KAGMAN Saipan — LaoLao Bay Golf Resort has embarked on a multi-million dollar renovation project to upgrade the 36-hole two-course layout. United Micronesia Development Association Inc. purchased the resort late in 2004.

The upgrade will feature a unique cliff line tee box for the hole No. 5 on the East Course where a golfer can hit the ball from over the ocean and on to the greens for the hole on the other side at a cost of $2 million. The tee box will be accessible only through a 330-foot bridge.

Other improvements are:

• The driving range which will be covered with a roof; lighting fixtures will be installed for night golfers. Food and beverage will also be provided at the facility. That renovation is almost complete at a cost of about $50 000.

• The clubhouse including the ProShop golf store and the restaurant.

• A condominium right next to the golf course.

• The resort will also open and extended hours of its restaurant to local residents starting October.

Hiroyuki Saito president and chief financial officer at the resort said the improvement plans are designed to provide additional value to the tourist experience.

“We are not afraid of the [economic] changes we are facing right now. We will carry out a pretty aggressive renovation project ” Saito told the Journal. He said the golf resort had conducted its own “high-level market analysis” from which to base progress and completion of the improvement plans.

With Japan Airlines having suspended its Saipan routes several businesses have opted to trim down operations and reduce man-hours to weather the economic slowdown.

Saito said economic challenges should not discourage businesses from continuing to invest in renovations that were planned before these challenges came under consideration. Otherwise he said customers would never come back which in turn could cause establishments to close.

“Even though there are economic challenges we must continue investing in renovations. If you don’t keep up with those improvements customers will go somewhere else ” he said.

Those alternatives included Thailand the Philippines and other destinations that have golf resorts providing services for a cheaper price due to the abundance of inexpensive labor made available through manpower hiring agencies he said.

“Tourists always like to experience something different. That’s why they travel. So instead of competing in terms of prices it is much more important to provide additional value that they cannot experience in other destinations. We will create something really special ” Saito said.

According to Saito the new tee box project will have golfers cross the hanging bridge accustom themselves to the height from sea level and possibly stronger winds and concentrate on landing the ball by the greens across the ocean several meters away.

Saito said the plan for the new tee box project which he described as the courses’ “biggest renovation ” and the project as “a landmark for the CNMI tourism industry ” is in the “process of finalization.” The project’s initial cost estimate is around $2 million.

“The CNMI needs exactly this one additional value. Blue ocean alone is not a selling point because it’s everywhere ” Saito said referring to marketing strategies capitalizing on the CNMI’s pristine environment. Overall he said the entire list of renovation projects could take from two to five years to complete depending on changes in the economy. “The biggest issue is the JAL pullout. There are several possible changes involving airlines. The renovation plans have to be thought of carefully in consideration of the economic environment and the possibility of future changes ” he said. “I’m always reviewing changes and reflecting those changes in the plan.”

Saito said all renovation plans would be carried out. “We want to keep the best quality and create new values. We don’t want to shrink.”

JAL operated daily service to Saipan from Tokyo and Osaka with an average of 155 865 passengers a year representing 44% of Saipan’s Japanese seats.

With JAL’s Oct. 1. pull-out Northwest Airlines will be launching Saipan-Osaka flights beginning Oct. 1 using its Boeing 757-200 which has 20 business class seats and 162 coach class seats. Northwest’s additional service to the Marianas will include new daily flights between Guam and Nagoya and Guam and Osaka. Northwest’s daily nonstop flights between Kansai International Airport and Saipan International Airport will provide the Northern Marianas 66 430 seats a year.

UMDA took over ownership of LaoLao Bay Golf Resort from Shimizu Corp. on Feb. 15 for $8.5 million (See “UMDA purchases LaoLao Development ” in the Nov. 29 2004 issue of the Journal). The courses were designed by pro-golfer Greg Norman and built by Shimizu Corp. Construction started in May 1992 and the twin course opened for play in 1994. MBJ