Wack Wack a driving force in Philippines

PUBLISHED : Monday, 24 February, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 24 February, 1997, 12:00am

The golf course boom has hit the Philippines. Indeed, according to no less authorities than Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, two of the most sought-after course architects, it's currently among the most active countries in the world for new developments.

Around Manila, multi-million dollar golfing projects are springing up at an alarming rate. To the developers, money appears to be no object.

Yet, as some have already found out and others will discover, throwing money into the construction of a new golf club is no guarantee of success.

It's true that several of the newer clubs within 90 minutes' drive of the capital have already put themselves on the map by staging top-level tournaments.

However, in the prestige stakes they still trail a long way behind the venerable Wack Wack Golf and Country Club. And they'll continue to do so into the next millennium now that the country's most revered golfing venue is embarking on a facelift.

Wack Wack is, to be sure, one of Asia's best-known golfing establishments, not only because of its wildly evocative name and its location in the heart of Metro Manila, but also as a result of history and tradition.

Founded in 1930 'to promote understanding and co-operation between people of different nationalities', Wack Wack played host to its first major tournament, the Philippine Open, in 1935.

Since then, many of the world's foremost professionals have grappled with the fabled East Course, site of the 1977 World Cup, won by the Spanish duo of Antonio Garrido and an up-and-coming 20-year-old named Seve Ballesteros.

Yet while the East Course again drew lavish praise during last week's Konica-UBX Manila Open, facilities off the course left much to be desired.

That was not altogether surprising given that the rickety, character-infested old clubhouse burned down three months ago. Charred wood, twisted metal and leaning walls are all that remain.

It has been identified that the fire was sparked by an electrical failure in the manager's office. For four hours, firemen fought to contain the blaze.

While there have been no suggestions of foul play, the irony is that just months before the blaze, Wack Wack's 800 members had approved plans to rip down the clubhouse and begin rebuilding in April, at the same time as remodelling the adjoining West Course.

Although 'a minimal insurance payout' will be received, it will be nowhere near the more than 300 million pesos (about US$12 million) it has been conservatively estimated will be needed for the renovations.

To raise the money, the club decided to sell a maximum of 40 memberships. The first dozen went on the market at the beginning of January at 25 million pesos (about US$1 million) apiece. Within a matter of days they were snapped up.

The late William 'Bill' Shaw, who played a major role in helping to shape the development of golf in the Philippines and was the moving spirit behind Wack Wack's formation, would have approved of this method of fund-raising.

In order to buy the prime land on which to build the course and clubhouse in 1930, the princely sum of 400,000 pesos had to be raised. With the cost of a membership set at 1,000 pesos, that meant finding an additional 246 members to go with the original group of 154.

The member's handbook records that 'a vigorous campaign was launched with a picnic at the new site of the golf course where Government officials, businessmen and golf enthusiasts were invited'.

In less than a month, membership was full. The appeal of Wack Wack is as strong now as ever.

Spencer Robinson is Managing Editor of Asian Golfer