The Big W At Waialae

The Big W At Waialae
The Big W at Waialae. Photo from Waialae’s website.

One of the iconic images on the PGA TOUR is of four palm trees forming a big “W” at Waialae Country Club in Honolulu.

The W ostensibly stands for Waialae, but its origins are actually in a movie called Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World.

The 1963 movie is one of my favorite madcap comedies of the era. Others in the same vein are The Great Race, Those Magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines, The Pink Panther, Hatari and Support Your Local Sheriff.

Its A Mad, Mad, Mad Mad World centers around a race to find $350,000 in stolen cash that has been buried under a “Big W.” The plot, however, was just an excuse for director Stanley Kramer (Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner, Judgment at Nuremberg, Inherit the Wind) to have a star-studded cast yuk it up on screen. Appearing in the film, among others, are Spencer Tracy, Milton Berle, Sid Caesar, Buddy Hackett, Mickey Rooney, Phil Silvers, Jonathan Winters, Eddie “Rochester” Anderson, Jim Backus, Ethel Merman, Edie Adams, Dorothy Provine, Joe Brown, Terry-Thomas, Buster Keaton, Peter Falk, Don Knotts and the Three Stooges.

The Big W At Waialae: Pictured scene from Its A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Mickey Rooney, Buddy Hackett, Sid Caesar and Edie Adams stand in front of the Big W without realizing it is there.

In the movie, the cast frantically runs around the countryside in a variety of modes of transportation, trying to be the first to find the buried loot, leading to all sorts of comedic disasters. In the end, they all converge on a park in coastal California, where the Big W is supposed to be located.

The Big W At Waialae: Pictured scene from Its A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
The cast racing past the glaringly obvious Big W.

The Big W is in plain sight for the audience, but for some time no one in the cast notices.

The Big W At Waialae: Pictured scene from Its A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Jonathan Winters realizes the location of the Big W.

Then Jonathan Winters spots it, leading to even more insanity and propelling the plot to its ridiculous end.

The Big W At Waialae: Pictured scene from Its A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World
Jonathan Winters awed by the Big W.

While the movie is 60 years old, the Big W at Waialae has only been around since 2009. The crossed palms sit behind the club’s seventh green — the sixteenth for the pros.

The Waialae Big W was the brainchild of member Ethan Abbott. A fan of the movie, Abbott spent a year trying to convince the club it was a good idea. He was right, of course. It is hard to think of the Sony Open without repeated views of the scene.

The course superintendent and arborist brought the trees in from other locations on the course and planted them in such a way to trick them into thinking they were growing straight. Existing palms were used for a time to support them until they could hold their own.

Waialae’s Big W is close enough to the one in the movie that many think the scenes in Its a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World were filmed there.

While Waialae’s Big W has only been around a few short years, the course itself is a golden age classic. Built in 1927, the course was designed by Seth Raynor and Charles Banks. It originally was part of The Royal Hawaiian resort.

Waialae has hosted Hawaiian Opens since 1928. The course has been a mainstay on the PGA Tour since 1965.

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