Kona Country Club opens after 3-year hiatus

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KEAUHOU — The grassy greens are waiting.

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KEAUHOU — The grassy greens are waiting.

Three years after it closed its doors for renovations, the 18-hole oceanside golf course at Kona Country Club is now open for business.

In a community where options are scant, golfers who took to the fairway on Wednesday had little to say but good about the expanded greens, new tee boxes, spruced-up bunkers and renovated clubhouse.

Dick Skarnes, who has been playing golf since he was 11, tried out new carpet and looked down past 72 new Yamaha golf carts parked in rows, to a vista of Keauhou Bay that he’s missed over the past few years.

“I had more fun in this place. Look at this,” an excited Skarnes said in the clubhouse. “Everything looks good. Once they get this place going, it’ll be busy as heck.”

KCC held a soft opening on Jan. 29, and many local golf enthusiasts have already gotten the word, said general manager Lee Kagawa. But the club is also trying to publicize more widely, and is welcoming the public with kamaaina rates.

Eighteen-hole games sell to visitors for $180 from December through the middle of March, according to rates published on the club’s website.

Designed in the 1960s by William Bell and owned by hotel and golf course developer Yukio Takahashi, the course has been rated in America’s top 100 by Golf Digest.

The clubhouse sports a new roof, painting, landscaping and carpeting, and fixtures are being updated. It also offers a full bar and prepared snacks and sandwiches while it waits for Department of Health approvals for its kitchen. The Vista Restaurant remains closed for the time being, but there are plans to eventually reopen, Kagawa said.

“Our priority was to get the course open,” he said.

There are no plans in the works to reopen the mauka course, which now appears fairly overgrown.

The opening of the club comes months later than originally planned. Part of the delay was caused by “blue rock,” a very hard form of lava that is often only inches below the surface in numerous places on the course. Crews installing a new irrigation system had the chore of laboriously chipping through the stone, Kagawa said.

Sonja Barnes drove a beverage cart around the portion of the course closest to the ocean on Wednesday. She had been visiting with golfers and getting their feedback over the past few days.

“They’re really happy it’s open, especially the people who live right around the course,” Barnes said.

Some of the 40-plus workers employed by the club could be seen driving around carts full of rock, trimming grass and running blowers on the fairway.

Portland, Oregon, resident John Colosimo took a break from his game on the far south end of the course with views out to the Kuamoo Battlefield and Burial Grounds, and talked about conditions on the green with Kagawa.

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Many golfers, including Colosimo, have had to take their game north to Makalei Golf Club and the Big Island Country Club in Puuanahulu. The lack of a public municipal golf course like the one in Hilo has been a sore point for many West Hawaii golfers. The suspension of county subsidies to lower green fees in 2012 and the closure of KCC in early 2013 made that inequity sting even more.

“I love that they’ve opened it,” said Colosimo, who visits Kona once a year in January and February. “I don’t think it’s changed dramatically, but that’s OK. It’s always been a good course, and it’s got more ocean holes than anybody.”

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