Monday, July 19, 2021

Royal Hawaiian Golf Club - Wedding venue review

We had our May 23, 2021 wedding event at the Royal Hawaiian Golf Club in Kailua, HI. (Not to be confused with the famous pink Royal Hawaiian Hotel in Waikiki, HI.) I wasn't intending to write a full review for the venue, but our experience was a little less than stellar, so I just wanted to get this out there for anyone googling for it. 
tl;dr - we very unexpectedly had an ongoing church service during our ceremony, AC was broken and were overcharged by 12% and still haven't received a refund almost 2 months later, communication in the 3 months preceding event and 2 months after has been difficult

Booking the venue - September to October 2019
We visited for our initial consultation on September 28 with venue coordinator Erin Clemmons who we had contacted by email to get the appointment. There were a couple other groups ahead of us, so we were able to wait in the upper lobby area of the clubhouse. 
She showed us the Maunawili Room, the Olena restaurant area and the large Alii Ballroom in addition to the outdoor ceremony space. We instantly fell in love with the clubhouse and being able to reserve the whole thing. It also seemed like the perfect size for our intended 150-175 person wedding.
They seemed to have good availability for our intended initial date (November 28, 2020) and the cost was well within our budget. 
We discussed with our families and emailed Erin to move forward with a specific estimate and putting down a deposit by email on September 30. I still hadn't received a response by October 4, so I sent a follow up and received a response later that day with a little more information.
We had planned to go to the Olena restaurant on October 5 so our parents could see the venue in person and we could get an idea of what the food would be like (since we were told it's the same chefs). Erin told us that she wouldn't be available but that the ballrooms would be unlocked if we wanted to take another look for ourselves, which we did. 
Everyone was amenable to moving forward with the venue, so on October 7, I emailed to ask for how to put down a deposit. Emails from Erin on October 10 and 15 provided the information we needed for securing our date. We went back and forth about some questions I had about the contract, but ultimately sent the signed version on October 17 and let Erin know to contact me by phone for the credit card number to pay for the deposit. 
I had some issues getting her to call me back (as her voicemail was full) but we were able to finally complete that first payment at the end of October 2019.

Venue coordinator change - December 2019
In December 2019 when I sent an email to Erin to ask about some accommodations we wanted for the reception, I received a response that Erin was no longer with RHGC and I would then be corresponding with Jeneen Hoopai for anything regarding our event. 
In January-February 2020, while we were securing other vendors, I sent some emails to Jeneen to ensure that the information that Erin had discussed with us would still be possible (and to get it in writing) and all seemed well. 

COVID postponement - July 2020
Of course, in March 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic started ramping up and we put wedding planning on hold for a while as it was very uncertain how things would end up by November 2020. 
In July 2020, as our second payment was about to be due, I reached out to Jeneen to clarify what our options are regarding holding the event vs. postponing vs. canceling. I received prompt responses for the most part and was able to settle on a new event date of May 23, 2021 without much issue. Jeneen sent over a revised contract the same day I confirmed the new date and informed me about how the pandemic would affect due payments (deposit would transfer in full, second payment would be deferred until closer to event date due to pandemic uncertainty). 

Pre-wedding arrangements & rehearsal - February to May 2021
Nothing seemed amiss until February-March 2021, when we started to firm up all the details for the wedding about two months out and I wasn't getting any kind of affirmative response from RHGC/Jeneen. There was an out of office automatic reply that mentioned a temporary closure and requesting patience in response time. 
Since some of our planning very much required coordination with the venue, I did try to contact by email multiple times. Our day-of coordinator even tried emailing and calling as well (no luck). We started to panic a little bit and even reached out to several other venues as a back up in case RHGC did not re-open as we had expected (and would have expected to have been contacted about). 
Jeneen got back to me on April 5 (about 1.5 months before our event date) to start discussing and finalizing details such as the meal choices, which due to pandemic restrictions needed to be a plated lunch compared to a buffet as we initially planned. This took about a month to sort out more-or-less completely and was a bit stressful and it all felt a bit last minute to me. We were also told that we would not be able to do a tasting due to COVID.
We scheduled for the rehearsal (about 1 hour) to be the Saturday 1 week prior to our event (May 15) as we wanted to have it during the day time. Unfortunately, at last minute (1 hour prior), Jeneen was unable to meet us that day and we just walked through things in the ceremony area with our day of coordinator. No one was available to open the clubhouse or ballrooms for us, so we just had to make use of the exterior areas. 
I had some additional questions for Jeneen I had planned to ask during the rehearsal and also wanted to ensure our music player would work with their sound system (which we were unable to access ourselves since the interior facilities were locked during the rehearsal), so I arranged to meet with Jeneen on the Thursday prior to our event (May 20). That day, Jeneen contacted me a few hours ahead to let me know she needed to reschedule which was fine. Luckily I had the next day off and was able to finally get into the venue again on Friday (May 21). 
Jeneen was running late but someone else was (Jordan) able to meet us to start helping with troubleshooting with the sound system and any questions. I waited just a short while before she arrived and could confirm any details for me. 
We had to go back and forth quite a bit with the food order as we needed to hit the minimum order for food/beverages. And ended up with an order of enough food during cocktail hour for likely twice the number of people we were expecting, but as the plated meal didn't have much room for expansion, that was the only place we could increase. This is likely only a problem because we had initially planned for a 150-175 person event and had to scale down to 50 people due to pandemic. 

