Waimea Country Club closes

By JOHN BURNETT

By JOHN BURNETT

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Tribune-Herald staff writer

The Waimea Country Club has closed its operation, leaving Big Island golfers and visitors who want to tee it up one fewer option.

Owner D.G. “Andy” Anderson, a Honolulu businessman and former city managing director, confirmed Friday that the 18-hole, 6,646-yard, par-72 course closed its distinctive ranch gate near the 52-mile marker of Mamalahoa Highway on Monday, and has laid off its eight full-time and two part-time employees.

“We’ve never made a dollar off it from the day we bought it,” Andy Anderson said. “… It’s been a pet project of ours. I really thought it was great and I love it. But the financial burden of these times have gotten more and more difficult.”

The Scottish links-style course, designed by John S. Sanford Jr., opened in 1994. Anderson purchased the 239-acre property, which was once pasture land, in a 2005 foreclosure auction, for between $2.5 and $3 million.

“That’s really sad news,” said Rich Peterson, a Hilo attorney and avid golfer. “The layout is really beautiful and the wildlife there is spectacular, with the pheasants and the wild turkeys. It’s definitely a loss to the golfers on this island.”

Anderson said that not being allowed to bid for a county golf subsidy for the fiscal year ending today was the final nail in the course’s coffin.

“We’ve been able to keep open because we were partially subsidized by the county,” Anderson said.

“Then two years ago, they decided they wanted to concentrate on Kona and they took us out of the program and left Waikoloa in. Most of our people would travel to Waikoloa for a $25 round versus a $35 round (at Waimea). So that made it most difficult to compete, even in the good times. But with that subsidy program favoring our competition, it just got to a point where we decided it was best to close it up.”

Anderson’s son, Brian, served as the course’s manager. He told Stephens Media last August the county should “either subsidize all or subsidize none.”

“It’s really hard watching your tax dollars go to your largest competitor,” Brian Anderson said at the time. He added that the company was paying more than $30,000 a year in property taxes and that the course may have to shut down and lay off its 17 employees, which means seven positions had been eliminated before closure. Waimea Country Club continued to offer an 18-hole round plus cart for $25 for kama‘aina, but without the subsidy refunded by county taxpayers.

The golf subsidy has been eliminated in the $365.1 million county budget for the new fiscal year that begins today.

Andy Anderson noted that weather also played a part in the course’s closure.

“For some reason, we’ve had a wet couple or three years,” he said, which cut into the number of rounds played and revenues collected. He said the course had lost $150,000 a year as a “conservative estimate.”

The property is zoned agricultural and could be subdivided into four 40-acre lots and one 79-acre parcel, the elder Anderson said. He added that the land is not yet on the market but the family is in discussion with a potential buyer for the entire property “for a small unique cattle ranch.” He said the asking price would be in the $3 million to $3.5 million range.

The country club is in County Council Chairman Dominic Yagong’s district. Yagong, a candidate for mayor, said Friday that he’d received numerous calls from constituents about the closure, which he called “a sad occasion.”

“Some of the people who called me … encouraged the county to look into seeing what we could possibly do to purchase that facility and turn it into a municipal golf course,” he said. “We do know that the golf course is enjoyed by many, not only from the district, but from throughout the island. Certainly it’s a tremendous asset. But everything is about timing. Right now would probably be a difficult time for the county to cough up such money, but it would be something for the county to consider, absolutely.”

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The country club is at least the second business of Anderson’s to close due to the sluggish economy. In November 2010, the iconic upscale Honolulu seafood restaurant John Dominis served its last meal after 31 years in business.

Email John Burnett at
jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.