Just before noon on a late summer day last year, prior to the Hawaiian blessing and the untying of the lei ceremony, a brief rain shower washed down from Mount Haupu. In Hawaiian culture, this was considered a good omen, the rain blessing the day and the land.
The land in question was a golf course in Lihue, on the island of Kauai, and it was due for a little good luck. The Puakea Golf Course had been designed by Robin Nelson as an 18-hole track, but only 10 had been opened when the worst hurricane in the history of the islands ripped through Kauai just over a decade ago.
The course wasn't damaged, but the local economy was left in shambles by Hurricane Iniki's destruction. That included the fortunes of the Grove Farm Company, Puakea's developer. The unfinished course was tantalizing; Sports Illustrated named it one of the best nine-hole courses in the world, and critics said Puakea would be ranked as one of the world's great golf courses - if only there were more of it.
That didn't appear likely until 2000, when Steve Case purchased Grove Farm for $26 million, assuming $65 million in debt. "One of the first things I did after acquiring Grove Farm," he says, "was to green light the completion of the golf course."
It was a busy year for Case, who was in the midst of engineering and announcing the $112 billion AOL Time Warner merger. But the ambitious goals of the company - in terms of financial targets and in the expected cross-cultural synergy of a major Internet concern blended with a major media concern - were overblown. Its market value began to slide, then plunge, in the freefall of the post-dot-com economy and the shrinking advertising dollar. Case, Brutus-like, made the decision to fall on his dagger. He resigned last May, and turned his attention to Kauai with a valuable new commodity - time - jingling in his pocket.