One by one, prep golfers see favorite courses close shop

Oahu Country Club closed its doors recently to wait out the coronavirus. Jamm Aquino / Star-Advertiser

It was too good to last for Kolbe Irei and other high school golfers.

When schools suspended classes and spring sports due to the COVID-19 virus, student-athletes in most sports were left hanging without any way, any place to keep working out. The exception was golf, which is off campus. Then the municipal courses shut down. For Irei, a Roosevelt senior who won the OIA’s first three tournaments, there was a sanctuary at his nearby golf course, Oahu Country Club.

That came to an end on Sunday when OCC closed shop for the time being.

“I’ll probably chip and putt at home or go to another course to hit balls,” Irei said.

Other exclusively private clubs remain open: Waialae, Hoakalei. Private clubs that are accessible to the public are open, too, with a few exceptions. Pearl Country Club closed last week, tentatively planning to re-open on Apr. 3.

“We closed from last Thursday. We had a meeting,” said Myles Tsukamoto, who works in the pro shop. “It’s for the safety of the employees, too. Plus over here, we get tourists.”

Meanwhile, other courses in the same boat — private clubs open to the public — are thriving.

“All the courses under our ownership are open. Mililani, Ewa Beach, Royal Hawaiian, Koolau,” assistant manager Austin Brock said. “We’ve been sold out for the past three days since the munis closed. It’s been crazy.”

Golf, the sport of distance and depth, lends itself to physical and social distancing. Groups are usually limited to foursomes. The precautions are there.

“We’re disinfecting the check in counters, the carts, we’re doing the best we can,” Brock said.

Some courses haven’t seen a significant bump. None of the currently open golf clubs are planning to close doors.

“I don’t think that’s necessary. We wipe down everything. We have wipes for the customers, too,” said Robert Toshi, a starter at Bay View Golf Course. “We’re really busy now because the other courses are closed, like the Pali and other City and County courses. We’re taking a lot of the overflow.”

Navy Marine Golf Course was open on Sunday. So was Olomana. And Makaha. None has experienced a consistent uptick, but business carries on as usual.

At Hawaii Prince, however, things are extra busy. Maybe a total shutdown comes soon, but for now, the greens are occupied.

“It’s always in the back of our minds because everything else is starting to shut down. It’s a little hard to say. But today we’re slamming. I guess people are tired of sitting,” assistant golf professional Kalani Kiaaina said. “Overall, you’re only going with your own group and the next group is 50 yards away, but that doesn’t mean you’re totally safe. I think people want to keep living their lives.”

Meanwhile, Irei, who spends nearly every day on a course, is feeling a bit lost. OCC has been his home course for most of his life. He counted his blessings when OCC stayed open while munis across the island closed up.

“I think I jinxed it,” he said.


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