SOUTHERN HILLS AWAITS THE GREATS: Southern Hills has gone through a renovation that has eliminated the roadway running between the clubhouse and the first tee. The entrance to the club is now on the south side. Club members continue to see the beautiful view of the Tulsa skyline from the clubhouse.
GTR Newspapers photo; Artwork by ALICIA SCHRUM
This week, Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa will become the first golf course to host four PGA Championships. The course has a rich history and a tradition of excellence in the golf community.
In 1935, amidst the uncertainty and challenges of the Great Depression, Southern Hills Country Club was born. However, the journey to see this vision brought to life was hardly a walk in the park. With the local country club slated to become public and the lack of convenient family recreation facilities, Bill Warren and Cecil Canary set out to solve both problems. These two pioneers dreamt up a country club, which included a swimming pool, horse stables and trails, polo field, skeet range, tennis courts, clubhouse and a golf course.
Warren and Canary approached Waite Phillips, Chairman of First National Bank and Trust Company and co-founder of Phillips Petroleum Company, for financial help in building their dream. The 1930s were the hardest financial years to ever hit the United States, and when the stock market crashed Mr. Phillips’ $50 million fortune became almost totally liquidated. Needless to say, handing out money was not first on Phillips’ mind. After deeming the project ridiculous and vowing not to give them a nickel, Phillips did leave the two with a glimmer of hope. Warren and Canary were given two weeks to round up 150 pledges from Tulsans for $1,000 each. If they could accomplish this task, Phillips would donate 360 acres in South Tulsa to build their country club. Two weeks later they had their $150,000 in pledges and their vision took off.
Phillips not only donated the land, but also brought his friend and Ardmore, Okla. banker Perry Maxwell, on board. Maxwell had been designing golf courses as a hobby and was recruited to design Southern Hills. Maxwell’s philosophy was not to shape the land to fit his plan, but the land should shape his plan. As a friend of Phillips, he was familiar with the land and according to his wife, “It was his favorite piece of land and he often asked Waite Phillips to let him build a golf course on it.” Maxwell later went on to design 75 courses including Prairie Dunes in Hutchinson, Kan. and redesign 50 others including the home of the Masters, Augusta National, in Augusta, Ga.
Construction took two years, one piece of earth moving equipment and hundreds of workers. Maxwell was not a hands-off designer. He oversaw construction and lived in a tent onsite throughout construction. With his dedication it is no surprise Southern Hills has been named Maxwell’s, “Crown Jewel.”
With the generosity of Phillips, passion of Warren and Canary, vision of Maxwell and support of the members, Southern Hills opened its doors in 1936 and has maintained a fame and splendor that is nationally known. When 1941 brought on World War II surprisingly membership increased, partly because it had food to serve and because the doors never closed.
With membership growing and revenue increasing, 1958 brought the U.S. Open Championship to Southern Hills, the first major played on the course. “Terrible Tommy Bolt” took home the trophy with a 72, 3-over-par. Mere minutes after the winner ceremonies concluded, a violent storm rolled in. The storm produced golf ball sized hail and destroyed all 18 greens. Despite the weather, the tournament was a huge success for both the USGA and Southern Hills, helping to bring the tournament back in 1977 and 2001.
Southern Hills continued its tradition of excellence in the golf community. In 1991, the polo fields, horse stables and skeet ranges were turned into a 9-hole course just west of the Championship course. Named the “West 9 Course,” it was designed by Coore and Crenshaw.
The PGA Championship made Southern Hills its home for the first time in 1970. Arnold Palmer fought with hole 12, causing him to lose the tournament to Dave Stockton. Palmer later named No. 12 one of the best 18 golf holes in America. Encouraged by the tremendous local participation, attendance and success, the PGA Championship returned to Southern Hills in 1982, crowning Ray Floyd champion and again in 1994, giving Nick Price his victory. The 2007 PGA Championship will make Southern Hills the first course to host four PGA Championships in history.