The staff and developers of Kohanaiki, a private community in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, have gone to great lengths to preserve the integrity of the land and the culture of the people who came before them. Fittingly, the 18-hole golf course is the crown jewel of the state’s first Audubon International Silver Signature Program property.
At Kohanaiki in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, the design team and staff have drawn on the Big Island’s cultural history to bring members a modern-day facility with state-of-the-art amenities.
Kohanaiki’s name comes from its traditional land division, the Kohanaiki ahupua’a, which stretches from the sea to the mountain. The name means “small bareness,” which refers to the lava flows that erupted from Mount Hualālai 3,000 to 5,000 years ago. Until the 19th century, when Western culture brought an end to the Hawaiian lifestyle, a thriving village occupied these lands. Islanders fished from the sea and indigenous ponds, and they grew gourds, coconuts, and taro on the upland slopes.
Today, the luxury private residential community, built and designed with an environmentally friendly infrastructure, still offers fishing from its waterways and agriculture at its organic farm. It also features an exclusive beach, activities center, fine-dining facilities, and a swimming pool. An Adventure Team teaches the ways of the ocean through activities such as standup paddleboarding, canoeing, surfing, fishing, bodyboarding, snorkeling and scuba diving. The main clubhouse and a spa are slated to open this year.
And the crown jewel of Kohanaiki is the 18-hole golf course, an old-style layout that was built on lava rock and features six oceanfront holes. “Our golf course is one of the most important amenities that we have,” explains Marty Keiter, Director of Golf. “It is the single biggest piece of the community that people experience before they decide to purchase real estate [here]. There’s not a person that comes in that we don’t show the golf course to. We’re very proud of it, and it’s very important to who we are.”
Joe Root, President and Chief Executive Officer of Kohanaiki Shores LLC, agrees. “It’s a key component of the experience that we offer,” he says of the golf course. “What we’ve tried to do in every aspect of the property is to get the best people involved. We have the ability to maintain it in the best way possible. Condition-wise, it’s excellent.”
Kohanaiki Club Inc.
Location: Kailua-Kona, Hawaii
The man responsible for that excellence is Agronomy Manager Joseph Przygodzinski. Other than a two-year absence from 2010 until 2012 (which overlapped with the economic downturn that temporarily put things on hold), he has been on board since the project’s 2008 inception, to handle the construction, grow-in, and opening of the golf course.
As the first golf course in Hawaii to earn Audubon International Silver Signature Program certification, Kohanaiki has embraced its responsibility to create a sustainable operation amid the archaeological and cultural features that were preserved on site.
“We have been working with Audubon International from the start of the project, and we stressed best-management practices in our Natural Resources Management Plan [NRMP],” Przygodzinski reports. “We want to make sure we’re doing the best job we can of protecting our employees, the environment, and the land.”
Audubon certification is contingent upon the quality, thoroughness, and implementation of the NRMP, which must include wildlife conservation and habitat enhancement, water conservation, water quality monitoring and management, integrated pest management, energy efficiency, waste reduction and management, and green building products and procedures. The property owners, Audubon International, the county of Hawaii, and the adjacent Kaloko-Honokohau National Historical Park worked together to create the site-specific plan.
“The golf course is a key amenity and an integral part of the Kohanaiki experience,” adds General Manager George Punoose. “Our members and guests love the Rees Jones layout, especially the six ocean holes—it makes it such a unique experience, unmatched in Hawaii. We’re also very proud that the course and Kohanaiki have been certified by Audubon International’s Signature Program for its environmental planning and management. All credit goes to our staff—from the golf attendants to the greenskeepers—for their attention to every detail of the Kohanaiki golf experience.”
Tending to those details is not without its challenges, though, particularly when it comes to irrigating a golf course in an arid climate. Fortunately, the Kohanaiki property includes distinctive water features, in the form of more than 200 anchialine ponds.
Anchialine ponds are enclosed bodies of brackish water with varying salinity and an underground connection to the ocean. They typically form in limestone or volcanic rock, and water levels in the pools fluctuate according to the ocean tides. Freshwater is fed to the ponds from groundwater and rainwater, and saltwater seeps in from the ocean through underground crevices in the surrounding lava rock.
