Jeff Eisenband / PGATOUR.COM
The Seth Raynor-designed Waialae Country Club that hosts the Sony Open in Hawaii features a landmark inspired by a 1960s comedy flick and has been part of the PGA TOUR schedule since 1965. Past winners at Waialae include Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Ben Crenshaw, Hale Irwin, Lanny Wadkins, Mark O’Meara, Corey Pavin, Jim Furyk, Ernie Els, Vijay Singh and, most recently, Hideki Matsuyama.
The most iconic feature of Waialae is the “W” formed by four coconut trees behind the 16th green. This formation is on purpose, and while it has only been around since 2010, its history goes back more than 50 years.
In 1963 – two years before the debut of the Sony Open – Stanley Kramer’s “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” debuted in theaters, and it featured one of Hollywood’s all-time star-studded casts with Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle and Sid Caesar, among others. The film’s plot revolved around a group of individuals racing to uncover $350,000 hidden under a W-shaped tree in the fictional California city of Santa Rosita.
Waialae member Ethan Abbott estimated he was around 9 or 10 years old when he originally saw the movie. His boyish enthusiasm about the film never left him, and as an adult in the 2000s, he started lobbying the course to create its own W. After some initial pushback, Waialae relocated four trees from the hundreds on the course, planting them behind the No. 7 green for members. The entire alteration cost $3,500 and came from a gift already earmarked for a project on the course.
While the trees are tricked into thinking they are growing straight, they now form one of golf’s iconic images, with the “W” appearing on Waialae merchandise and earning the club a series of national landscape awards. Weddings have even become common at the “W,” a prime photo opp for golf enthusiasts.
But did Abbott hide any cash under the trees? That remains unknown.