The Local Knowlege

Courses & Travel

The Who, What, When, Why (and how) of Waialae's "W"

Let’s say you’re a member of the board at a private Hawaiian club full of rich tradition. Your course is a classic design by Seth Raynor and Charles Banks that opened in 1927. You host a PGA Tour event, won by some of the biggest names in golf. In other words, all is good in the not-so-mad world of Waialae Country Club on Oahu.

Then along comes a member with respect for all of the above, but he also wants to discuss the dreaded topic of change. No, not to a bunker, or the routing. He’s happy with the conditions and doesn’t dabble in decisions about the color of the proposed rug in the clubhouse or the artwork on the walls. But drawing from one of his favorite movies, the ensemble comedy “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,” Ethan Abbott has an idea of what to do with the four palm trees behind the seventh green (below). He wants to make them into the form of a “W.”

W_before.jpg He Wants to do What?!

Wait. Before you whack the idea, watch this video he put together to help his cause:

And then Abbott had the club consider the cost of moving a few trees: less than $4,000.

After a year of lobbying at various social events with fellow members, Abbott's whimsical idea gained enough traction and votes to become a reality.

This will be the third Sony Open with the W on display. The seventh hole at Waialae Country Club is a 441-yard dogleg-left (played as the 16th during the tournament).

W_7th_Diagram.jpgA challenging hole to say the least, especially if the wind is blowing off the Pacific, which is directly behind the green. If you hit a good drive and draw it around the corner, you’re left with 130 to 200 yards, depending on how much you cut off. (You know how a dogleg works.) And depending on where you are after your tee shot, what you lie by the time you have a look at the green, where the match stands, what’s going on at home (you know how life works), you may or may not notice the W. Which, in keeping with the theme of the movie, is a credit to the execution. “Sometimes you see it, and sometimes you don’t,” Abbott says. “It’s what I like about it. It’s not in your face.”

My take: I played there a few weeks ago, with “Uncle” Al Souza, who’s a worthy story for a separate post. I’d heard about this W, but certainly wasn't looking for it. As we turned the corner of the seventh fairway, I looked up from the cart and saw it for the first time.

W_Final.jpgI had a bit of a Hollywood reaction. Like when Jonathan Winters’ character finally discovers the W in the movie: “Why that’s it! Sure! Look, it’s a big W I tell ya! It’s a big W!”

I took the photo above and posted it on Instagram and Twitter, and immediately got back several comments.

“Reminds me of the treasure hunt in ‘It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World,’ wrote one follower. Another follower wrote: “Is that the location in the movie, ‘It's a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World?’ The money is buried under the big dubya.”

Abbott had the vision, but he gives the credit to many others, including Allan Lum, long-time club manager, and Dave Nakama, course superintendent. Nakama was in charge of moving the trees, all of which came from on property. He was careful to dig them out and replant them in such a way that they are tricked into believing they’re growing straight. Nakama left two of the four original trees that were behind the green in place for nine months; they were used as supports until the new trees were strong enough to be on their own again.

W_InProgress.jpg “When it was finally done, it was a wonderful day,” Abbott says. “It was something I wanted for the club. I never wanted this to be Ethan’s big W. And in five years, if the board decides to take it down, I’d be OK with that.”

I’m not going out on a palm frond by predicting it’s not going anywhere. The W has received national awards, has been featured on magazine covers, and has served as the backdrop of wedding photos. (It's especially popular when the groom's last name starts with a W.) And it’s the logo on the shirts of the club’s wait staff.

Abbott takes great pride when he makes the turn of the dogleg at the seventh hole, looks up at the trade winds blowing through those now-famous palms, and tries to find a treasure--this one in the form of a birdie. “It doesn’t look nearly as good when I’m lying 6, and still putting,” Abbott says.

We can all Welate.

--Matty G.

(Follow me on Twitter @Matt_Ginella.)