Kohanaiki’s anchialine ponds, which range from fist-sized to as big as a swimming pool, stretch along 1.5 miles of coastline on the leeward side of the Big Island. Thirty of them alone surround the golf course’s 14th green. Historically, these pools were used by Hawaiians to raise fish and shrimp, and the waters were also used for cooking, drinking, and bathing. The property’s Pond Restoration Team restored all of the anchialine ponds, lakes, and beach parks, which are owned by the county but maintained by Kohanaiki.
Agronomy Manager Profile
Joseph M. Przygodzinski
Education and Training: California Polytechnic University, B.S. in Environmental Horticultural Science, emphasizing Turf Management and IPM
Years in Golf Course Maintenance Business: 10-plus
Previous Employment: Kuki’o Golf and Beach Club (Assistant Superintendent, four years); Resort Management Group LLC; Maui Landscape Manager and Agronomist
Certifications: Hawaii state applicator’s license since 2005. The property was designated as the first Audubon International Signature Sanctuary in the state of Hawaii in 2014, and the property achieved Organic Certification for Community Farms in 2014 and 2015.
According to Root, Kohanaiki gauges the success of its sustainability efforts by the condition of the ponds. “If the ponds are healthy, then we’re doing our job,” he explains. “One of the key facets of the property is to have as light a footprint as possible and do things as up-to-date as we can.”
Kohanaiki’s water-conservation practices are vital to its eco-friendly practices. Because water is scarce and expensive on the Big Island, Kohanaiki built eight brackish water wells, a reverse-osmosis water filtration plant, and a 10.5 million-gallon lake that supplies enough water to irrigate the golf course, property landscaping, and all community landscaping.
“These wells are drilled at shallow depths, so that we tap into surface groundwater that is fed from the mountains above us,” notes Przygodzinski.
The ability to provide water on-site, rather than purchasing it elsewhere, reduces the costs of golf course and landscape maintenance, as well as home ownership, Root notes. “Any surface water collected goes into our wells,” he adds. “It doesn’t drain directly into the shore areas.”
In addition, the six ocean holes (Nos. 12 – 17) are lined and have sub-drainage systems with automatic pumps. This system allows the staff to pump that water into different areas and lets it go back into the groundwater.
With “the most extensive water-quality monitoring program that I know of,” reports Root, the property checks groundwater, surface water, and the offshore environment. The water-monitoring program also ensures that the anchialine ponds and Pacific Ocean are not degraded from construction or long-term use of the property.
“We get flash floods, and we test our waters every year,” Przygodzinski says. “Every time we receive over one inch of rain, we call a water-monitoring company to come by with their team and sample the water.”
Grounds crew members also use products such as wetting agents to help with water retention and to keep the turf as healthy as possible.
The golf course uses Seashore paspalum SeaDwarf turf, and Przygodzinski says this adaptive variety thrives at Kohanaiki. The grass has low pesticide requirements, is disease- and drought-tolerant, and creates “a great playing surface.” In addition, he reports, the grounds crew can mow the grass at different heights, ranging from .065 of an inch on the greens to 1.5 inches in the rough.
Course & Grounds Profile
Kohanaiki Club Inc.
Annual Course Maintenance Budget: $2.8 million
Flora and Fauna
Because of its brackish water and dry climate, Kohanaiki uses salt- and drought-tolerant turf and plant species to decrease or eliminate the need for additional watering, promote efficient irrigation practices, and reduce maintenance. In addition, reveals Przygodzinski, “Ninety percent of the plants on the golf course are indigenous, and they have been incorporated into residential design areas as well.”
Kohanaiki’s organic farm boasts 60 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and herbs including guava, mango, pineapple, taro, dragonfruit, three varieties of bananas, pomegranates, figs, okra, eggplant, ginger, lemongrass, and Surinam cherries. The Kohanaiki staff incorporates the bounty in its restaurant cuisine and catering services, and residents can use the products at their homes. The farm has four distinct planting themes—Polynesian, Mediterranean, Central American, and Asian—and the products are grown completely free of pesticides and herbicides in the rich volcanic soil. Visitors are welcome at the working farm as well.
