Southern Hills prepares for first of two majors in 11 months
Playing host to one of golf’s major championships is a big-time undertaking for a golf course – whether it’s new to the rotation or a long-time favorite of the best players in the world.
But what about two majors in 11 months?
That’s what Southern Hills Country Club is looking at, as the iconic Tulsa, Okla. venue will play host to the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship this week, and the 2022 PGA Championship next year.
Don’t think, however, there is any doubt that the course is not up to the challenge.
“To go back-to-back… there are a lot of people doing a lot of work and it’s no surprise to me because I’m used to our membership and used to the city. That’s how everyone rolls around here,” says Southern Hills Director of Golf Cary Cozby.
“We could have (a major) every-other-month if that was required. I’m kidding, of course, but the people here would say, ‘yup, we’ll do it.’ That’s how our membership is and how our staff is. That’s how we handle anything. It’ll be fun to show it off in back-to-back years.”
What makes 2021 especially exciting is Southern Hills – a layout that’s hosted four PGA Championships in the past – has just undergone a restoration project led by famed architect Gil Hanse. The greens and bunkers were where his focus lay, as he tried to emulate the original design from 1935.
The Perry Maxwell effort was part of the ‘golden age’ of golf-course architecture.
Golf course superintendent Russ Myers said he was a big cheerleader for the new Hanse project. Myers worked at Southern Hills from 2006 to 2009 (he started 11 months prior to the 2007 PGA Championship, won by Tiger Woods) but left in 2009 to work at the Los Angeles Country Club where he connected with Hanse – who was working on that course as well.
Myers returned to Southern Hills in 2016 and said the impact of the major championships hosted by the golf course, along with the installation of cart paths, had changed the course. It’s changed “quite a bit,” he says, with gallery space being replaced with trees and cart paths filling in dry creeks.
“Things happen, but it’s the ‘Ebbets Field’ quality,” said Myers, referring to the iconic stadium that once hosted the Brooklyn Dodgers of Major League Baseball, but was demolished in 1960. “My grandfather took my dad to Ebbets Field, so my dad wants to take me, but Ebbets Field doesn’t exist anymore. You want to share the same experiences. I was all for that phase of restoration that went through (golf courses) across the country.”
Myers says he would have been excited for whoever the club decided to bring in for the restoration, but he was glad to see Hanse take the reins.
Now Myers is excited to showcase the golf course to the best in the world, two years in a row.
The biggest challenge he said for the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship is the weather – but not the smoking hot temperatures that have impacted previous major championships at Southern Hills. No, Tulsa experienced one of the worst winters in history, Myers says, but the team (which will add 55 volunteers for KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship week) has done a “remarkable” job to get the course in major-championship condition.
Cozby, meanwhile, says the big thing for the golfers at the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship is how they’ll approach the course strategically.
“It’s a really cool golf course from the standpoint of: you have to do everything well,” says Cozby. “You have to use all 14 clubs. There is a lot of strategy involved where you have to place the ball off the tee, and it’s important where you hit it on the green.
“I’m excited to see that and obviously since the last time they were here the golf course had a big face-lift and hosting back-to-back years is a great testimony to our membership and the City of Tulsa.”
Cozby says, for those who haven’t been back to Tulsa since 2007, they’re going to see a totally different city.
“When I left there wasn’t reason to go downtown. In fact, it probably wasn’t all that safe to go downtown in some areas. Now it’s awesome,” says Cozby. “I’m excited when people are not just going (to see the changes) on the golf course but see the city and enjoy what the city has to offer.”
While the membership, the maintenance staff, and by-and-large, the city as a whole, are thrilled at the opportunity to have the best golfers in the world in town two years in a row, don’t think the club’s members will rest on their laurels between the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship and the PGA Championship in 2022.
“In between we’re going to squeeze in all our traditional club events. It’s not like we’re just going to do the majors, we’re going to rip off about 35,000 rounds in-between,” says Cozby with a laugh. “It’ll be fast and furious.”