Golf is a European sport. Didn’t it originate in Scotland ? However in spite of the humidity and heat, golf seems to be quite popular in Manila. It all started quite a long time ago – supposedly brought over by the British men who worked for the Manila Railway Company. Apparently with ample time on their hands and a surplus of caddies available to haul one’s clubs and the occasional beer, the Brits built a 3-hole course somewhere in the paddy fields around Intramuros. The sport became popular enough that by 1901, a 9-hole course was built next to the railway station in Caloocan. This was the start of the Manila Golf Club.
It was no time at all before the competition begged for a tournament. The Philippine Open was established in 1913, making it one of the oldest in the world. But there’s more to it than that of course, and hence the reason for my little story.
The Philippine Open was held from 1913 to 1934 at the Manila Golf Club, mostly won by Caucasian amateurs. Filipinos were barred from taking part in the Open until some kind-hearted unidentified American decided to sponsor a talented local caddy, Larry Montes, who learned the game by himself without the benefit of coaches and trainers or golf theory and training.
Somehow he bypassed the color barrier and was allowed to play. The irony of it was that he won and became the club’s first professional champion. But the officials were agog because as winner of the open, he deserved to sit at the presidential table during the awards dinner. Alas, cooler (and bigoted) Caucasian heads prevailed and they asked poor Montes to leave in the middle of the ceremony, stating club rules which prohibited caddies from entering the clubhouse.
Enter William “Bill” Shaw, an American member of the club and coincidentally married to a Filipina. The club officials soon felt his anger at this blatant evidence of discrimination. Shaw was no pushover. He arrived in Manila in 1901 on board a United States Army transport ship. He started out as a timekeeper at a stone quarry owned by the San Francisco Bridge Company in Mariveles.
Always known for his hard work ethic and the art of persuasion, initiative and foresight, Shaw and his friends eventually took over AG&P (Atlantic Gulf and Pacific) see above. The company was involved in engineering, manufacturing and steel fabrication. Shaw adopted the Philippines as his country, never leaving to return to the U.S. even for a brief visit.
His sense of fair play drove him to form another golf club, which would be open to all races and free from any discrimination. A new site in Mandaluyong was selected. A vigorous campaign was launched with a picnic at the proposed site of the golf course followed a few days later by a luncheon hosted by Bill Shaw at Tom’s Dixie Kitchen where applications for membership were distributed and filled out. [Source: Cris Pin, post on Manila Nostalgia]
Membership subscriptions were offered at P1,000 each among Filipinos and foreigners with a limit of 400 active members. The subscription was quickly filled. The club was incorporated in February 28, 1930 with Bill Shaw as its first president.
Bill Shaw contracted the services of Jim Black, a golf professional from the United States, to direct the construction of the course. (Black was also hired to redesign the Manila Golf Club in 1948.) The construction of the first 18 holes was started in April 1931. After the construction of the first 18-hole course, known as the East Course, Bill Shaw bought a parcel of land adjoining the Wack Wack property, on which another 18 holes were constructed, known as the West Course.
Odd name for a club, Wack Wack. Apparently it started when a foursome was playing at Archbishop O’Doherty’s 9-hole course rented to Shaw and friends. At the last tee near Malecon Drive close to Ft. Santiago, when one golfer hooked his drive into some tall bushes, scaring the heck out of some crows. Their cries sounded like “wak wak” . From then on the term wack wack was yelled out similar to the term “fore”. The club’s logo shows the two wacks or crows. True ? Some say, it was termed for the Tagalog reference to the raven, Uwak Uwak.
But Bill Shaw loved his club, it was his passion. He had his usual table by the window overlooking the first tee. The beautiful clubhouse was to become quite a popular rendezvous for dancing and receptions. What made it even more successful was the fact that the club welcomed everyone. He was incredibly devoted to the success of the Club, even becoming a daily fixture at the entrance door leading to Tee No. 1. He would greet all the golfers that passed by, and later on make rounds at the Club to ensure the members were having a good time.
The attractive Wack Wack clubhouse, a showcase of pre-war Manila, was destroyed by fire. Another second structure, even more luxurious, was again badly damaged by a fire and unfortunately destroyed all the club’s historical records and pictures.
Shaw was known for his love of the Filipino people and often made charitable donations. A tribute in the Manila Bulletin extolled that “when one project for community progress faced crisis, he was the one to meet the crisis –with money and with organization and directing effort. He was particularly interested in the underprivileged, and made his interest count to give them better privileges”. In fact, each year he hosted an annual Christmas party for the poor children of Tondo and Meisic districts.
Shaw did permit himself one indulgence. He ate ravenously. Most observers and associates were content to describe his food consumption as prodigious, and nearly all of the most frequently repeated stories involve the theme of a gargantuan appetite. From a relatively slim young man, he ballooned to 300 lbs. Apart from overeating and smoking cigars, Shaw never touched alcohol and he never joined the characteristically inebriated parties that his American contemporaries were so fond of.
Quite a magnanimous man, Bill was also a devoted father to his adopted son Joe. He would pick him up daily at La Salle school. It was rumored that Bill was Joe’s natural father and married to Joe’s Filipina mother. As an adult, Joe was provided many offers of employment by Shaw’s AG&P company but declined to follow his father’s footsteps, which may have indicated problems with his treatment at home. The above photo with son Joe, was taken at the front entrance of the old Wack Wack building (source: Jim Litton).
