Dave Mills started selling golf vacations to Hawaii over 20 years ago, and today his company, HawaiiGolfDeals.com, handles everything from arranging tee times to booking accommodations and car rentals for duffers on vacation, offering travel agents net rates on their packages.
Mills spoke recently with Shane Nelson, Travel Weekly's contributing editor for Hawaii, about some of his favorite courses, destinations where golf business in the Islands has been the best and advice he'd offer travel agents about the golf vacation market.
Q: What are your favorite golf courses to play in Hawaii?
A: On the Big Island, Hapuna is a really clever, well-designed, creative course that I think is a little under the radar because it's at the Mauna Kea Resort. And then there's Makalei, which is an independent course and non-resort-affiliated, but it's a really fantastic, fun and quite challenging place to play. It's up above the Kona Airport on Hualalai, and it's open to anybody. [And] then on Oahu, I really like Royal Kunia, because it's an outstanding design and has amazing vistas, and then Koolau is also very challenging. It's located in this junglelike setting, but it's incredible looking up at the Koolau mountains. Then on Kauai, there is Wailua Municipal, which is absolutely the best municipal course in Hawaii, with five oceanfront holes. It's really charming, but you don't want to go near it on a weekend. On weekdays, though, it's the best buy on that island, and it's really a fantastic place to play. It's actually held several USGA [United States Golf Association] events over the years.
Q: Where is your company doing the most golf vacation business in Hawaii today?
A: For years now, it's been the Big Island's Kohala Coast, and there's a very good reason for that. You have high-quality golf, most of the courses there are willing to work with us and they better understand the longer-duration stays of the avid golf traveler. We feature golf and lodging at the three major resorts there. The Mauna Kea Resort has the Mauna Kea and Hapuna courses; the Waikaloa Resort has the Beach and the King's course. We do some group golf at Mauna Lani, but not as much daily-fee golf, and they also have two golf courses. We find the best hotel to use is Hapuna, because it just sets up beautifully for golfers, with the driving range right across the street, and it has a great beach. But for villas and condos, which is still about 60% of our business, all three resorts have some very interesting, newer, great villa-condo combinations.
Q: What advice would you give travel agents about selling more golf vacations to Hawaii?
A: My advice for travel agents is, know what you're talking about. Read as much as possible about Hawaii's golf courses; certainly our website is an incredible resource in that regard. We even have videos about most of the golf courses we sell. And even if you don't play golf, but if you happen to go to Hawaii, don't just visit the hotels and the restaurants. If you think you have a client base that [is interested in] golf, then you should be visiting golf courses, even if you just have a look around. And you can say you're a travel agent and just ask to take out a cart for a spin around the course, or ask to talk to the head pros and have them tell you more about their golf courses. It's like anything else; be more of an expert. Otherwise, find the experts like us.
Q: How does HawaiiGolfDeals.com work with travel agents?
A: We have something called the Golf Hawaii Card, which is our main product. It's available for the Big Island [for $49.95] and then on Oahu [for $39.95], and it gives you incredible discounts to play golf for single days or multiple days. There are hardly any restrictions, and it's unlimited golf, so you can go out, play a round and then go into the pro shop and say, "Can I play another?" and they'll just let you go out again. We've never had any issues with people getting a tee time any time of the day, and we get an incredible amount of repeat business. We have travel agents who sell golf who just get the Golf Hawaii Card from us and pass it on to their clients. It's a great product that's been around since 1995, [so] we can do just the Golf Hawaii Card for agents, or we could arrange lodging, a vehicle, the Golf Hawaii Card for agents and then offer them a net rate for the package.