Southern Hills Country Club, OK, USA

Thirteenth hole, 535/525 yards; In the author’s mind, the best way to follow-up a brutish half par hole is with, well, another half par hole. Both the twelfth and thirteenth are 4 ½ pars and how you elect to use your nine shots is up to you! Reaching this modest length par five in two is more complicated than one might initially assume. First, there is the matter of drawing a good stance in the fairway. Next, shots played from the left side of the fairway require the golfer to be mindful of an oak tree that hangs over the front left pond. In addition, the built-up green pad is only 25 yard deep, making it a tough target to hit and hold with anything other than a good strike. Ending up in any of the back bunkers at Southern Hills is a dire mistake that the golfer will soon regret.

Reaching this par five in two is more complicated than one might assume. First, there is the matter of drawing a good stance in the fairway. Next, shots played from the left side of the fairway require the golfer to be mindful of the oak tree that hangs over the front left pond. In addition, the built-up green pad is only 25 yard deep, making it a tough target to hit and hold with anything other than a good strike. Landing in any of the back bunkers at Southern Hills is a dire mistake that any golfer will soon regret.

After a beautiful long drive into the middle of the thirteenth fairway, the golfer finds himself uncomfortably positioned with the ball six inches above his feet. Should he have a go at the distant green or should he lay up down the right center and stay short of the water hazards that guard the green? Decisions, decisions!

 

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The oak tree just shy of the left pond has dropped many an ill-conceived shot unceremoniously into the water. Precision golf can yield the desired birdie but the hole possesses plenty of peril to snare indifferent tactics.

Fourteenth hole, 225/190 yards; Maxwell’s championship test manifests itself in several ways around the course. One is seen here with the number of bunkers. Generally, Maxwell’s work follows the ‘less is more’ design principle with one or two properly positioned bunkers providing more than enough playing interest. Here, he used six bunkers to virtually surround the target. The author is unfamiliar with any Maxwell one shotter that is more heavily bunkered.

Situated along a boundary road, the fourteenth didn't have natural features like so many of the other holes so Maxwell went to work with a bunker scheme that requires an exact shot.

Situated along a boundary road, the fourteenth playing corridor didn’t have natural features like so many others. Thus, Maxwell created man-made hazards (a.k.a. bunkers) to provide golfing interest of a similar high standard to the holes more naturally blessed.

Seventeenth hole, 360/335 yards; Nothing less than brilliant, this short hole has flummoxed golfers for generations. All the elements that make Southern Hills great are present: a convoluted fairway, a strategically placed stream, and a thought producing green complex, all played over lovingly cared for ground. And yet, a little known fact is unveiled in the Southern Hills club history book and that is that the left third of the green and its two bunkers were actually added in the early 1960s. Maxwell passed away in 1952 and the work was carried out by Loy Martin at the same time that he did the work at the seventh. In Maxwell’s day, the seventeenth green would have been tiny, well below 3,000 square feet. One can only imagine that finding four hole locations was taxing on such a small target and Martin’s work is to be applauded as both an artistic and strategic success.

The first two hundred yards or so represent smooth sailing off the seventeenth tee but ...

The first two hundred yards or so represent smooth sailing off the seventeenth tee but …

 

… a lumpy fairway and the stream make matters more complicated within 120 yards of the green.

 

While still being unforced in appearance, the angled green has three distinct sections, all requiring a deft touch to find. A mere 22 yards deep, the green represents the most shallow target on the course.

While still being unforced in appearance, the angled green has three distinct sections, all requiring a deft touch. A mere 22 yards deep, the green represents the most shallow target on the course. Note above the golfer and to his right how the short grass feeds off the seventeenth green and ties in seamlessly with the eighteenth tees. The introduction of short grass around these greens is an aspect that was missing in Maxwell’s day and adds a wonderful component.

 

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Also, to repeat, the bunkers are deeper today than in Maxwell’s day. They act as true hazards and are one of the reasons that Southern Hills has withstood with grace the onslaught of advancements in the ball and clubs.

