Oak Tree National is a challenging, but great, golf course

As the 50-and-over set prepares for the U.S. Senior Open in 2014 in Edmond, opinions vary on the Pete Dye-designed course that will host the event.
by Michael Baldwin Published: June 10, 2013
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photo - OAK TREE NATIONAL GOLF COURSE        PHOTO COURTESY OF OAK TREE NATIONAL
OAK TREE NATIONAL GOLF COURSE PHOTO COURTESY OF OAK TREE NATIONAL

— At the 2006 Senior PGA Championship, Craig Stadler shot a third-round 13-over-par 84 at Oak Tree Golf Club. It tied the highest round of his professional career.

“I need to shoot a good score Sunday just to convince myself I'm not a 20 handicap,” Stadler quipped.

Seven years later, one can understand why Stadler isn't overjoyed the 2014 U.S. Senior Open will be held at the course now known as Oak Tree National.

“I hit a lot of quality shots that day and still shot an 84,” Stadler said last month at the Patriot Cup. “And I missed the cut there in '88. I've never gotten along with that course. But I'm getting so old now I don't get along with many courses.”

Stadler's 59-year-old memory is a little fuzzy. He actually finished 15th at the 1988 PGA Championship at Oak Tree. He was one of a handful who shot under par, posting a 1-under 283. But Oak Tree is a course where you remember holes you find trouble, and days shooting under par seem impossible.

The top two storylines for the 2014 U.S. Senior Open: (1) four Oak Tree players will play on their home course; (2) how many players go red at Oak Tree National, which has undergone some minor tweaks.

“Pete Dye challenges players,” said Willie Wood, one of the four Oak Tree players expected to play on their home course. “Visually it's very challenging. There is a lot of trouble off the tee. There are a lot of holes you have to carry water. It can be very challenging, especially if you have some wind that week.”

The 1988 PGA was Pete Dye's coming-out party.

Since Jeff Sluman's PGA win at Oak Tree Golf Club, Dye courses around the country have hosted 10 additional men's major championships, two Ryder Cups, five men's and women's national amateurs and eight LPGA majors.

In addition to the 2014 Senior Open at Oak Tree, Dye's layout at Whistling Straits will host its fourth major championship with the 2015 PGA Championship.

Dye also constructed the Stadium Course at TPC Sawgrass in Florida, home of The Players Championship, which some label as the fifth major.

The Oak Tree Golf Club project started in 1974 when Ernie Vossler and Joe Walser, Jr. asked Dye to build a course in Edmond that would test elite golfers.

“And he did that,” said Oak Tree PGA Tour pro Scott Verplank. “At times, it's probably looked at as being too hard and severe. But it wasn't that crazy. He built a great golf course in the Oklahoma prairies. He did a masterful job.”

Most tour members rave about Dye's courses. Difficult? No doubt. Elite players, though, embrace the challenge of playing in a major where posting an under-par round is considered a really good day.

Tom Lehman, the only golfer in history to be awarded the Player of the Year on all three men's tours — the PGA Tour, Champions Tour and Nationwide Tour — is a big fan of Pete Dye courses. But Lehman has never played Oak Tree.

“Everybody I know looks at that course as a major championship venue,” Lehman said. “It must be quite a place. It has a lot of history. It requires a lot of skill. But almost all the Pete Dye courses do. Some courses are made for majors, some aren't. This one is a majors course.”

Champions Tour players vs. Oak Tree

Some hometown fans, especially at a major, root for the course. It's a badge of honor if the leaderboard has a few black numbers at the bottom.

Sluman won with an 8-under-par 272 to pocket $160,000, a reminder how much prize pools have grown since Tiger Woods took golf to another level. Sixteen players shot under par in the 1988 PGA, and eight players shot even par.

At the 2006 Senior PGA, Jay Haas shot a 5-under-par 279, defeating Brad Bryant in a playoff. Only five golfers shot under par. One shot even.

Welcome to Oak Tree National, which has a 155 slope (the maximum).

Scott Simpson shot 6-over to finish 14th at the 2006 Senior PGA. He missed the 1988 PGA cut by two strokes.

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by Michael Baldwin
Reporter
Mike Baldwin has been a sports reporter for The Oklahoman since 1982. Mike graduated from Okmulgee High School in 1974 and attended Oklahoma Christian University, graduating with a journalism degree in 1978. Mike's first job was sports editor...
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U.S. Senior Open

When: July 7-13, 2014

Where: Oak Tree National, Edmond

Ticket info: Weeklong package with access to the grounds and grandstands ($100). ... Upgraded package with admission to the exclusive, climate-controlled Trophy Club Pavilion ($200). ... Active military receive 50 percent off ... Children 17 and under will be admitted free with a ticketed adult.

Website: 2014ussenioropen.com

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