The first public golf course in the US was the Van Cortlandt Golf Course in the Bronx, New York in 1895. Since that time many other cities developed their own facilities both for local use and the tourist industry.
Honolulu’s first golf course was a private course built by Samuel Damon in 1898 at Moanalua Valley. Built four miles beyond the nearest trolley line (which ended at Pālama), it was too far outside of town to use for those without private transportation.
Another private course, located in Manoa Valley, was begun in 1904, as well as O‘ahu Country Club opened in 1906 and Waialae in 1928.
Planning for a Honolulu municipal golf course was underway in 1925. The City Planning Commission wanted a location that was not too far away from the center of the population that had access from the transit system.
They decided to concentrate their efforts for a site in Kalihi, but the price was unmanageable. “In March 1926 Palolo Valley landowners CF Wright and CA Long approach the [Planning] Commission with a proposal to sell their land to the City for a golf course site at 8 cents per square foot”.
“The Commission decided to recommend that the Board of Supervisors [equivalent to what we call the City Council] take advantage of the Palolo Valley site for an eighteen hole golf course.” (Stephenson)
“[T]he City Planning Commission on May 13, 1926, decided to formally endorse the Palolo Valley golf course site to the City Board of Supervisors. … On December 6, 1931, the Palolo Municipal Golf Course was officially opened.” (Stephenson)
“Honolulu’s new municipal golf course, a nine-hole layout off Palolo avenue, will be thrown open to the public today with a team match bringing together the best golfers on this island as the attractions.”
“The match begins promptly at 8 am, and the players will start off in fivesomes, representing teams of Haoles, Hawaiians, Japanese, Chines and the Braves.” (Honolulu Advertiser, December 6, 1931) “Senator Francis Brown, one of Hawaii’s best golfers, will shoot the first ball”. (Star Bulletin, Dec 5, 1931)
“You turn off Waialae road onto the Palolo belt road which branches off Waialae opposite the King’s Daughter’s home. You then drive straight up the valley on the Palolo road, the links being on the right hand side of the road about a mile from Waialae.” (Star Bulletin, Dec 5, 1931)
“Eventually the Palolo course should be extended to 18 holes. As it is now Honolulu has a regulation nine hole municipal course.”
“This is a fine start and it won’t be long before the links start bringing money into the revolving fund, even with the low fees that are to be charged.” (Star Bulletin, Deb 9, 1931)
“The demise of the Palolo Municipal Golf Course began during World War II. On September 22, 1944, the Honolulu City Planning Commission granted variances from existing zoning regulations to allow construction of temporary prefabricated houses on 2400 to 2500 square foot plots on the golf course.”
“This was done to help alleviate the existing wartime housing shortage. The continued shortage of housing precluded reopening the golf course.” (Stephenson)
Interest then went to the Territorial Fair Grounds, just mauka of the Ala Wai Canal, and the ultimate expansion of the Ala Wai Golf Course as the municipal course.
The first Territorial Fair was held during June 10-15, 1918; over a six-day period, one hundred and eighteen thousand tickets of admission were sold. With that initial success, the Chamber sought “A Bigger and Better Fair.”
A second fair was held June 9-14, 1919. “Help Win the War!” was the slogan that made the first Fair a success and it was based on common sense and a real need.
In 1921, the Territorial legislature appropriated funds from the “general revenues of the Territory of Hawaii for the purpose of purchasing and improving land to be used for territorial fair and amusement park purposes.”
A site was selected and “set aside for territorial fair and amusement park purposes that portion of the government lands lying mauka of the proposed Waikiki drainage canal (Ala Wai) and adjacent to Kapahulu road.”
Then field work was undertaken for the Fair Commission in connection with improvements of the fairgrounds and amusement park: polo field and race track; grandstand site was surveyed; two baseball diamonds and two indoor baseball diamonds were staked out.
The Territorial fair continued for a number of years. However, it’s not clear why the use of the site transitioned from a Fair Grounds to something else – but a transition appears apparent, starting in 1923.
Reportedly, golf started at the Fair Grounds in 1923, when someone placed a salmon can down as its first hole. A year later, three more holes were built for a total of four. By 1931 five more holes were designed and it became a nine-hole course. It was renamed the Ala Wai Golf Course.
The second nine was added in 1937, and the original clubhouse followed in 1948. In the 1980s, a new water feature was added and the course was also fitted with a new sprinkler system. The driving range was relocated to make room for expansion of the Honolulu Zoo in 1989 and, finally, a new clubhouse was built in 1990.