Ernie unveils new course for high rollers


POSTED: Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The timing isn't the best.

Ernie Els knows that.

And we're not talking about being more than a half-hour late for his press conference. The genial Big Easy has built up plenty of goodwill here over the years, enough to earn a mulligan for that one. And, hey, this is Hawaii, so Hawaii time is OK.





        » Hoakalei Country Club's golf course is expected to serve as one of the key selling points for Haseko's Ka Makana resort community, which is set to debut a new series of model homes on Saturday.
Full story.

The real timing issue: Maybe a recession isn't the best time to unveil a resort golf course.

But here comes Els anyway, trying to save par at the grand opening of Hoakalei Country Club in Ewa Beach. Of course, he doesn't really have much choice. He's got to play it where it lies.

No one saw this coming when ground was broken three years ago, no one except a few irrelevant Monday morning money guys. Another golf course in Hawaii seemed like a great idea.

The mammoth layout Els and his team designed is part of a development where plenty of other architects (the kind who blueprint houses, not golf courses) and financiers ask the same question: We've built it, will they come?

When he was allowed to answer questions not deemed “;outside of Ernie's realm”; by some very controlling PR people yesterday, Els twice mentioned the economy's sorry state.

He knows he's behind the trees and in the thick stuff.

Really, who has $30,000 lying around for the initiation fee? Well, there are apparently at least 50 well-heeled people out there who want to play golf in Hawaii in the exclusive company of others of their financial standing. Madoff didn't make off with everyone's nest egg.

Some of them are already puttering and ironing and drivering around Hoakalei, the first private country club built on Oahu in 30 years.

Expectations for this point, however, were for about 150 members. Now, .333 is good for a hitter, but not as a closing rate on sales projections.

At the groundbreaking, we were led to believe that every-day hackers would be allowed to experience Ernie's creation, at least until the membership ranks filled (and it looks like that's going to take more time than originally planned).

Here's the exact 2006 quote from Douglas Howe, VP of Hoakalei partner ClubCorp:

“;Initially, we will have time available for local kamaaina play. As the resort builds up we'll have less local play, more local membership and resort play.”;

At some point, someone decided that ain't how it's gonna be. Now, if you don't want to ante up 30K, you're pretty much out of luck.

“;It's not a daily play course,”; spokesperson Sharene Saito Tam said yesterday.

But, she added, nonmembers will be allowed to enter amateur tournaments at the new course. The first is the inaugural Els Hawaii Cup, scheduled for April 21. It's a benefit for several Hawaii charities and nonprofits.

Saito Tam then added something about not wanting to hurt the other area courses by taking their players. My, how thoughtful.

Thankfully, the only attempts at spin by Els yesterday were on his demonstration swings. A couple of things to remember about him: He's a world-class competitor, and he's got a lot of shots with which to work.

He strongly hinted that Hoakalei could someday be a good home for the Mercedes-Benz championship that now resides at Kapalua. Els wants to host a big-time tourney within the next three or four years, and has talked with PGA commissioner Tim Finchem about it.

Wouldn't having the Mercedes and the Sony on the same island make fiscal sense?

And Els says the course is challenging enough for the best in the world.

“;I think it's strong enough to hold up for a tournament.”;

If the PGA doesn't decide to ditch Hawaii altogether, maybe Ernie Els can save par—or turn things completely around over time.

But it's hard to see the green from here.