Pau Hana Editor
WHEELER ARMY AIRFIELD — The rededication of newly renovated Leileihua Golf Course came with a bang, Tuesday.
First a Hawaiian blessing and maile lei untying ceremony helped signal a new era for what an Army official described as “one of the Army’s treasured favorites.”
Next, Maj. Gen. Roger Mathews, deputy commander of U.S. Army-Pacific, provided a highlight reel moment with the anticipated ceremonial first tee shot.
Instead of the crack of a crisply hit shot, however, there came, first, a small boom, and then a burst of white powder, followed by roars of laughter from command, dignitaries and fellow onlookers.
Laughing and smiling with the rest of the crowd, Mathews later offered he was compiling “a list of suspect characters” as likely candidates for the exploding golf ball prank.
It was an uncharacteristic launch to the old and elegant championship course, long considered one of the top military courses in the world, and now considered an elite military course.
“I was a little skeptical at first,” said Hal Okita, former director of golf for Leilehua, “… (but) a golf course, over time, needs to be revitalized.”
During a 14-month period, from January 2011-March 2012, closed portions of the course limited play to nine holes. Tee boxes were redesigned and enlarged, greens were given greater slope and enlarged, while bunkers were expanded to combine improved drainage and growth while also attempting to create greater challenges for players.
“We didn’t want to change the feel of the course,” said Mark Miller, project architect, based out of Denver. “We added some slope and roll to the greens for more strategic shot-making.”
The business of Leilehua golf and the return to full 18-hole play provides an important financial boost to U.S. Army Garrison-Hawaii’s Directorate of Family and Morale, Welfare and Recreation. Leilehua golf officials said the course is nearly completely booked since returning, and they anticipate a return to approximately 60,000 annual rounds of golf.
The $9.3M Leilehua facelift project readies the course to, once again, become the most heavily used course in the Army.
Project costs came from non-appropriated funds, or NAF major construction funding and is a reinvestment of Soldier-generated FMWR dollars.
“I think Leilehua will be an example for all of Army golf, in particular,” said Kevin Orton, project manager at FMWR Command, U.S. Army.
“A fully operational Leilehua is expected to, not only support the golf operation, but also generate profits that will benefit other FMWR- and Soldier-related programs,” said Debra Zedalis, regional director, Installation Management Command-Pacific Region.
The course is averaging almost 200 starts a day.
“Leilehua is the No. 1 revenue generating program for Army MWR in Hawaii,” said Rhonda Hunter, FMWR business operations director.
In the end, however, Leilehua is in the business of golf, and the course is being re-launched with great fanfare.
“This is a great design. …It’s exactly the way we envisioned it,” said Mike Iyoki, Leilehua director of golf. “If this golf course isn’t in the top three of all military golf courses, I’ll be terribly surprised.”