Where duffers fall for the aloha push

Hawaii, a state that can boast of weird bets and a golf course in a volcano, hosts the Canada Cup
November 30, 1964

Officially, Hawaii is the 50th state, but geographically and psychologically it is adrift from the rest of the U.S. Its eight islands are moored in the far-off Pacific, some 2,500 miles west of Pebble Beach, and mainlanders see it only through an exotic haze of coconut palms, ukuleles and swiveling hula skirts. In golf, however, Hawaii shares a strong interest not only with the other 49 states but with most of the world as well. The island golfers have long been good, and their feeling for the game ranges from avid to seething. Thus it is fitting that the first truly major sports event to be played in the state of Hawaii will be a golf tournament, the Canada Cup. The 12th annual Canada Cup matches bring the world's best golfers to the Royal Kaanapali Golf Course, hard by the Royal Lahaina and Sheraton hotels on the island of Maui, for four days of play next week. Two-man teams of professionals from 33 golfing countries will compete over 72 holes for two prizes, the International Trophy (for low individual score) and the Canada Cup (for low team score), and though the golfers get expenses, a liberal guarantee and some prize money, what really matters at the Canada Cup are the trophies, the prestige and the multilingual fellowship.

In taking the tournament to Hawaii the International Golf Association has made a fine choice of venue. The Royal Kaanapali course is a sound one, long, tough and designed by Robert Trent Jones. What is more, the course is a kind of preview of Hawaii's golf future. The islands, a mixture of thick jungle, wide stretches of plain, still-frothing volcanoes and lava-studded desert, will soon be dotted with some of the world's foremost golfing spas. Until recently only a man who hated pineapple corporations would bet that golf and tourists who play it could become this faraway state's biggest industry. But a combination of superb climate, the native enthusiasm for the game and a rich flow of dollars from real estate developers who hold golf and gold in about equal esteem is transforming the islands. Laurance Rockefeller, Henry J. Kaiser, American Factors, Ltd., Sheraton Corporation and the Janss Corporation are just a few of the big spenders who are investing heavily in the unique blend of tourism and golf that Hawaii provides. Their expenditures on facilities with golf courses will top $200 million in 10 years.

Hawaii's golfing link with the rest of the U.S. is a perfectly natural one. Appearances to the contrary, this state is not the moon—though it does have a golf course in the crater of an active volcano. Hawaiian golfers do hit a little white ball and, as everywhere, the game was introduced by determined Scots playing in a cow pasture. The first sortie was made in the late 1800s by two members of the old Scottish Thistle Club of Honolulu, Alexander Garvie, a bookkeeper, and John Cook, a cashier. Golf is as infectious a disease as any treated at the Mayo Clinic, and the contagion spread quickly under the warm Pacific sun. In the 1890s the first formal course was constructed at Moanalua, near Honolulu, and Hawaii's first golf trophy was made—a large polished calabash with Scottish thistles mounted here and there on it. On the eve of his final departure for Samoa, Robert Louis Stevenson was given a small gold replica of one of the thistles. He wore it in his coat lapel when he was buried in 1894 on the top of Samoa's Mount Vaea.

In 1906 Hawaii's first truly championship course, the Oahu Country Club, was opened for play, and for the next 20 years it hosted most of the island's major tournaments. The first Hawaiian Open was held in 1928 at the then new Waialae Country Club, and it drew a strong field of leading U.S. professionals. Wild Bill Mehlhorn won the event, and was astonished by the large crowds that showed up each day in time to tramp through the early-morning dew. "They are golf-minded," he said. "They come early and stay late."

