Wack-Wack Golf Club’s East Course is the country’s oldest and most storied championship golf course. William J. Shaw was the impetus behind the club’s genesis. Disgusted with the elitism and policy of exclusion displayed at the 1926 Philippine Open when then sixteen-year-old Larry Montes was refused a seat at the victory dinner because he was a caddy, Shaw determined to build a golf club with the aim of promoting peace and harmony between golfers of all races. Working with a group of golfers from the old Municipal Golf Links, he succeeded and Wack-Wack was formed in 1930. The club’s name derived from the squawks of the crows that used to inhabit the land. The following year, Shaw contracted the services of Jim Black, a golf professional from the United States, to oversee the construction of the East Course.
Time has proven the design of the East Course. It is a course that will challenge, reward and frustrate golfers of all abilities. It is classic construction for courses of the Philippines; Carabao grass with small, elevated, often severely sloped Bermuda greens. This is a course that has hosted the likes of Jackie Burke, Lloyd Mangrum, Billy Casper, Peter Thomson, Norman Von Nida, Slammin’ Sam Snead, Kel Nagle, Bruce Crampton, Ed “Porky” Oliver and the 1997 World Cup of Golf which was attended by the likes of Gary Player, Hugh Biocchi, Nick Faldo, Ian Woosnam, Ignacio Garrido and Seve Ballesteros. The old hands will tell you that even these golfing greats have stumbled at number 8.
Wack Wack has recently completed the long awaited renovation of the East Course and the results are spectacular. Under the experienced hands of Tim Walker of Sta. Elena, the newly refurbished East Course is one that stays true to its roots and brings the course squarely into the 21st century. The first of these changes was to lengthen the golf course. It’s no secret that all golfers, professional and amateurs alike are hitting the ball further than ever and this had to be addressed as part of the East Course’s redesign. But more to the point, the East Course is the home of the Philippine Open so the extra yardage was critical in keeping the course challenging for the new breed of professionals. Some 350 additional yards were found by adding and repositioning some of the tee boxes; most notable are the ones on numbers, 8, 10 and 12.
The extra yardage meant that the fairway bunkers on the golf course needed to be repositioned. In previous years, said bunkers could be easily carried and offered little resistance for most golfers. The subtle changes in position of the bunkers required much consideration and today, if the bunkers don’t quite come into play for the professional, they definitely merit his concern when standing on the tee. Bunkers have been added on 5, 12, 17 and 18 to force players to carry over the hazard; something never a concern in the past.
Old hands at the East Course will also notice that care was taken to make all the bunkers look like those of the period in which the East Course was first built. Not an easy task by any means. According to Sta. Elena golf course superintendent Tim Walker, the man who was entrusted with the task, they decided to create a classic look similar to the Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles which entailed sand flashed bunkers with very simple lines and shapes. This was easier said than done and Walker concedes it was one of the most difficult tasks he’s ever attempted.
Another task of the redesign was to improve the old waterways and hazards. Changes were made to the lakes around holes 7 and 16. Changes were made to the rockwork which now looks very natural. The fruits of their labor are quite noticeable. The course now looks more holistic aesthetics are significantly improved.
The team also eschewed the use of modern grasses for the new East Course, choosing to stay with carabao grass for the fairways and Zoysia for the greens. The greens have not changed much and remain the principal challenge for the golfer. They are part of the history and heritage of the course and will remain so for the foreseeable future. I love the results! Tim and the club should be proud of what they’ve accomplished.
More controversial is the fact that the renovation did not include sand capping of the fairways. It is unusual for a comprehensive renovation not to adopt the latest trends of course maintenance. But in keeping with the director’s wishes to stay true to the traditions of the East Course, this was a necessary course of action. Better still, this move has reduced the amount spent on herbicides and fertilizers to zero reducing the upkeep of the golf course significantly.
Some time has passed since the renovation and in the interim; the East Course has hosted two Philippine Opens and the Philippine Ladies’ Open. The course looked magnificent in the live coverage of the 96th Philippine Open which was broadcast to over 200 countries around the world. It was and remains a stern test of golf capable of mystifying the best golfers in the world. It is a better golf course than ever and by many accounts the best golf course in the country.