My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
Such a great day at Southern Hills. This is one of America's classic golf courses, and from an decade where not too many great courses were built. Thank goodness for the oil money that isolated parts of Oklahoma from the Depression. While the Bermuda grass was dormant, it was easy to see how the rough, when grown up, could make this course a bear for the pros. If I had to criticize one thing, and I wouldn't do it unless you held a gun to my head, it would be the lack of variety in some of the green sites and bunkering. However, it's crazy for me to say the bunkering was an issue when I say how much I respected their look and placement. I guess all I'm saying is that you won't see much variety in the bunkering, except for much how deep or shallow they are...they're all round, with sharp edges, and saucer-like. I didn't have any problem with this though, as I thought the bunkers were visually really cool, and made for a memorable day. The course is awesome, the clubhouse is awesome, the locker room is awesome, and overall feel of Southern Hills was awesome. Thanks to all who participated in making this a great day!
#18, Par 4, 420 Yards
The famous finishing hole at Southern Hills is one where you have to hold on for dear life. A bend to the right, with an approach that goes uphill, with a massive false front, and all from a lie that is unlikely to be level. The only level portion of the landing area on this fairway is the point nearest the creek that enters the fairway on the left half. If you want to put it on the line of the creek, you'll be rewarded with the best approach into the green. A mis-calculated yardage left me in the extremely deep front left bunker, from which I couldn't get it up-and-down and had to write down a 5. However, with the trouble lurking on this hole, bogey isn't anything to complain too much about. A natural amphitheater surrounds this green. I could picture the grandstands overlooking the hole for US Opens and PGA Championships. A really cool feel.
#17, Par 4, 334 Yards
A really good hole here. In fact, this was one of my favorites at Southern Hills. The distance and what you can see off the tee makes you want to pull driver and get close to the green. However, what you can't see is a creek that runs down the right side of the hole and juts out into the right side of the fairway, with a fairway that slopes down right into it. Take my advice (I didn't take my caddy's), and play it short and safe down the left side. it will leave an easy show in and take away a big number. Really cool bunkering on this hole and a well-sloped green makes it a much tougher par that you'd think when you're on the tee.
#16, Par 5, 507 Yards
This par 5 runs roughly parallel to the par 5 13th, though it bends in the opposite direction. The 13th goes to the left, while the 16th goes a bit to the right. This one should be reachable in two for most players with two good shots. I was able to get it pin high right and into one of the greenside bunkers in two off of an uphill lie. That uphill like is not uncommon on this course, where Maxwell incorporated many mounds, humps, and bumps into the fairways, and the uneven lies are part of what makes the well-guarded greens tough to hit. I failed to get my bunker shot up and down and settled for a par, but like I said on the 11th, it's hard to be upset with any par on a championship course of this caliber. The pond from the 13th hole juts out a bit on the left side of this hole, but should only come into play for a poorly executed lay-up.
#14, Par 3, 190 Yards
The last one-shotter on the course to a green that is a touch downhill and with a slope that goes pretty hard back-to-front. Nothing wrong with a par here.
#15, Par 4, 380 Yards
This hole was one of those examples where a good caddy can save you a few shots. After throwing my drive way out right, I was ready to try a hero shot to the green. John talked me out of it, and got me to punch out back to the fairway, saying you'll have a wedge left and can get it up and down for par. And strangely enough, it worked out just like he said. So rewarding when your plan actually pays off. Enough about me though. The 15th is a good dogleg left par 4 with a well protected green.
#13, Par 5, 527 Yards
After facing the tough-to-judge 11th, and the nasty but awesome 12th, you've earned a chance to score, and Maxwell gives it to you on the 13th. The shot into the green will likely be blind, with ponds short of the green and at the bottom of a hill. With a good drive, there might be a decision to be made, but it was an obvious layup for me after my drive went off line. Just be careful laying up as the fairway goes downhill to the water. I really liked the look of the approach shot into this hole. Really pretty.
