Cedar Ridge Golf Pro Buddy Phillips to Retire
By TERRELL LESTER
Editor at Large
LOCAL PRO: Cedar Ridge Country Clubs Buddy Phillips is set to retire after serving for 40 years as the clubs pro.
MATT WANSLEY for GTR Newspapers
He was born and reared in New Mexico. Was named after a baseball player. Worked in the oil fields. And became one of the most familiar names in Tulsa golf.
Since 1972, Vernon Garland Phillips – “Now you know why my mother called me ‘Buddy’ – has been the face of Cedar Ridge Country Club.
Phillips was named head golf professional at Cedar Ridge the same year that Oral Roberts opened the Mabee Center.
The Tulsa Oilers were members of baseball’s Triple A American Association.
Lewis Meyer was operating a book store on Peoria Avenue, when it was otherwise known as the Restless Ribbon.
Much has changed in Tulsa over the last four decades, such as a $3 increase in the one-gallon price of gasoline and the swearing-in of nine mayors.
And certainly, Cedar Ridge Country Club has matured.
But Buddy Phillips has remained as steady, as unchanged, as uncompromising as Sam Snead’s swing.
The years have been kind to Phillips.
He is handsomely tan. Terrifically groomed. His smile is genuine. His handshake grip-like.
His personality is comfortable and ingratiating. He is gracious and debonair. He is modest, humble almost to a fault.
He has become as much a symbol of Cedar Ridge Country Club as the stonework that forms its entryway. And just as rock solid.
Sure, he is the head golf pro at the course that opened in 1969, but his influence stretches from tee to tennis court, from learning center to counter sales.
He has the public relations acumen of a Madison Avenue executive.
His knowledge of golf, his love of the game can be traced to the sand greens of his youth in Jal, N.M.
It was there that his father, Garland Phillips, named him after the New York Yankees Hall of Fame pitcher, Vernon “Lefty” Gomez. And it was there that he played his first round of golf.
Buddy Phillips was an all-around athlete in those days. He tries to brush aside his accomplishments and achievements, but after some prodding will admit to having earned a scholarship to play collegiate football.
Days before celebrating his 77th birthday, Phillips walked the grounds of Cedar Ridge and discussed his impending retirement.
Two or three years ago, Phillips said, he met with the club’s management and penciled in Oct. 1, 2012, as the day he would sign his final scorecard.
The time to step aside is rapidly approaching.
“I’ll miss it,” he was saying after returning to his desk in an inviting, paneled office where plaques and memorabilia compete for wall space.
“I don’t think there’s any question it’s going to be tough.
“But I’ll get through it.”
Just as he got through heart bypass surgeries in 2002 and 2011.
“I’ve got a new valve. I’ve got new plumbing. I may be around here longer than they want me,” he said, flashing a smile as wide as the 18th green.
Actually, Phillips will not be moving very far from the pro shop when October arrives.
After Dave Bryan Jr. is installed as the club’s golf professional, Phillips will be awarded the title of “golf pro emeritus.”
He will settle into an office inside the Buddy Phillips Learning Center across the parking lot and adjacent to the driving range. The center, opened in 2007, is under the direction of Tracy Phillips, Buddy’s son.
Buddy Phillips will leave the instruction and teaching to Tracy and others. Buddy just wants to play a little golf.
“If you’re a golf professional, you don’t play a lot of golf,” he said. “You don’t get into the profession to play golf.
“If you’re going to play golf, you better join the club, not become one of the staff,” he said.
Before arriving at Cedar Ridge, when trees were as scarce as double eagles, coyotes outnumbered homes and Garnett Road was as narrow as a cart path, Phillips had spent three years as the head pro at Tulsa Country Club.
A faction of the membership joined forces with patrons from other area country clubs to launch Cedar Ridge. Phillips was asked to make the move, too.
It proved to be the move that will define his career.
He left behind the stately, historic Tulsa Country Club for a dream and a promise.
“I don’t know what made me make up my mind,” he said. “I think it was the friendliness of the people that left the club in Tulsa to come out here.
“It was new. It was different. It was an adventure, so to speak.”
The adventure quickly became a destination.
Two years after his arrival, Phillips and Cedar Ridge hosted the 1974 Trans-Mississippi Championship. In 1983, Cedar Ridge was the site of the U.S. Women’s Open Championship.
In the first decade of this century, Cedar Ridge held a regular spot on the Tour.
“We have a great golf course,” Phillips said. “It’s a super test of golf.”
Phillips, though, takes little, if any, credit for Cedar Ridge’s rise to the upper echelon of state golf courses.
“It takes a lot of time, a lot of effort,” he said.
“You can use ‘I’ all you want, but you can’t do a whole lot unless you’ve got good people around you. This is a team effort.
“I’ve taken a lot of pride in having a good staff and having good people surround me.”
Over the next couple of months, more and more people will be jockeying for position around him as he prepares to walk off the course and into retirement.
Phillips is immensely popular. Around Cedar Ridge. Around Tulsa.
He is witty and charming, easy-going and loyal.
He is approachable and cordial.
He is, simply, “Buddy.” No airs. No pretense.
“If somebody calls me Vernon, they don’t know me,” he says.
He was destined for a life in golf.
“Golf’s been real good to me,” he says. “It’s been good to me, my family. I’ve done things, been places that I never would have gone if it hadn’t been for golf.”
Golf led him to Tulsa. And that, he says, beats par every day.
“I don’t regret anything,” he says. “If I had it all to do again, I’d probably do it the same.
“Well, I might have played more golf.”