Even Mehlhorn could not have conceived of what coming early and staying late really meant until the first public course, Palolo, was opened in 1930. Up to that time golf had been a leisurely and genteel pastime enjoyed almost solely by the upper-income families of Hawaii—Caucasians for the most part—who could afford to be country club members. Now came a different breed, the public-links golfer. Those who slapped down their daily greens fee at the new course became known as the Palolo Gang, and they began to dominate competitive golf in Hawaii. Today 90% of Hawaii's best amateurs are public-course players. Palolo was plowed under in 1942 to make room for a wartime housing project, but its role has been filled by the Ala Wai municipal course, just behind Waikiki. In 1960 the National Public Links Championship was held at Ala Wai, which is now staggering under the burden of 118,000 rounds a year. This is about the same number as are played annually on all of Pinehurst's five courses.

The Ala Wai golfer is a member of a tough, competitive group. He has to be just to get on the overcrowded course. He must sleep in his car outside the clubhouse on Wednesday or Thursday night to be in line in the morning to sign up for Saturday or Sunday starting times. Once on the course, he still has to be alert to defend himself. In 1957, apparently protecting his starting time like a mother lion her cubs, one George Leong attacked one Ivan Fujinaka on the first tee with the best weapon that fell to hand, his driver. Fujinaka ended up in the hospital, sued and was awarded $5,000 by a jury unsympathetic to crimes of passion. There was also the case of the Honolulu sheriff who blew his official top upon finding that his golf ball had been trampled into the Ala Wai turf. He quickly located the offending foot, then handcuffed and arrested its owner and took him off to jail.

Ala Wai is the pacesetter with respect to another frenetic aspect of Hawaiian golf—gambling. Golf-course betting can be pretty hazardous anywhere, but in Hawaii this form of amusement has its own unique risk, or—as the hustlers like to think—charm. A visitor, for instance, must never confuse the salutation "aloha" with "aloha push." The former, of course, means "greetings." A rough translation of the latter would be "greetings, sucker." The aloha push is a singularly virulent form of that American country club favorite, the press bet. It can be part of a game called a pake, in which bets pyramid with successive holes until the 9th tee—or the poorhouse—is reached. On 9 the players can go for a climactic double-or-nothing, the aloha push. If the bet is not all even after the first nine, another double-or-nothing wager is made on the second nine. Hawaiian history has it that King Kamehameha conquered the islands by pushing a 2,000-man enemy army over a 1,200-foot cliff, and if that isn't the derivation of the name aloha push it ought to be.

Surviving the risks, financial as well as physical, has given Hawaiian publinks golfers considerable competitive polish—enough, in fact, for them to bring home the U.S. Public Links team championship in 1957 and 1961.

Hawaiians have earned golfing glory for their state in other areas as well. Jackie Pung, a chubby and extroverted mixture of Irish, German, French and Hawaiian, won the U.S. Women's Amateur at Portland, Ore. in 1952 and then shocked tournament officials by doing a hula at the presentation ceremony. Five years later, by then a leading professional, she won the U.S. Women's Open, only to be disqualified for an inadvertent scoring error. Merrill Carlsmith, a short (5 feet 6), muscular (185 pounds) attorney from Hilo on the island of Hawaii, won the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship in both 1962 and 1963. Carlsmith, now 59, took up the game 41 years ago at Kilauea, that course inside a volcano. Its greens were of black lava dust and its fairways strewn with emerald-colored olivines, a semiprecious stone produced by volcanic heat.

But neither of these golfers is as famous in Hawaii as 72-year-old Francis Ii Brown of Honolulu, a former state senator, war hero, nine-time Hawaiian amateur golf champion, California and Japanese amateur champion, minor league baseball executive and patron of sport. Brown is descended on his mother's side from forebears who stood high in the councils of Hawaiian monarchs, and on his father's side from one of the first families of New England. He holds the course record at Pebble Beach, a 64, which has stood for 37 years, and has driven the 350-yard 12th hole at Waialae, a feat that such long hitters as Jimmy Thomson, Sam Snead and George Bayer failed to duplicate.