#10, Par 4, 366 Yards
At 3:43 PM on a beautiful March afternoon in sunny Oklahoma, we made the turn to take on the back nine at Southern Hills. This one presents the second straight dogleg right. The tee shot goes downhill to a landing area where you don't want to hit it any more than about 240 yards from the white tees before you run out of fairway and potentially face a small creek. The approach should be with a wedge of some sort to another uphill target. If you can believe it, the approach shot into the 10th hole marked the 8th straight hole on which I hit a bunker. Again, I don't think I've seen a course that has a better laid out group of bunkers waiting to catch a shot that is just a bit less than precise.
You can't miss the property to the right of the 10th green. Office building right? Nope, this is someone's home!
#11, Par 3, 155 Yards
With the shot going downhill, into the wind, and with winds that often swirl, our caddy said this is usually the hardest hole on the course to pick a club and get it right. I got lucky a stiffed a 7 iron to about 3 feet, but choked on the birdie putt. Oh well, there aren't really many bad pars at Southern Hills, so I kept my head up and moved on.
#12, Par 4, 426 Yards
Now to the famous 12th. Often called the signature hole at Southern Hills, and considered by many to be one of the best holes in golf. Unfortunately for us, it's being tweaked a little, and we had to play it from temporary tees, right at the edge of the fairway. The tees are being moved to the left about 15 yards and John told us that some trees are being removed. This will make the hole play a harder dogleg left and bring the left-hand fairway bunker even more into play. Regardless, the hole is awesome even when under construction. After a tricky tee shot, the approach goes downhill and to the left to a green that is flanked by shaved grass on the right side that covers a hill that runs down into a creek. On the opposite side--bunkers, which will leave you a bunker shot toward the downhill slope and creek. No place to bail. One of the cooler approach shots out there. It was only a wedge for me from the temporary tees, but I can't imagine coming in with a mid-to-long iron from the normal tees. An intimidating shot.
Before I get to the 8th hole, I had to take a second and comment on some of the aesthetic details at Southern Hills. A couple pictures above, you will have seen a green stripe crossing the hole. That is a cart path. All the paths are painted green to blend in as much as possible. Of course, it doesn't blend completely when the grass is dormant, but it's still better than pure concrete. Also, another unique thing I had to capture (below) are the garbage "cans" around the tees. They are submerged under ground, with only the lids visible. I've never seen such a thing. I've yet to highlight the refuse strategies of a club on this website, but this one was too unique to skip!
#8, Par 3, 198 Yards
A long iron or fairway wood is needed on this one. The greenside bunker on the right of the green is one of the tamer bunkers on the entire course. It is where I ended up, and isn't a bad spot to miss as it has one of the lower lips out there and I had tons of green to work with. Definitely shallower than the front left bunker. Just play to the right half of the green, take your par, and move on.
#9, Par 4, 359 Yards
The 9th hole is sort of a shorter, softer, easier version of what you'll see at 18. It's a dogleg right to an uphill green, well protected by bunkers, and fronting the beautiful clubhouse. With a good drive, this can be a birdie hole. No water in the landing area (unlike at #18), so just get it in play. The front right bunker on this one gave me the only fried egg lie I faced all day in the 11 bunkers I hit. I loved the texture and feel of the sand at Southern Hills.
#7, Par 4, 372 Yards
A blind tee shot to a hole that bends to the left. Our caddy had me aiming between the white sycamores in the distance and asked me to hit a 220 yard shot. The fairway slopes left to right, so if you have a draw in your bag, now the time to hit it.
#6, Par 3, 168 Yards
The first third of the golf course finishes with the first par 3 on the course. A bit downhill with water short and left and OB long. The green runs from back to front, making this a very scorable hole. I spotted some huge turtles in the water short of this green.
Another attempt to show how far below the clubhouse you are when you're in the valley.
Sharp edges on all the bunkers with less sand in the tops and more in the bottoms. the ball will usually work its way down to the flatter portions of the bunkers, but not always. The sand is awesome, and I found it extremely playable. Only once (and I hit 11 bunkers!) did I face a plugged lie.