Eighteenth hole, 465/420 yards; Not all world class courses (e.g. Cypress Point, Royal County Down, Ballybunion, Fisher’s Island, Lahinch, etc.) enjoy a strong finisher. The one at Southern Hills feels like a truly epic Home hole. Pete Dye once remarked to the effect, ‘Show me an elevated clubhouse with pretty views and I’ll show you an uphill finishing hole’. That’s true here, and it’s infamously difficult, but there is much to admire. Frankly, the approach shot might be better today than in Maxwell’s day when it was excruciatingly long. At least with modern hybrids and metal woods, members have a decent prospect of landing on – and holding – the green. A successful approach here is one of those heroic shots that you remember after most courses have long faded from memory.

The drive is full of strategy. What to do? Play long left and stay on the high left side of the fairway? The approach will be longer but isn’t nearly as uphill. Play right into the inside of the dogleg just shy of the creek? Perhaps you will draw a level lie, perhaps not.

The drive is full of strategy. What to do? Play long left and stay on the high left side of the fairway? The approach will be longer but isn’t nearly as uphill. Play right into the inside of the dogleg just shy of the creek? Perhaps you will draw a level lie, perhaps not.

The last shot of the day is every bit as daunting as the first tee ball is exhilarating.

The last 160 yards scale steeply uphill to a green behind a massive front left bunker. The last shot of the day is every bit as daunting as the first tee ball is exhilarating.

 

Caught in the deepest greenside bunker on the course, aptly named ‘Jaws’, the golfer can’t see the top of the flag.

Caught in the deepest greenside bunker on the course, aptly named ‘Jaws’, the golfer can’t see the top of the flag. Its dimension enhances the grand qualities of the Home hole.

After Southern Hills, Maxwell’s star shined brightly despite the wobbly economy. He went on to design Prairie Dunes in Kansas and work extensively at Augusta National Golf Club. Indeed, it seems accurate to state that around the world, MacKenzie and Maxwell of all architects performed the best work in the 1930s.

The members of Southern Hills are fortunate. The .65 mile drive up the winding entrance road sets the tone for a great day in a tranquil, gorgeous setting. Heading in, off to the right are nine holes built by Coore & Crenshaw in 1991. Stylistically, they blend well with the Maxwell holes and in no way compete. Highly underrated in the shadow of the main course, this nine would rank in the top handful of nine hole courses in the country, joining the Culver Academies, Sequatchie, Whitinsville, and Mike Kesier’s The Dunes. Don’t miss it if you have the opportunity.

As seen from the left forward tee, the eighth hole is little beauty of a par three on the Coore & Crenshaw nine.

As seen from the left forward tee, the eighth is a little beauty of a par three on the Coore & Crenshaw nine.

 

Duckie the Swan preens for the camera on the Coore & Crenshaw nine. It can’t be emphasized enough what a pleasant environment Southern Hills possesses.

Duckie the Swan preens for the camera on the Coore & Crenshaw nine. It can’t be emphasized enough what a pleasant environment Southern Hills possesses.

Tiger Woods had a great analytical mind at the height of his powers in the mid-2000s. He used it to supreme advantage in winning the Open at Hoylake in 2006 and the PGA at Southern Hills in 2007. His play at both courses was tidy with his sparkling long irons from many tees continually putting himself in ideal positions to attack. As an interesting side note, the long-time Head Golf Professional Dave Bryan famously made two correct predictions. In 2001, he told a golf writer that Tiger didn’t have the patience to win the US Open at Southern Hills and in 2007, he told the same writer that Tiger now possessed the required demeanor to win the PGA Championship. Both statements proved prescient and highlight what a thinking man’s course Southern Hills is. Other skilled practitioners at managing their game like Raymond Floyd and Nick Price have – not surprisingly – won here.

There is no great architect that didn’t have a hand in courses that challenged the best golfers of his time. Southern Hills represents that for Maxwell, which would surely please the founders Messrs. Phillips, Warren and Canary. Their vision nearly eighty years ago has been far more than just realized. With Maxwell’s design as the backbone and its deep, gleaming bunkers and streams acting as a genuine hazards, Southern Hills is a standard-bearer of parkland golf. After 80 years it continues to tantalize the club player as well as the touring professional with a beguiling mix of brawn and finesse.

In addition to everything else, Southern Hills possesses first rate practice areas.

Everything at Southern Hills is first rate, including the practice areas.

The End