Day of the wedding - May 23, 2021
Derek Wong Photography
We arrived at around 05:50am and Jeneen was available to greet us as promised. My MOH and I went straight to the bridal room (in the back of the Maunawili room) and settled in before the HMU stylists showed up at around 06:00am to immediately get to work. 
Derek Wong Photography 
I was monopolized by the HMU styling for most of the rest of the morning, but while I was getting that done, I was informed via my day-of coordinator:
- AC is broken in most of the clubhouse except the Maunawili room (and the ajoining bridal room I was in)
- Church is going to be held in the Maunawili room just outside the bridal room?? But that we would not need to relocate our items within the bridal room and it should not cause a disturbance for us. And then she let me know shortly later that they were able to move church to a zoom service and it wouldn't be a problem.

While we were out doing the first look on the golf course, apparently the church people moved into the Maunawili room and all of our personal items were moved out of the main bridal room into the hallway/narrow dressing area. I did not get to move my items myself as I wasn't present for this. 
Regarding the first look, we had been sure to request two golf carts to transport the necessary people to the designated spot. Unfortunately, on that day, only one was available as only one employee was available to drive the cart. The BEO had listed "1 wedding cart and 1 additional cart", but we only had access to one which could fit 3 people max other than the driver. This meant that the driver had to take two trips to get all the required personnel back and forth each time which was a bit time consuming due to the distance (each way about 7-10 minutes depending on golfers). (I do not know why we or one of the coordinators or photographers was not allowed to drive the cart ourselves, but we did ask to do so.)
Derek Wong Photography
When we returned from the first look and started taking the family portraits before the ceremony, I started to notice a lot more strangers hanging around outside the Olena restaurant (above the ceremony area). I wrote them off as golfers or family of golfers and didn't think much of it until I realized that they actually WERE having church service IN the Olena, just overlooking our ceremony and picture taking area AND that there was another set of church people in the Maunawili room, so I couldn't have the access I expected and needed to exit the clubhouse and walk all the way around every time I wanted to go in as they were recording a church service. Only to find out that all of my personal items had been moved without my knowledge. 
We had been told that the church would be concluded before our ceremony (or at least that it wouldn't be in conflict), which it may have been the case - they all went inside as far as I could tell, but the parishioners continued to hang around the Olena and interior clubhouse area for some time after.
We had specifically requested to use the Olena as part of our cocktail hour and once the ceremony was done, I had expected that our guests would be able to go inside. Not the case. When the guests were eventually able to move to cocktail hour, they were actually moved into our reception space immediately and we didn't get to use the Olena at all which has beautiful floor to tall ceiling windows and I view I really enjoyed when we previewed it. 
Me walking outside the clubhouse to access the bridal room after church started
In addition to that, the ballroom was VERY stuffy (as were all other rooms other than the Maunawili room) since the AC was broken. I had specifically selected an indoor venue so that I would be able to enjoy the reception in AC (versus an all outdoor venue which would rely on shade and wind to keep cool, especially for a day time wedding). 
Derek Wong Photography
There were also only 2-3 patron-facing staff overall that were helping with the event, including Jeneen herself who had to help serve the food. This wasn't necessarily a bad thing, but it definitely wasn't what I was expecting for this event, even with only 50 people. 
The food and drinks were provided by the venue (as mandated, we did not bring in our own caterer or alcohol selection). As mentioned before, due to COVID, we only had the plated lunch option even though we had booked with a 3-choice buffet + add ons in mind. This is obviously not the venue's fault. We had selected the  We also had quite a selection of the appetizers during cocktail hour as that was what helped us meet the food & beverage minimum. Most guests we talked to said the food was good, or at least good for a wedding and they enjoyed having all the different appetizers during cocktail hour. 
Since we didn't have a formal program for the reception, we took all of our personal items and left the venue well ahead of the 14:30 end time. 

