EDMOND — Jeff Hall, the United States Golf Association managing director for rules, said if the wind blows in mid-July like it did Monday at 2014 U.S. Senior Open Media Day, officials will consider making Oak Tree National a little easier.
“I don’t think you would ever use the word easy to describe this course,” Hall said. “We want it to be a difficult test of golf but fair, good shots rewarded. But we have to be practical.”
PGA officials often toughen up courses for major tournaments. Hall said the rough at Oak Tree National will be 21/2 inches. But if winds howl the week the seniors are in Oklahoma, then USGA officials might have to shorten a few holes for the July 10-13 tournament.
From the back tees, the par-71 Pete Dye layout plays 7,219 yards but can be shortened to around 7,000.
“There’s not that much that needs to be done,” said Bob Tway, one of five Oak Tree players who will compete on their home course. “It’s a hard golf course all the time.”
This will be Oak Tree’s fourth major.
Oak Tree pro Scott Verplank, who will make his Champions Tour debut at the 2014 U.S. Senior Open, won the 1984 U.S. amateur at Oak Tree. Jeff Sluman won the 1988 PGA and Jay Haas the 2006 Senior PGA.
Sixteen players shot under par the year Sluman won, but only five players were under par eight years ago.
“Certainly it wouldn’t be right to have a Pete Dye golf course set up that wasn’t visually intimidating,” Hall said. “That abounds at Oak Tree National.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt this golf course will challenge players. The challenge for (USGA vice-president) Dan (Burton) and I is to make sure it doesn’t challenge them too much, especially Thursday and Friday when we have 156 players.”
Stimpmeter ratings of 11.5 to 12 on the greens won’t be overly severe, but Oak Tree’s greens are small, averaging less than 5,000 square feet per green.
“Our philosophy is pretty simple – firm and fast, that’s what we’re interested in,” Hall said. “We think firm and fast is important, that it adds an element in management skills for players to contemplate what happens when the ball hits the ground.”
Hall said tee boxes that could be moved up include No. 2, a 474-yard par-4 and No. 3, a 469-yard par-4.
No. 13, a 206-yard par-3, can be moved to as close as 160 yards. No. 14, a par-5, which plays just under 600 yards, has options as short as 540 yards.
“One thing about Oak Tree National, aside from a variety of holes, is there’s a lot of flexibility from a set-up standpoint,” Hall said. “We can change some tee boxes, change some angles, change some yardage.”
Verplank, who has earned nearly $25 million on The PGA Tour, turns 50 two days before the 2014 U.S. Senior Open. No one has more course knowledge than Verplank.
“I’ve always played this golf course from the back, all day, every day,” Verplank said. “I’ll have to start moving around and play some of the members’ tees to see if you still want to hit driver. The approach shots will be the same.”
Oak Tree National has been altered since the 2006 Senior PGA Championship. Twenty-two bunkers were added five years ago. Eight greens on the back nine were reshaped. Tee boxes were laser leveled.
“It wasn’t a complete facelift,” Hall said, “but it was very impactful with what was done.”
Featuring tight fairways 26 to 32 yards wide, Oak Tree National demands shots not only hit their target but also land softly to avoid rolling into trouble.
“They’ve got to be very careful where they put the tees the first two days,” Tway said. “If they’re not careful someone could shoot 90 if the wind blows like it’s blowing today.”