Hilo golf course needs more green

  • The parking lot at the Hilo Municipal Golf Course is pictured Wednesday. (HOLLYN JOHNSON/Tribune-Herald)
  • Waiakea High School's Kaelyn Uchida tees off March 13 at Hilo Municipal Golf Course

HILO — Low attendance and higher than anticipated costs have forced a $180,000 taxpayer bailout of the island’s only municipal golf course.

The County Council on Wednesday unanimously advanced a transfer of money from the general fund, backed primarily by property taxes, to the golf course fund, which is the reservoir for revenues from golfing activities and concessions. The money is for the budget year that ends June 30.

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“This is a very unusual year in that we need to give the golf course additional funding,” said Finance Director Deanna Sako.

Sako said after the meeting that Hilo Municipal Golf Course typically gets a subsidy from the general fund, but this is the first time that she’s aware the subsidy wasn’t enough. The golf program had already received $580,000 from the general fund this year.

Sako said the program started the 2018-19 fiscal year with less carryover money than usual, and then had fewer people play than expected, resulting in less revenue than planned.

Administration officials said they’re considering green fee increases to raise revenues, while adding that this past year was especially challenging because of heavy rainfall and some construction activity.

The course underwent a $17 million renovation that was completed last year that included course improvements and a new clubhouse and other facilities. But work had continued into the year to complete handicapped-accessible stalls, said Parks and Recreation Director Roxcie Waltjen. That, coupled with the rain, could have kept players away.

“We had 214 inches of rain last year, and you’ve got to keep the golf course open and maintained even when it’s raining,” she said. “I am anticipating we will do much better next year.”

The public will have a chance to comment on any fee hikes before they’re implemented. Waltjen said her department is still in the early stages of looking at the fee schedules. She believes people will pay more to play on the renovated 18-hole course because it’s in much better shape than it was.

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Golf course fees were last raised in 2012.

Currently, greens fees are $15 weekdays and $18 weekends and holidays for Hawaii residents. Non-residents pay $35 weekdays and $40 weekends and holidays. Cart fees are extra.

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