It's been a quiet year throughout Hawaii due to coronavirus restrictions and mandatory quarantine. After the islands experienced a record year in tourism in 2019, travel was down 98% year-over-year for the month of August.
Hawaii's economy is closely tied to tourism, and yet since late March, they have implored sun-seeking visitors to stay home, even jailing tourists who did not abide by the state's 14-day mandatory quarantine orders.
But with Hawaii's case count under control, the state has announced visitors may return starting October 15th as long as they follow newly installed arrival testing protocols. The main restriction you need to know is that you must produce a negative, approved Covid-19 test dated within 72 hours of arrival to the islands.
GoHawaii.com, the official tourist authority, has posted the latest information for domestic travel to the state. Guests must register with the state's Safe Travels digital system and upload the negative FDA-authorized nucleid acid amplication test (FAAT) from a CLIA licensed or certified lab within 72 hours of departure.
Meanwhile, airlines are pouncing on the opportunity to service the pent-up demand. Bloomberg reports United Airlines will sell passengers to Hawaii a $250 rapid COVID-19 test. Hawaiian Airlines followed shortly after.
Golf in Hawaii during COVID-19
While many states in the U.S. have enjoyed record rounds played in 2020 as golf has become the unofficial sport of social distancing, Hawaii hasn't fared as well. A state order on March 25 was interpreted by most golf course operators that they had to close, while a handful of privately owned courses remained open. Oahu's popular municipal courses around Honolulu only just reopened recently.
"We've had to rely on locals," said Alex Nakajima, general manager at Troon-operated Kapalua Golf & Tennis Club on Maui. "There's just not enough."
While there was some steady play earlier this summer in the state as courses reopened, Nakajima said local play has dropped in the past month. Unemployment on the islands in August was recorded at 12.5%, while tourist-heavy Maui was more than 21 percent.
As a result, many multi-course resorts have been operating on a limited schedule and other public courses are currently closed until demand rises. Maui's Kapalua, for example, is only open five days a week and was alternating between the Bay and Plantation courses.
If there is a sliver lining, it has given staff at Kapalua the chance to finish up and fine-tune irrigation work on the recently reopened Plantation Course, which will reopen October 13. But for other courses operating on shoe-string budgets and bare-bones staff, at some point they will need an uptick in play from tourists to keep going.
Some courses are already reportedly not going to make it. A major blow to golf in Hawaii is the permanent closing of the infamous and gorgeous Ko'olau Golf Club on Oahu. The Star-Advertiser reports that management has asked to end its lease on September 30. From the article:
"“The current economic conditions and the COVID-19 pandemic made it impossible for our golf course operator to continue at the Ko'olau Golf Course,” said Pastor Dan Chun, senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church, in a statement. “While we are disappointed that the golf course will be shutting down, we are looking forward to see what God has in store for the property next.”
Some golf courses on Maui remained closed with a more uncertain future. The public-access Kahili Golf Course, for example, closed two weeks ago and will wait until demand returns (next door King Kamehameha Golf Club has been bustling with member play). In south Maui, management of the 54-hole Wailea Golf Club is rotating which days to open the Emerald and Gold courses (both are open on weekends), while Old Blue stays closed until demand to play comes back. Ka'anapali's Kai and Royal Ka'anapali courses are currently both open 7 days a week.
On Kauai, the 27-hole Princeville Makai Golf Club is open 7 days a week (golf carts must be returned by 4:30pm, although all 27 holes are walkable). The two other resort courses, Poipu Bay and the Ocean Course at Hokuala, are both open. Kiahuna Golf Club is open and municipal Wailua Golf Course reopened on September 4, but the public Puakea Golf Course is closed indefinitely.
On the Big Island, Mauna Lani's' Auberge Resort had just reopened in early 2020 after an extensive renovation. But the resort closed March 25th, along with the golf operation, including the North, South and Wikiwiki short course. Staff have not announced an official reopening date for the resort or courses. Meanwhile on the Kona Coast, the Four Seasons at Hualalai, home to the resort-accessible Nicklaus Course, has decided to close for renovations and is accepting reservations starting December 1st.
"It really hit us hard how much we rely on the hospitality industry," said Nakajima. "Not all [businesses] will return. It's going to be a slow reset."
If you're planning a Hawaiian golf vacation for this winter, you'll certainly be welcomed. Airfare promotions from the west coast on Southwest and others are abundant. Beaches and other typically busier attractions may be wide open. Restaurants and hotels may be harder to find or operating differently than years past. In addition to checking with the official state updates, check on operational status for businesses prior to your trip, make sure you've got an approved COVID-19 test scheduled and keep in mind that your favorite golf course may not be open every day, or accepting tee times within a smaller mid-morning window.