Mark Rolfing on the state of golf in Hawaii, future of Ala Wai Golf Course

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Ala Wai Golf Course

“Really what I want to do over the next couple days is create an awareness by everybody as to really how fragile the golf industry is,” said Maui’s Mark Rolfing, a Golf Channel broadcaster.

With plans for Top Golf to come to Ala Wai Golf Course it’s a good opportunity get an update on the state of golf in general and here in Hawaii, who better to hear from than Rolfing, one of the 808’s fixtures in the game.

The fragility of the industry isn’t exclusive to Hawaii, but all across the country.

In recent years there have been fewer pro golfers come from the islands — that’s specific to Hawaii. It’s partially due to lack of places to practice, but also because of a different style of play.

“If you look at our juniors they all end up with strong grips, they hit the ball low, they run it along the ground, like they do at Ala Wai,” said Rolfing. “When you get to the big courses that they’re playing on the PGA Tour now, where you have to hit the ball up in the air and carry it a mile, their games just don’t travel as well they used to. And that’s kinda too bad. That’s the way the game has changed.”

Ala Wai Golf Course brings in the most money of the six municipal course on Oahu, effectively subsidizing the other five. It’s still one of the busiest courses in the world. But the national trend is that munies are closing.

“The real issue is that visitor play is really on the decline throughout Hawaii,” said Rolfing. “We used to have a huge percentage of our golfers who were visitors and they were paying high rates. And they subsidized the lower priced rates, which we desperately want to have for residents. The dilemma now is you don’t want to raise rates for the residents, yet your costs are going up. So the only solution that I can see right now is one where we crest some new revenue opportunities. And Top Golf and this project fits right in there. That’s exactly why this project makes sense.”

Rolfing has an additional idea for Ala Wai’s future.

“It is such a natural area for flood mitigation to protect all of Waikiki,” said Rolfing. “You’ve got 150 acres sitting right here that if properly utilized and properly planned and designed and financed will be able to really protect Waikiki like no other plan that I’ve seen.”

The location and history of Ala Wai make it internationally unique.

“This is one of the most iconic golf courses in the entire world for a lot of reasons,” said Rolfing. “It’s just a place that really in so many different ways should by the home of Hawaii golf. This should be our flagship.”

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