Before his death, he donated 27 hectares of land for an additional 9 holes to be added to the golf course. His devotion to the game and the Wack Wack club remains his legacy which is honored by a memorial park within the property. A bronze bust monument to Shaw can be seen as one approaches the entrance from Shaw Boulevard.
Not much is known of the club’s activities during the Japanese occupation. However, “resuming operations on May 17, 1947, Wack-Wack held the first postwar open tournament last February  with Larry Montes emerging champion. Today, Wack-Wack is a veritable Mecca of tired businessmen, golf enthusiasts and other cosmopolites who go out there to play golf, hold lavish dinners and dances, take a dip in the pool or merely shoot the breeze over a couple of cool, frosty glasses set on the tables around the airy, spacious terrace.” [source: Bill Shaw: the Man and the Legend, Lewis Gleeck, Jr.]
After Manila was liberated, one of the favorite spots for military R&R was the clubhouse, pool and golf course at Wack Wack.
Today, Wack Wack Golf & Country Club continues to be a world-class golf club, considered as one of the top 100 courses in the world. The 7000 yard, par 72 East course is a championship course where the 1977 World Cup was played. The West course is a resort course.
Manuel Quezon was perhaps the most athletic of Philippine presidents. he loved to play golf and did so every time he had a chance, whether it was at the Manila Golf club in Caloocan, at Wack Wack in Mandaluyong, or up in Tagaytay as in the photo below. His favorite playing companions were Sen. Vicente Madrigal, former Speaker Jose Yulo, Dr. Jose P. Laurel and sometimes Archbishop Michael O’Doherty. it was said of the late fiery leader that when his score was low he used to call out his score to friends playing one hole behind. But it was different when his ball was always “in the rough,” and his score was high. It was then that Don Manuel was at his vitriolic best. He swore in at least three languages and a couple of dialects. It was just too bad if one of his playing companions happened to be the archbishop of Manila. The other players had a merry time laughing behind Quezon’s back. [source: Philippine Press Online from “Presidents at Play” article, July 9, 1949]
On June 5, 1943, as president of the Philippine provisional government under the Japanese, Jose P. Laurel was playing golf at tee #7 when he was shot around 4 times. The bullets barely missed his heart and liver. He was rushed by his golfing companions, among them FEU president Nicanor Reyes, Sr. to the Philippine General Hospital where he was operated by the Chief Military Surgeon of the Japanese Military Administration and Filipino surgeons. Laurel enjoyed a speedy recovery.
Two suspects to the shooting were reportedly captured and swiftly executed by the Kempetai. Another suspect, a former boxer named Feliciano Lizardo, was presented for identification by the Japanese to Laurel at the latter’s hospital bed, but Laurel then professed unclear memory. However, in his 1953 memoirs, Laurel would admit that Lizardo, by then one his bodyguards, was indeed the would-be assassin. [source:Wikipedia]
During the later stages of the war circa 1944-1945 Japanese aircraft were dispersed into the golf course area to hide them from aerial observation and Allied bombing attacks.
The golf course was liberated by the US Army during February 9-10, 1945. On the grounds of the golf course, a Japanese A6M5 Model 52 Zero was captured intact.During 1945-1946, the level area of the golf course fairway was used as a grass landing field for US Army light aircraft including Piper L-4 Grasshoppers and L-5 Sentinels. [source: www.pacificwrecks.com]
Part of a grim reminder of history, Sadaaki Konishi, the cruel commander of the Los Baños Internment Camp escaped when the camp was liberated in February 1945. He was eventually captured and assigned to a group of POWs to clean up rubble around Manila. As luck would have it, he was recognized by one of the Los Baños internees at the Wack Wack Golf Club in Manila in July 1945. Konishi was tried as a Class C war criminal for the offenses of violating the laws of war. He fully admitted to the massacre of thousands of civilians and added that “he had been conducting a war and left such mere details to his staff.” He was hanged in Sugamo Prison April 30, 1949. A Maryknoll nun, Sister Theresa, later reported that shortly before his death, Konishi became a convert to Christianity.
Known as “Bantam Ben” and “Toy Tiger” for his diminutive size, Ben Arda is also arguably the Philippines’ greatest golfer. He started out as a caddy at the Club Filipino in his native city of Cebu. During his off-hours, he would practice relentlessly, becoming one of Cebu’s top players. Then Wack Wack president, Nanoy Ilusorio, invited Arda to move to Manila to become a club pro. He was overall champion in the Asian circuit in 1969, a three-time Philippine Open champion, and the first Filipino invited to play at the US Masters in Augusta. In a major tournament in Japan, Arda posted his best score ever, a staggering -24 in four rounds of competition. [source: www.philstar.com article]
The above photo is of Gen. Hilario Moncado at the Wack Wack. Quite the celebrity, Moncado was an ace golfer who challenged Pres. Manuel L. Quezon during the November 11, 1941 elections. Out of 3.5 million votes, he lost by only 10,000. He was Commander in Chief of Philippine Guerrillas during three years Japanese occupation in the Philippines. He was tortured at Fort Santiago, but he escaped and founded the Crusaders Army by successfully recruiting 2.5 million volunteer guerillas all over the country. This paved the way for the smooth return of Gen. MacArthur by mobilizing his guerrillas from the Crusaders Army, in addition to helping liberate the internees at Santo Tomas Internment Camp. He later retired to Tijuana, Mexico and died there under mysterious circumstances in 1956.