In 1953, the Canada Cup golf tournament was founded by Canadian industrialist John Jay Hopkins, for “the furtherance of good fellowship and better understanding among the nations of the world through the medium of international golf competition” (SI) (It changed its named to the World Cup in 1967).
The tournament traveled the globe and grew to be one of golf’s most prestigious tournaments throughout the 1960s and 1970s. With play starting in Montreal Canada, and later held in England, Ireland, Paris, Tokyo, Buenos Aires, Mexico City and Melbourne, in 1964, the Canada Cup was held in Kaanapali, Maui for what was Hawai‘i’s first major sporting event.
At the time, ‘The Big Three’ (Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player) dominated golf. They won four of 10 Vardon Trophies for low scoring average, seven of 10 PGA Tour money titles and 17 of the decade’s 40 majors.
Then, they came to Hawai’i for the Canada Cup on Maui. “Jack Nicklaus surged from behind … and beat out his collapsing team¬mate, Arnold Palmer, for the individual title in the 12th Can¬ada Cup international golf tour¬nament.”
“Nicklaus fired a final 70 for a 72-hole score of 276. Palmer, a front‐runner for’ three days, three‐putted the final two greens for a 78 and a score of 278.”
“Player, starting the final round only three shots back of Palmer, went into a tailspin on the final nine, getting four bogeys in a row for a closing 76.” (NY Times, December 7, 1964)
The team of Nicklaus and Palmer won the tournament team play (with a record score) and Nicklaus the individual prize (Hawai‘i’s Ted Makalena was tied for 3rd with Gary Player)). (Gary Player Golf)
Following the tournament, The Big Three came to the Big Island to open the newly completed Mauna Kea Beach Hotel’s golf course and tackled its Number 3 hole.
The Big Three spent years traveling around the world, playing in exhibition matches and filming for television audiences. It was these years that brought them closest as the golfers and their families spent a lot of time together on these travels.
These matches designed for just The Big Three were unlike other tournaments where plenty of other golfers and their families were present.
Traveling together, rooming together, and even vacationing together and staying in one another’s homes brought the three and their families very close, forming life-long friendships. (Gary Player Golf)
‘Big Three Golf’ was a made-for-television series of golf matches between the three. The first season, in 1964, included four rounds at Firestone Country Club in Akron, Ohio. Then, the Big Island.
There, Laurance Rockefeller decided to build the world’s finest resort along the Kohala coastline of the then undeveloped Mauna Kea (Hawaiian for White Mountain), he knew he needed a golf course worthy of his vision.
Rockefeller turned to Robert Trent Jones Sr., the preeminent designer of the day and the architect of more than 400 courses around the world.
As they overlooked the panoramic view of Kauna’oa Bay, Jones’ response was a promise that has become a golfing legend. “Mr. Rockefeller, if you allow me to build a golf course here, this’ll be the most beautiful hole in the world.”
On December 8, 1964, for a Skins game broadcast nationwide on NBC, the trio reached No. 3’s tee box it was set back 250 yards from the green – with 170 of those yards over the crashing waters of an inlet. Only Arnold Palmer reached the green.
No. 3 was instantly iconic. (Mauna Kea Living)
The Mauna Kea Beach Hotel opened on July 24, 1965, as the most expensive resort of its time and outranked the family’s Rockefeller Center on the American Institute of Architects awards a year later.
Price tag: $15 million, or roughly $113 million in today’s dollars. Rates started at $43 a night, breakfast and dinner included. (Clark; Daily Herald)