In 1887, Daniel Paul Rice Isenberg (Paulo Liʻiliʻi) (son of the Paul Isenberg, one of the founders of H. Hackfeld & Co. (Amfac) and one of the organizers of the Līhuʻe Sugar plantation) invested a large part of his inheritance in the development of a 3,000-acre ranch at Waiʻalae, Oʻahu.
He obtained the major part of Kaimuki from the Lunalilo and Bishop estates, and used this land for cattle, alfalfa and race horses.
He was the first ranchman in the islands to demonstrate the growth and uses of alfalfa, a valuable stock feed, but he couldn’t realize much of a profit because sugar and rice were top priority, then.
His birthday was on June 11, Kamehameha Day, the day for horse races at Kapiʻolani, and “rarely did it pass without a luau at Waiʻalae Ranch.” King Kalākaua frequently visited Isenberg at his ranch for the evening, for both of them enjoyed the same things, festivities, luaus and singing.
In 1919, after Isenberg’s death, the ranch’s lease was sold to accommodate a dairy by 1924; it was the largest dairy in Honolulu.
Then, in 1927, the Territorial Hotel Co., as part of a promotional program to develop luxury travel trade to Hawaiʻi on the mother company’s Matson Navigation Co. cruise ships, built the Royal Hawaiian Hotel … and with it the Waiʻalae Golf Course.
The hotel and golf course lands were leased from the Bernice Pauahi Bishop Estate. The Golf Course was opened for play on February 1, 1927. In July 1927, the Isenberg ranch home near the mouth of Wai‘alae stream became the club house for the Wai‘alae Golf Course.
Local players were able to use the course, and by payment of annual fees for play became “privilege card holders” in the Territorial Hotel Company’s Waiʻalae Golf Club.
In 1930, a group of these Waiʻalae players formed a private club within the Waiʻalae Golf Club which they called Waiʻalae Country Club. It enlarged a small service building close to the main clubhouse, installed showers and had its own clubhouse where the swimming pool is now located.
The great depression of the 1930s severely reduced travel and resulted in bankruptcy of the Territorial Hotel Co. Matson took over the obligations and interests of the Territorial Hotel Co. which included the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, the Moana Hotel and Waiʻalae Golf Club.
By the 1930s, the beachfront along Kahala Avenue was being developed with homes, while farming continued in other areas. In 1938, more than 50 pig farms were operating in the vicinity of Farmers Road and Kahala Avenues. Residents of the area, citing an increase in rats and mice at Kahala, petitioned the territorial board of health to remove the pig farms (Honolulu Advertiser, December 20, 1938).
During these years, play on the course was mainly by local privilege card holders, most of whom were members of Waiʻalae Country Club.
In August of 1941, fire destroyed the Waiʻalae Pavilion which was used by Waiʻalae Golf Club for dining and dancing, and Matson decided to turn the golf course and remaining buildings over to Waiʻalae Country Club.
Before this plan was consummated, the US had entered World War II, the military had requisitioned the Royal Hawaiian Hotel, and numerous military defenses had been installed along Oʻahu’s coastline including the golf course at Waiʻalae.
Waiʻalae Country Club was incorporated on September 30, 1942 and became lessee of the golf course acreage and a small section of land owned by Matson on which the old Isenberg home (later The Pavilion) had been located. The military built a replacement for the Pavilion because of the heavy use of the course by military personnel during the war.
The old Waiʻalae Country Club clubhouse was destroyed by fire in 1952, but through the conversion of the military structure into kitchen and dining facilities, and the building of new locker rooms, Waiʻalae was again in full operation within twenty-four months after the fire.
In the 1953 filming of “From Here to Eternity,” Private Prewitt is shot near the bunker on the first hole at Waiʻalae.
No major physical changes were made in the golf course layout until 1954 when the 15th hole was lengthened from 320 yards to 435 yards. (However, in the early-1960s major reconstruction on the front nine was necessitated in order to provide beachfront areas for the Kahala Hilton Hotel and the Kahala Beach Apartments.)
Tennis courts, swimming pool and added parking units were completed in 1958 and Waiʻalae became a Country Club in fact, as well as, name.
Hawaiian Opens (under various sponsorships) have been held at Waiʻalae since 1928. The First PGA Tour Hawaiian Open Golf Tournament was held in the fall of 1965. Today, Waiʻalae is home to the Sony Open in Hawaiʻi. (Lots of images and information here is from the waialaecc-org.)