#5, Par 5, 589 Yards
Long and bending to the left. Carrying the left bunker shouldn't be a problem from the White tees, though after hitting the trees on the left, I came up short of it. Over the right edge of that bunker is a good line off the tee. Three bunkers line the left side of the green, though they may as well be one large bunker as there isn't much space between them. The front-right side of the green also has a bunker. This should be a three-shot hole for nearly anyone (it's even 655 yards from the Blue tees) so it's really the positioning of your second shot that will set you up for the best chance to score here.
#4, Par 4, 350 Yards
Finally a chance to ease off of your heels and start to score a little. I thought this was a really cool hole in how the routing takes it back to the hill that you worked your way down on the 1st hole. While it's not a long hole, the great bunkers in the front and rear of the green demands precision in your approach to mark a good number down on the scorecard.
#3, Par 4, 380 Yards
A narrow creek winds it way down the left side of the hole and crosses at the point that this hole doglegs to the left. Driver might not be necessary from the White tees. Four bunkers surround and protect the front half of the green.
As is often the case at Southern Hills, with the bunkers flashed toward the line of approach, you won't even see them when you look backwards to where you just played from. The 3rd is no exception.
Angle into the green from the left side shown above, with the approach from the right side shown below. Again, try to get it to the right half of the fairway off the tee.
#2, Par 4, 413 Yards
The hardest hole on the front side by handicap. A carry over a creek and then bunkers is required to a narrow fairway. The fairway slopes from right to left, and the hole bends slightly in the same direction. A soft cut is the ideal play off the tee to avoid being blocked out on your approach to the green. Four bunkers around the green, but nothing in the front, and especially if you're coming in from the right half of the fairway, which will allow for a run-up shot if desired.
A look back at the tee from the fairway. Usually pictures don't do a good job of capturing elevation changes. So, take that into account when you look at the hill here!
Take a walk through the clubhouse before going out. A lot of great artifacts and pictures to check out...and an enormous mens locker room to handle the 1,000 members (and major tournaments)
Five sets of tees make up the championship course here, with the tips stretching to 7,184 yards with a rating / slope of 76.8 / 144 and a par of 71. No thanks! I played the white tees, which were a very playable 6,588 yards and a rating / slope of 73.7 / 144. I believe high winds can often add to the difficulty of Southern Hills, but we were met with a relatively calm day. In addition, dormant Bermuda grass all around aided in the roll, making the course play a bit shorter than its yardage. Finally, before I get to it, I have to mention that we had a fantastic caddy to help us around. John has spent time all over the golf industry, but most notably for us, has spent much of the last decade as a caddy on the PGA Tour. What an experience for us to be able to tap into some of his golf experiences, and of course get his assistance around Southern Hills. Thanks John for an awesome day!
#1, Par 4, 454 Yards
Donald Ross and Pete Dye are known for often easing the player into the round with a "Gentle handshake" for a first hole. Maxwell was quite the opposite in his routing at Southern Hills. The first three holes play as the #3, #1, and #7 handicap holes. You better get a good warm-up session in on the range before facing this collection of body blows. On the first, a cool view of Tulsa's skyline is at your eye-level. Then, looking down is the rest of the hole. It's a big drop-off to this fairway, so it plays shorter than its distance. The fairway bunkers on the first would be in play for a big hitter. I couldn't quite get there, but I was close. The approach will likely be with a long iron or fairway wood with a mild dogleg left to a green with bunkers on the front right and back left. This is actually one of the most accessible holes to a run-up shot, while many others have huge front bunkers that require more of an aerial play.
Playing Southern Hills wasn't the reason I made a trip to Oklahoma in 2014, but it was a darned nice addition to the trip! My soon-to-be-wife worked for a year or so at Oklahoma State University and always wanted me to see Stillwater. So, we decided to make the trip in March, 2014 to check out the home of the Pokes and were fortunate enough to be able to play Southern Hills while we were on this trip. Tulsa is a drive of about one hour and 15 minutes from Stillwater, and we left around 11:00 AM to give us enough time to get a bite to eat in the mixed grill, shop in the pro shop, loosen up, and get to the first tee with time to spare for our 2:00 PM tee time.
