The Waialae Country Club course and the Royal Hawaiian Hotel were both constructed at the same time in the late 1920s as part of an upmarket tourist development by the Territorial Hotel Company and it’s reckoned this was the very first golf resort unveiled on the Hawaiian islands.
Seth Raynor and his associate Charles Banks laid out the course and, in keeping with their normal golfing modus operandi, they built a number of replica holes, including a Redan at the signature par three 8th, a Road Hole at the 10th, a Biarritz at the 13th and a Short at the 16th.
Apart from lengthening the par four 15th in the mid-1950s, no major changes were made to the layout until a decade later when the front nine was largely decimated in order to provide land for the construction of the Kahala Hilton Hotel and Beach Apartments.
Thankfully, the iconic 189-yard 8th (played as the 17th during professional competitions) still remains largely intact. This hole, along with strong par fours on the back nine like the 466-yard 16th and 459-yard 17th, still give the layout some bite.
The course has hosted the Hawaiian Open since 1965, when Gay Brewer won the event. Since 1999, the tournament has been known as The Sony Open in Hawaii and it’s the first full-field event played on the PGA Tour in January every year.
Des Muirhead made some changes to the course in 1992 and Tom Doak currently consults at the club where his plans for the course are intended to “remove the buildup of dust so its charm can shine through”. The par three 2nd (the 11th for the Sony Open) was renovated, the Redan 8th restored and a punchbowl green installed on the par four 15th by Renaissance Golf Design in 2017.
Waialae Country Club is a flat seaside course. On the day a strong sea winds blows, the course is quite challenging. When it is calm, good players can score well. For example at Sony Open in Hawaii, Jimmy Walker hit -23 in 2015 and Justin Thomas -27 in 2017 for this 7,060-yard par-70 course. Tom Doak’s team was called in two years ago to restore much of Raynor’s original design. I played a week after Doak’s team completed the renovation.
The par-3 194-yard 2nd is beautiful. You hit toward the ocean onto the elevated protected by two bunkers one the left and in the front (see the picture). The pa-3 186-yard 8th is “Redan” that could be a signature hole. The par-3 167-yard 16th is “short” with bunkers surrounding the front and sides. The members and guests are forced to finish the round within 4 hours, which is a good approach. Tom Doak has not made the course much harder. Still players can have reasonable test of golf. The course condition is excellent. The club facility across the road from the course is superb, too. Waialae CC is a great course which the lucky members can enjoy every week.
Waialae reminded me of an oceanfront Biltmore, I wasn’t inspired by either despite the Golden Age parallel, designed by masters but carelessly repainted down the years. It’s encouraging to note that Doak is involved at Waialae as I’m sure he will breathe some life into what I felt was a rather predicable layout when I played here a couple of years ago. I had to look hard to see the templates and came away rather disappointed. I did appreciate the day and remained gracious, as my host was very proud of his club and the course’s Hawaiian Open pedigree. I’ve played about a dozen courses on Oahu and none are especially noteworthy except Makaha Valley which was the most fun I’ve had golfing on Oahu, sadly I think it has since closed.