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History of Golf in the Philippines

Golf is thought to have been introduced to Manila in 1886, by British people working for the Manila Railway Company. The Brits built a 3-hole course in paddy fields south of Intramuros, and by 1901 there was a 9-hole golf course next to the railway station. This was the beginning of the Manila Golf Club. Then came the Philippine Open...

The Philippine Open

Excerpts from "Golfing Philippines", a Golfing Asia Publication by Robin Moyer with Buddy Resurreccion

There’s a story to tell about the Philippine Open. It spans a lot of years, all the way back to 1913, which makes it one of the oldest in the world, just nine years younger than the Canadian Open and the oldest national open in Asia.

But more than its octogenarian longevity, the Philippine Open is at the core of the country’s golfing lore. It would then be fitting that its story be told before the memories fade from those who still cling on to them and those of us who live in the present will be able to look back and cherish these snapshots of the past.

It all started in Caloocan City where the Manila Golf Club used to be located. The Philippine Open was held there from 1913 (natives were barred from taking part till 1928) to 1934 and the first winners were all amateur starting with JLH Mason who won the initial two stagings. The locals got a big break in 1929 when a kind-hearted American, whose identity, was unfortunately never recorded in local golf history, elected to sponsor Montes for the Philippine Open that year. It was also not recorded what this kind-hearted American with a strong sense of fairness did to persuade the Manila Golf Club officials – including William "Bill" Shaw – to let Montes play. Thus, Filipino Larry Montes, who honed his skills while caddying at Muni Links, became the first professional champion and his win triggered an event that was to become a milestone and changed the face of Philippine Golf.

The Manila Golf Club was then an exclusive club for foreigners. Montes’ triumph put the organizers in a quandary: the winner Montes deserved to sit at the presidential table during the awards dinner. He was initially allowed to sit at his place but was asked to leave in the middle of the ceremony because the club rules prohibited caddies from entering the clubhouse.

This angered William "Bill" Shaw, an American member of the club, who protested against the discrimination. Shaw felt so strongly about it that he decided to form another golf club, which would be open to all races and free from any discrimination. Thus, Wack Wack Golf & Country Club was born.

The Philippine Open moved to Wack Wack (the name was taken from "Uwak" – local black birds who roamed Mandaluyong where the club was formed) the first chance it got and the history of the club and the Open were intertwined for half a century. From 1935 until the late 1980s, Wack Wack played exclusive host to the Open except for a few years after World War II when the Open made occasional forays into Holiday Hills (now known as TAT Filipinas), Valley Golf Club, Puerto Azul and Villamor. The Philippine Open became Wack Wack’s Open.

During these years, Wack Wack was the moving force in raising the prize money and manning the committees that oversaw the tournament. No other golf clubs were considered and the idea of rotating the hosting the Open was something unheard of. Those were the times when the powers-that-be in Philippine Golf revolved around Wack Wack and only an occasional nudge from powerful outside influences could move it to another venue.

This was the period when the Philippine Open took center stage among the golf tournaments in Asia. In those early days, top golfers like Australian Norman G. Von Nida (1938-1939) and American stars Ed "Porky" Oliver (1949) and Lloyd Mangrum (1951) dropped into vibrant Manila. The 1960s and 1970s saw the re-emergence of the Australians like Bruce Crampton, Kel Nagle, and Peter Thompson along with other golfing greats of the time like Gary Player, Doug Sanders and even Sam Snead. Such was the prestigious field that the Philippine Open attracted those days.

To Filipino golfing fans, however, the year of note was 1956. This year represented the intersection of the careers of three great Filipino Golfers. Celestino Tugot won the title in the twilight of his illustrious career, Ben Arda placed second to him at the beginning of another notable career, was the amateur winner was Luis "Golem" Silverio. Silverio later became (in 1966) the only amateur to ever win a post World War II Open.

There have been only 13 Filipino winners of the Open, but they held the trophy for a combined 32 years. Montes heads the list with his 13 wins, a record which may never be broken. Tugot won the title 6 times while Arda was champion thrice. The rest were Casiano Decena (1934), Guillermo Narvaja (1935), Luis Silverio (1966), Quintin Mancao (1976), Rudy Labares (1984), Mario Manubay (1986), Robert Pactolerin (1990), Frankie Miņoza (1998), Gerald Rosales (2000) and Felix Casas (2001). The total years would have been 33 had Filipino top amateur Juvic Pagunsan who finished a close second in the 88th Philippine Open in 2004, won the title.

Due to its prestige, the Philippine Open used to be the kick-off leg of the Asian Professional Tour and during its heyday offered one of the largest money prizes among the Asian national open. The exceptions were in 1984, 1985 and 1986 when economic problems and a dollar shortage forced organizers to offer the pot in pesos rather than dollars. The Open was understandably not a part of the Asian Tour during these years.

The 1990s saw a shift in the way the Open was run. The Republic of the Philippines Golf Association, now known as the National Golf Association of the Philippines (NGAP), started to assert its well-deserved birthright as a national sports body and thus the rightful organizer of the event. Taking over from club committees of Wack Wack, the NGAP moved the Open to other courses in the country, north to Camp John Hay in Baguio City and down south to Apo Golf Club in Davao, to Cavite at Riviera and Manila Southwoods.

Towards the end of the decade there was another change in store. With the demise of the Asian Tour and the ascendancy of the Asian PGA Tour as the premiere professional tour of the region, the Philippine Open was pressured to align itself with the new tour. The APGA, with its own organization in place, scarcely made use of local committees. This ruffled quite a few feathers among those used to having their names in the souvenir program.

The Philippine Open has made it to the 21st century surviving World Wars, tough economic conditions and the usual politics that beset local sports. As the tradition moves forward, the road will continue to be full of pot holes, but there will always be a Philippine Open. It provoked an incident that opened golf to the Filipino people. What our forefathers started is up to us to continue to nourish and improve.