Established in 1936, there are a number of things which make Southern Hills interesting and unique. First is simply the timing of this club's conception and construction. The 1930's are a fairly dark era in golf course architecture and construction, mainly due to the Great Depression. What's known as the Golden Age of golf architecture, which includes the works of MacKenzie, Ross, Tillinghast, Macdonald, and Raynor, occurred roughly between 1900 and 1930, and is responsible for most of the classic clubs in America. When the money dried up in the Depression, so did most golf construction. Of course, there are exceptions. Augusta National is one of them, which opened in 1933, but of course, Bobby Jones, and his many affluent friends weren't as impacted by the economy as many...but even ANGC faced economic issues soon after its opening that delayed some development that they wanted (the clubhouse for one). The history of Southern Hills dates back to the donation of land owned by Waite Phillips, an Oklahoma oilman, and the namesake of Phillips Petroleum, a predecessor of what became Phillips66 and what is now ConocoPhillips. Mr. Phillips was approached by two gentlemen, Bill Warren, and Cecil Canary, about the idea of funding a family country club in Tulsa. Phillips was skeptical that this type of club would succeed in this, the Depression, but told Warren and Canary that if they could find 150 people to put up $1,000 each toward such a club, that he would donate the land upon which it would be built. They succeeded in their recruitment of founding members and the rest is history.
After the club raised the capital to create the club, the next step was to engage an architect. One would think this was a no-brainer, as Perry Maxwell, an Oklahoma resident had built a solid reputation partnering with Alister MacKenzie, beginning in 1931. Maxwell worked with MacKenzie on Midwestern gems like Crystal Downs, Ohio State, and the University of Michigan, before MacKenzie's death in 1934. After Dr. MacKenzie's death, Maxwell went on his own and was an obvious hire when Southern Hills needed a course built. Maxwell spent two years building Southern Hills, and allegedly lived in a tent on the property the whole time. What he built would be considered along with Prairie Dunes to be his crown jewels.
Along with Pinehurst (and I suppose you could argue Augusta National - though they built their own major), Southern Hills has the most impressive resume of major championships hosted. Three US Opens, three PGA's, two Tour Championships, and a collection of US Amateurs (Men and Women), a Junior Am, a Senior Am, and a Women's Mid-Am. This club knows how to host championships!
1,000 members get to enjoy Maxwell's masterpiece on a daily basis, and also a 9 hole addition that was built by Ben Crenshaw in 1992. Keith Foster gave the big course a touch-up in 1999, prior to the 2001 US Open, which is essentially what you see today. 89 bunkers dot the main course, and they're not small. Each bunker is essentially in the shape of a large saucer. They very in depth from not deep to deep to REALLY deep. Finally, they're probably the best positioned set of bunkers I've ever seen. Many call Southern Hills a second-shot golf course, due to the precision that is required to avoid these bunkers and get on the right sides of the holes. I'd find it hard to disagree with this. In fact, on my day at Southern Hills, I wasn't driving it all that well, but still managed to hit second shots well enough to hang around and avoid big numbers. However, I hit a ridiculous 11 of the 89 bunkers, and didn't feel like I was hitting it all that badly...they're that well placed! Southern Hills is tough, but extremely fair, and really fun.
Before I stepped foot in Oklahoma, I assumed it was a really flat part of the country. The section I was in sure wasn't, and Southern Hills has some great contours too. The clubhouse sits at the highest point on the property, and takes you down into a valley for much of the course, but this hill still comes into play on a number of holes in Maxwell's routing. In addition, he made clever use of a creek that winds its way around some of the valley land to inject additional interest.
Why have a Rolex clock, when you can build an edifice to hold a clock on your driving range? Ah....oil money!
#49, Top 100 Courses in the World (2020-2021)
#28, Top 100 Courses in the U.S. (2020-2021)
#32, America's 100 Greatest Courses (2021-2022)
#1 Best in the State of Oklahoma (2021-2022)