Hawaiians would like to hope that next week's Canada Cup matches will produce two more folk heroes, for the islands will have their own two-man team competing, Ted Makalena and Paul Scodeller. (Superficially, it seems the U.S. now has four golfers in the tournament, what with Palmer and Nicklaus too. But the tournament committee thought it would be nice to have a local entry.) Makalena, a stocky Hawaiian native constructed along the lines of Jackie Pung and Merrill Carlsmith, reigns as head pro over the orderly mayhem at Ala Wai. Scodeller, born in Pekin, Ill. but a 10-year resident of Hawaii, is head pro at the Navy-Marine course. Scodeller's club is almost as popular as Makalena's (110,000 rounds were played at Navy-Marine last year) and he too has his own special problem: military brass. Three frequent visitors to the course are Admiral Ulysses S. Grant Sharp Jr., commander in chief of the U.S. forces in the Pacific (CINCPAC), Admiral Thomas Moorer, Pacific fleet commander, and Vice Admiral Bernard Clarey, CINCPAC fleet's deputy commander.

"Things being what they are in Vietnam," says Scodeller, "each of them carries a walkie-talkie on the course. Occasionally Clarey's command will radio for advice about something and he'll refer them over to Moorer, on a different fairway. When Moorer is reached, he'll pass it on to Sharp, a few more sand traps away. Other golfers complain that they sometimes miss shots because of the squawking of the radios."

Makalena and Scodeller believe they have a good chance to win the team championship for Hawaii—and it is noteworthy that in the 11 years of Canada Cup play the host country has won three times—but this year's field looks far too tough for the locals. Nicklaus and Palmer are heavy favorites to make it five victories in a row for the U.S. To do so, they must defeat the young but seasoned team of Bruce Crampton and Bruce Devlin of Australia; the Spaniards, Angel Miguel and Ramón Sota (Sota was on the surprising Spanish team that fared so well at last year's Canada Cup in Paris); and some not-to-be-ignored fellows like Gary Player, Chi Chi Rodriguez, Roberto de Vicenzo and Bob Charles.

One thing that could scramble the result is wind—the friend of the golfing long shot. Getting acquainted with the wind at Royal Kaanapali is like trying to get friendly with Chou En-lai. The course, partly because it is only two years old, is a walk on the bleak side. Its scattered palm trees break the wind about as much as a telephone pole would a cyclone, and this is a fierce and fractious wind, one that swoops in off Auau Channel. It fluctuates so wildly that it will change direction abruptly while a shot is in the air. There are 107 sand traps on the 7,179-yard course to catch windblown shots, and the 13th, 14th and 15th holes wrap around a 2,000-foot-long lagoon. The greens are big—an average of 15,000 square feet—and roll precipitously.

Another hazard may be the condition of the course. Architect Jones's original estimate called for a construction cost of $500,000 to $600,000. Then he discovered that the course site lay on heavy rock. By the time the first nine was blasted out of unyielding Maui, the original budget for the entire 18 holes had been surpassed. Final construction costs for the course, which opened in 1962 as the centerpiece for a resort-hotel complex that is 30 minutes by air from Honolulu, will be close to $2 million. A course with only a thin layer of soil needs plenty of fresh water, and there is a shortage of fresh water on Maui. The fairways have suffered as a result, with two of them becoming so badly eroded that they had to be rebuilt this year. The greens, meanwhile, have been plagued by army worms. In Hawaii the defense against army worms is the myna bird, which feeds on them at night. Unfortunately, myna birds like to live in trees. Instead of trees, Royal Kaanapali has worms.

But in the last few weeks the course has looked much improved, and the setting is spectacular. Win or lose, the world's top golfers are going to enjoy their days of trying to give each other the aloha push on the links and their evenings of gazing at the Hawaiian surf from the terraces of the Sheraton-Maui and Royal Lahaina. And if they begin to complain about the condition of Royal Kaanapali, old Merrill Carlsmith can ask them how they would like to play a course in a volcano crater and putt on greens of lava dust.