“It’s an educational source and amenity for our membership. They can walk around, and we have a full-time farmer on staff,” says Przygodzinski. “It was fun to create and plan.”
Because of Kohanaiki’s wildlife conservation efforts, fauna is as important as flora on the property. Anchialine pools have their own ecosystems populated by tiny and often rare species of crustaceans, fish, and eels, and Kohanaiki’s pools are home to small endemic red shrimp called ʻōpaeʻula. The anchialine pools and shoreline habitat also are ideal for some migratory water birds, including the endangered Hawaiian Stilt (Ae’o).
“When they’re around, we have to work around them,” notes Przygodzinski. “We create a buffer zone to keep them from entering the golf course unexpectedly.”
The Hawaiian nene goose, an endangered and protected species, and the Hawaiian monk seal, one of the world’s rarest marine mammals, have been spotted on site as well.
The grounds crew members educate contractors and other employees about wildlife and its protection. During nesting season, the Kohanaiki staff gives developers a handout with photos of the birds and hatchlings, as well as descriptions of their appearance, behavior, and nesting habits. The pond crew members also put up orange construction fencing and signs along the roadside near the nests, to keep people out of the areas. In addition, the Kohanaiki staff sends out e-mails to detail the nest locations and spots to avoid, and to ask contractors to refrain from using loud equipment in those areas.
BMPs That Work
To maximize its environmental protection efforts, Kohanaiki employs a number of other best-management practices as well. For instance, the property developed an Integrated Pest Management program in which the maintenance staff uses slow-release fertilizers and accurate pesticide applications, and the crew rotates the products it applies. The maintenance staff can only use certain chemicals, fungicides, insecticides, and herbicides.
“Audubon has representatives that did lab work on them. They regulated products we could use, to make sure we weren’t affecting groundwater and the anchialine ponds,” notes Przygodzinski.
Kohanaiki also has 25-foot no-spray zones on the grounds, to ensure that pesticides are absorbed before they reach any water feature. “We cannot do preventive spraying for weed control,” Przygodzinski reports. “We use more natural, organic, and curative methods.”
Twenty-five- to 50-foot vegetative buffers of tall native grasses around the anchialine ponds and irrigation lakes prevent erosion and ensure that no chemicals or fertilizers seep into those areas. The addition of activated charcoal to the drainage wells creates a filtration system that keeps out pollutants and protects the anchialine ponds and the holes near the ocean.
A property-wide waste management program ensures the sustainable use and reuse of almost all products. In addition, the program enables the staff to create soil from landscape materials.
Preserving the Past
Kohanaiki also has taken great care to preserve and restore the archaeological and cultural sites on the property.
“It’s the right and proper thing to do,” says Root. “It shows respect for the history and the culture of the property. It’s something that we had the respect to preserve and pass along as well. And from an environmental standpoint, we’re in a very special place with some things environmentally that don’t occur anywhere else.”
Paths that have been used for centuries run along the water. An enormous ridge with a display of more than 40 ki‘i pōhaku (petroglyphs) lies inland. While their meaning is uncertain, the petroglyphs most likely tell the story of a day at Kohanaiki.
The property also has preserved 14 rock formations known as ahu, which are constructed of hand-stacked lava rock and run parallel to the anchialine pools. The ahu, which most likely were landmarks, were sometimes used to store things or hide treasures.
A Pà Kekake, or donkey corral, guards the front of the 17th-hole tee box. Until surplus World War II jeeps became affordable and widely available in the late 1940s, Nightingale donkeys carried goods from the highlands to the coast. The donkeys were loaded, and then they walked to their destination without riders or guides. Once they arrived, they were unloaded, reloaded with more goods, and pointed back in the direction from which they came. After a day of travel, the donkeys were shepherded into the corrals for the evening.
The cultural sites have the same type of buffer zones around them as the ponds. But these areas, which the staff maintains by hand-removing the weeds, also are designated with rock walls.