The AOL founder returns to his Hawaiian
homeland to deliver economic revival - and a great golf game
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.