2017 Hawaii Golf Industry Conference Recap

The following article was written by Ann Miller, Star Advertiser.

Golf: For the love of the game

The biennial Hawaii Golf Industry Conference, which began in 2008, brings together some 150 people involved in the sport to talk about larger golf issues. Topics last week included how to halt the attrition of senior and junior golfers and the game’s three traditional obstacles — time, cost and access.

Discussion kept returning to Hawaii’s unique little part of the golf world — with an economic impact of $2.4 billion — that seeks out global opportunities while simultaneously trying to grow the game at home.

But what the room full of golf pros, superintendents, leaders and players, along with hospitality, tourism, real estate, resort development, transportation, advertising and charity folks heard most were terms rarely associated with the game.

Friends of Hawaii Charities president Corbett Kalama looked them in the eye early on and said earnestly, “Golf doesn’t talk enough about its impact on the community.”

Kalama, whose FOHC oversees the Sony Open in Hawaii, let that sink in.

He followed with a statement even more passionate.

“There is a soul to golf,” he said. “There is a value to golf.”

He didn’t talk about golf visitors who are a “good spend,” the fact that 10 percent of all Hawaii’s visitors from Canada play golf here or the huge global impact our tour events have.

Golf’s contributions

He talked about the $17 million-plus Sony Open has raised for charity and the 1,700 who gladly volunteer each year.

He talked about the 14-year-old thank you card he still has from Michelle Wie “with her scribble in pencil thanking us for letting her play Sony.”

He was talking about the multitude of charity events every day at Hawaii golf courses, and the design of those courses, which allows them to force flood waters away from homes.

Kalama was joined on the “Big Golf for Small Islands” panel by Hawaii Tourism Authority president George Szigeti and Four Seasons Resort Ko Olina general manager Sanjiv Hulugalle, who eloquently backed up Kalama.

Hulugalle spoke of how the LPGA Lotte Championship — recently renewed for three more years — “put us on the map” and why the heart of his focus is always “what can we do for the west side?”

He insists that in golf, it all starts with the people on the course.

“Our golf pros touch people and create incredible value to the community,” Hulugalle said. “We don’t see the golf course, we see the experiences and what people feel every day.”

It was an unexpected, but hardly unimportant, message on a day dedicated to the growth of the game in Hawaii. The conference is put on by the Aloha Section PGA Foundation.

It is anchored by the Hawaii Golf Alliance, which tries to “bring together the allied associations and organizations directly impacted by the golf industry.” The Alliance is composed of leaders from Hawaii’s professional, amateur, women’s and junior associations.

Another unexpected message came from the Skyped vision of World Golf Hall of Famer Ben Crenshaw, who couldn’t make it in person because of surgery. Crenshaw now has a home on the island of Hawaii.

“I wish I could be with y’all,” were the first words out of Crenshaw’s mouth.

Pro advocate

A few of his final words had nothing to do with his 19 victories, including two Masters titles and the 1976 Hawaiian Open, or his work as an author, historian and golf course architect.

Crenshaw just looked at his audience from across the ocean and said simply, “There is no other social game like this in the world.”

The thought was reiterated constantly during the day.

“Ben was fantastic, on every level,” said Greg Nichols, Ko Olina’s general manager/director of golf and organizer of the conference. “He spoke so honestly and eloquently on why we all love the game, what makes the game so unique and challenging, and the humanity, or social side, that makes our game so special.”

Nichols put together a brochure called “Why Golf” that asked “as many friends as possible, from every walk of life, to share their thoughts” about why they play.

Influence of the game

Nearly all spoke of the people who were in their lives because of golf — friends, colleagues, clients and people from faraway places they never would have met without the game.

“As (Commander, U.S. Pacific Fleet), I could spend two days in conferences with Asian Pacific leaders and resolve nothing,” Ret. Navy Admiral R.J. “Zap” Zlatoper wrote. “But on the golf course after 13 holes they would see my integrity and character and we would close important agreements by the 18th green.”

Others in the booklet who focused on the human element were pros Parker McLachlin and Suzy Whaley, Callaway’s Roger Cleveland, emcee/news anchor Howard Dashefsky and Hawaii State Junior Golf Association executive director Matt Rollins.

“One of the very common threads running through the booklet was how golf touches people’s lives, helps give their lives meaning and has provided so many quality moments for them with their friends and loved ones,” Nichols said. “As Ben said, he loves all sports, especially watching all sports, but he feels that golf is the best sport to actually play. Competitors actually help each other and root for each other while playing golf.”

It’s different that way. It’s different in lots of ways.