Golf vacation specialist Dan Brantley concedes that Hawaii isn't the most popular destination for most of his clients, but said his business to the Islands is improving and the Aloha State is a wonderful place for serious duffers to plan a trip. The Dallas-based travel adviser, who works at Virtuoso agency Rudi Steele Travel, spoke recently with contributing editor Shane Nelson about how Hawaii stacks up with other popular golf destinations, some golf-vacation sales tips and the most popular courses across Hawaii for his clients.
Q: How does Hawaii compare with other golf destinations you sell?
A: I think if you sat a bunch of golfers down and asked them to design the perfect climate for golf you'd probably get very close to Hawaii. It's just gorgeous there, particularly along the seacoast. A friend of mine recently sent me a nice photo taken while he was playing golf in Ireland, and he said, "But the picture doesn't show it was about 38 degrees with 40 mph winds whipping in from the seacoast."
Another great thing about Hawaii is there are so many courses, [and] I don't think there is a place you can stay where you're not less than an hour from good golf. So it's just a great destination to send golfers to. Then on the flip side, if the spouse or whoever they're traveling with is not a golfer, there's always stuff to do. And there's stuff to do after you play golf. You can golf in the morning then lie by the beach in the afternoons or surf a little, maybe [do] some snorkeling.
Q: What are some of Hawaii's weaknesses as a golf destination?
A: The biggest disadvantage for me, being in Dallas, is just the distance. There are some direct flights from Dallas to Hawaii, and there are starting to be some others, but it's still a haul. And you still have to remind some people, amazingly, that it's a U.S. state and remind them they can use their dollars and their phones will work.
Right now, the big mother of all golf vacations is to Scotland. Most of my trips I do [to] Scotland for people, and then Ireland after that. Then after that they kind of lose track of where to go, and that's when I start to get people to go to Hawaii, once I've gotten some of the European bucket-list courses done.
The sixth and seventh holes of the Manele Golf Course on Lanai.
Q: What advice would you give other travel agents about selling golf vacations to Hawaii?
A: Well, like with any golf vacation, it's always good to know how somebody likes to play. Find out how people are. What kind of [courses] do they like to play? [And] of course, budget is always a big deal, and if they're a member of a private club here, or wherever they're coming from, many times the professional at their club is able to get them on courses in Hawaii they might otherwise not have access to.
Because they put things together so well, I tend to use packagers like Pleasant Holidays, Classic [and] Island Destinations. They'll all put together a good package for people, and then I'll work on golf tee times [or] whether they need a car. We're at the higher end of the market so we tend to make a lot of use of the concierges at the hotels. If the hotels have a course attached, I like to make use of that club professional there at the course. They can help folks get on other courses, as well. Talking with those pros, asking about where they go on their day off, you can learn about some really great courses.
Q: When you send someone to Hawaii for a golf vacation, how long do those trips generally last?
A: I like to push for a seven-six-five, where you're staying seven days, six nights and playing five different courses if folks are really into golf. They can certainly play more or play less, but I think that really gives people a good taste of things, and like I said, in Hawaii it's easy to get in five courses.
Q: Which courses in Hawaii are most popular for your clients?
A: I like, because I played it and it always ranks high, the Kapalua course at the Ritz-Carlton on Maui. It's a great one. It can sometimes be a real surprise for folks, because it almost looks like you're in Scotland at times. There are all these ferns and trees and it can be cooler up there. The Four Seasons on Lanai is also very popular. The St. Regis Princeville [on Kauai] and Turtle Bay [on Oahu] get some great reviews. And also the Four Seasons at Hualalai [on the Big Island of Hawaii].
Q: You've just named some of Hawaii's top resorts. Is connecting a great resort with top-notch golf an important pairing for your business?
A: I think so. At least at our level it is. You can play the most wonderful golf course in the world, but if you come back to a rat-hole hotel, it can take the spin off. There aren't many of those in Hawaii, but everybody's got some. It's great to come back to a nice place, where you can get a massage, have a drink by the pool. It just adds to the whole escape experience. Now folks may play a lot of places, such as some great municipal courses away from the resort, but if you have a nice place to come back to, I really think it adds to the experience.
The St. Regis Princeville resort on Kauai has a Pursue Your Passion promotion that allows earned credit to be used for the Makai Golf Course.
Q: How has your golf vacation business to Hawaii been lately?
A: It's slightly up this year. Actually, the whole office is up to Hawaii this year, [and] I'm actually working on a vacation right now to Maui and Kauai. Business to Hawaii is certainly up a little bit, and I think it's going to continue to come up.
Q: Any thoughts about why you're seeing that improvement?
A: There could be a number of things. I think Hawaii for U.S. travelers is still considered a safer destination than maybe some European destinations with all the news these days, although I think a lot of that is blown out of proportion. There's also no Zika in Hawaii, and that's recently come up as something people are concerned about. And the U.S. economy has come back a little bit, too, so that's probably helped.