For an avid golfer, a simple strategy for itineraries: 'I market to myself'

Prince Golf CourseTravel Weekly's contributing editor for Hawaii, Shane Nelson, recently spoke with Mark Richardson, owner of Kent, Wash.-based Pacific Golf Adventures. A 30-year veteran of the travel industry and former Maui resident, Richardson is a devoted golfer who said he started his Hawaii golf vacation business 14 years ago to cater to folks just like him.

Travel Weekly: What sort of clients do you send on golf vacations to Hawaii?

Mark Richardson:
My average client, in an eight- or nine-night journey, will play golf four to seven times. They want to play multiple golf courses. They want to be sure all of the tee times are prearranged for them and want to know which golf course is better than the other. And very often, I have people who go and play 36 holes a day.

As I often tell people, I am my customer. I'm an avid golfer, and I like to go on vacation and play golf, so I market basically to myself. There are lots of wholesalers and travel agencies and or travel websites that sell Hawaii vacations, but if someone wants a fully coordinated, well-executed golf vacation, that's what we do.

TW: What does your business offer travel agents?

What we provide is a unique opportunity to service a specialized client. We're really not able to serve them by competing with Classic Vacations or Pleasant Holidays or those types of companies. But if they have someone who's really interested in golf travel, we'll provide a complete itinerary to the agent: give them either an exceptional net rate they can mark up how they choose --that's usually how we prefer to do it -- or we can build in a commission, if they'd like.

But what we do is make it a clean sale for the agent, because we know the ins and outs of what their client might be looking for. Some of the questions they should ask are: What island destination? How many golfers are in the group? And during their length of stay, how many rounds of golf do they plan to play?

If they plan to play any more than three rounds of golf, that's where we really come in. Because with three or more rounds, then you're really getting into a golf vacation where everything has to be coordinated for them to fit into their busy vacation.

TW: How has your golf business to Hawaii been this year vs. last year?

We're up about 12% to 13% from last year, which of course was not the best year that we've ever had.

TW: Which courses in Hawaii are the most sought after?

If I give you the premier list, the favorites usually start with the Plantation Course at Kapalua, home of the PGA tour events. Then there's Mauna Kea and Mauna Lani on the Big Island. On the island of Oahu, Turtle Bay is very popular. On the island of Kauai, Poipu Bay and Princeville are the better courses there. One of the things that definitely promotes a destination is people seeing it on TV, especially with golf courses. For them to see the beautiful views, the mountains behind a hole and the ocean below and the carry-over-the-water type of golf course, that's what certainly draws people in, especially golfers.

TW: Are there hotel properties in Hawaii that offer serious golfers a better experience?

Mark RichardsonRichardson:
Our most popular place for golf travel is the Kapalua Villas. That's the item we sell most often. They have an excellent package there. Another great hotel to work with for our golf vacations [is] the Mauna Kea on the Big Island, [and] there's also the Grand Hyatt on Kauai. Location is a big selling point; locations, and also package options. In the case of Kapalua, they have very good package promotion that's offered through the property, so it's a very good value.

TW: What distinguishes Hawaii from other destinations that offer excellent golfing opportunities?

The experience [in Hawaii] is unique, even from the standpoint of the texture of the golf courses. It's a very unique grass over there. The majority of it is Bermuda [grass], so most people aren't used to playing on that type of grass. Also, every island is quite different, and even on the same island you can go from one part to another and the topography is quite different. So the one thing that's unique about Hawaii is that even though you might have two oceanfront golf courses, they're quite different from each other. And other destinations are not quite the same in that way. Like Scottsdale [Ariz.], for example; it's a desert landscape. There may be course design differences, but the actual surroundings are pretty similar.

Also, from a standpoint of value, people often talk about how it's expensive to go to Hawaii, but from a golfer's perspective, it's a fairly good value. It's actually less expensive to go on an on-season golf trip to Hawaii than it is to go on an on-season golf trip to Scottsdale or Las Vegas or Palm Springs or those types of destinations. The green fees on-season at some of these premier seasonal locations are quite expensive by comparison to what Hawaii charges.

TW: What advice would you give agents looking to learn more about selling golf trips to the Islands?

Take a look at our website []. All of the properties that we offer are up on the website, also all of the golf courses are there, lots of great details and information about all of the golf courses available on all of the islands. So it's a great resource for information, and also you can print out all of the golf course details for your clients and at least give them an idea of what's available on all the islands, and that way clients can decide where they're interested in playing. 
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