Payment - May to July+ 2021
RHGC was courteous to transfer the deposit submitted in October 2019 to our new date without additional fees (pretty standard for most vendors during COVID) which went smoothly in August 2020. However, the second payment (initially scheduled for 1 week prior to event) and final payment apparently caused some issues with regard to receiving a receipt and ensuring the correct amount was charged.
I submitted the second payment on May 18 and was promised a receipt the next day. I did not end up receiving a receipt until June 24 after reaching out to Jeneen multiple times through email (because I wanted to have a paper trail), and finally texting her. This was a month after our event. 
My MIL also took care of the final payment day of on May 23 (estimated to be approximately $1000 with variation depending on the bar tab but due to other factors ended up being $165) and I did not receive an itemized receipt for that until June 24, a month later, as well. 
Based on the itemized invoice and the paper receipt that my MIL found from the day of, we realized that we were overcharged by $1125. The initial deposit wasn't taken into account for the final payment total + we were charged for an extra adult meal that we did not ask for or receive + we had 4 cocktail hour tables on the BEO that we did not use because we didn't get to use the Olena for cocktail hour. Jeneen responded to my text message that a check would be cut by the accounting department and confirmed the mailing address. This refund ended up being screwed up and instead of cutting a check for the full amount, the deposit from October 2019 was refunded to the original form of payment - a credit card I had since cancelled. I was not informed ahead of time that this was going to occur, otherwise I would have let them know that that method was not preferred. There was supposedly already a check for the remaining $125 that should have been sent out on July 9, but not yet received. 
As of July 16, a month a half after our event date, we still have not received our refund and Jeneen has been difficult to contact. 

Overall - 👎
The venue is, without a doubt, beautiful. The ceremony space is exactly what we wanted and so was the interior clubhouse space, especially the Olena (our intended spot for cocktail hour). The golf course also had a multitude of different locations that would have been great for wedding photography if we had better golf cart access as well. 
I'm willing to forgive the AC being broken - that's something that's not easy to anticipate and just bad luck. It SUCKED for a day wedding in late spring in Hawaii, especially for a venue with an indoor ballroom that was chosen specifically so we would be kept cool during the reception, but I understand that things happen. 
Derek Wong Photography
(check the tower fan on the left because there was no AC, haha)
What I find inexcusable:
- Not fulfilling items written into the BEO that we has specifically discussed and were expecting (like the 2 golf carts)  
- Church service (maybe 2 separate ones?) that was occurring at the same time as our ceremony and cocktail hour after discussion that we would be the only event at the venue (especially due to COVID restrictions), and our primary motivation for wanting the whole clubhouse being privacy and not being gawked at by strangers
     Additionally, that our personal items had to be moved by someone other than me to an alternate area without my knowledge or supervision. My MOH's necklace went missing. And when my husband mistakenly opened the door to the small ballroom looking for us (the door was purposefully cracked open), the church people were very rude to him as if we were the ones interrupting their 1.5-years-in-the-making event. 
- Being overcharged by 12+%, taking a month to provide itemized receipts/invoices and not resolving it immediately. It has been almost two months and we have not received (in hand) any portion of the refund (although it has been promised several times that it is being processed in some way). I will update when I finally get the refund. 

We still were able to get some beautiful photos and create other great memories thanks to our excellent photography team (Derek Wong Photography), and I think luckily you can't see how peeved I was during certain aspects of the morning, but if you are thinking of booking an event at RHGC anytime soon, here is my basic advice:
The venue is beautiful and reasonably priced, but double and triple check everything before and after the event. Expect to have to stay on top of your own event and the venue coordinator. Good luck!

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