated phone-reservation system.

The police investigation at the golf course has kept the regulars away, golfers say. On Thursday, the average wait for a walk-in tee time was a half-hour. Yesterday, it was even shorter.

"Standbys are going really quick," said Sam Suapaia of Kahuku, who waited less than 15 minutes for a tee time yesterday. "It's much easier this week."

Suapaia, who works nights and golfs four times a week, said he didn't see many of the same faces waiting at the course. "Their people aren't in place," he said. "They can't do their handshake, their eyebrow movements, whatever it is they did."

The city's investigation of the course, "gives some parity to the rest of the golfers," he said.

On Thursday, Von Nelson, 39, of Manoa, said that before the bust, he and his friends would go to the course at 8 a.m. and often still be waiting at 10:30 a.m. with 50 groups on the list ahead of them.

"We'd leave without playing golf," he said.

Nelson said when they did get on, the course would be so busy that often three or four foursomes would be lined up at the third hole and it could take up to a half-hour to tee off. But at noon Thursday, "there's nobody on the tee box, on the green, or on the fourth hole, either." A half-hour after arriving, Nelson was on the course.

Sho Nakasato of Kaneohe had reserved a tee time on Thursday. "If we don't have a time, we don't come," he said. But observing that there were fewer waiting, "we may try our luck" on standby, he said. "The wait is not that long."

Management at the golf course said traffic on the course is down, though factors besides the arrests of the starters could be at play. During the summer months, heat and travel typically bring the golf course numbers down, said manager Clarence Nakatsukasa.

That's not to say the golf course is empty: "On Tuesday we were up to 594 (golfers)," Nakatsukasa said. "Right now we're averaging 560, so 594 is very busy."

But Greg Yoshimura said he knows people aren't coming because of the crackdown on bribery. Friends who paid starters to get on the course 15 minutes after arriving aren't coming to the golf course now, he said. "They just can't get on."

According to Yoshimura, the arrests have improved organization at the course, since golfers who know the starters are no longer getting pushed in between the reserved tee times.

"It'd be outrageous out there. There'd be three groups waiting (to tee-off)," he said. "I think it's easier for just the average person to get on the course now."

The police investigation could lead to more arrests of starters and perhaps golfers, as well. Last week, a starter was arrested for theft at the Pali Golf Course as part of the same investigation, said police Lt. William Kato.

The starters arrested at the Ala Wai Golf Course were released pending investigation and are likely to go before the grand jury, Kato said. Meanwhile, they are still employed by the city, but are on unpaid leave during internal employee investigations.

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