EDMOND — 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.
“I'm not a big Pete Dye fan,” Simpson said. “You can hit a good shot and still make a double-bogey. The margin is small of hitting a good shot to ending up in the water or some other trouble. It's only a foot or two difference.
“I feel Southern Hills in Tulsa (designed by Perry Maxwell) is a little more fair. But Oak Tree is a really good golf course. You have to play really well. It's tough.”
Dye has built several major-worthy courses, which is why some of his nicknames include: Monster Maker; Dye-abolical Designer; and the Man Golfers Love to Hate.
“Pete Dye golf courses, you better drive it well,” said Oak Tree National teaching pro Jim Woodward. “You don't drive it well, you're not going to have any fun. If you drive the ball in the fairway, it's not that hard. The Champions Tour doesn't have many long-ball hitters, so the accuracy factor is big.”
Corey Pavin spent over 150 weeks in the top 10 of the official World Golf rankings between 1986 and 1997, a time period that included a major at Oak Tree 25 years ago.
Pavin, 53, won 15 PGA Tour titles, including the 1995 U.S. Open. He was the tour's leading money winner in 1991. He played on three Ryder Cup teams.
As for his Oak Tree experience, Pavin shot even-par over four days to finish 17th at the 1988 PGA. He was still on the regular tour when the Senior PGA was in Edmond seven years ago.
“This is an area that's a little golf starved,” Pavin said. “When we go to places like that, where there hasn't been a golf tournament in a while, there's usually a lot of excitement. That always makes it fun for us.”
Dye: ‘It's not hard'
Pete Dye is 87. He lives in Delray in South Florida. He's still building golf courses.
Dye estimates he's built between 80 and 90 courses. The actual total is 101 in 27 different states.
Many Dye courses in recent years, some public, are geared toward retirees. They're designed to give the older generation an opportunity to shoot lower. They're the antithesis of Oak Tree, Whistling Straits, The Ocean Course and TPC Sawgrass.
“Things have changed in the golf course business,” Dye said. “I don't agree with all of it. But if you don't go with the changes, you're out of date.”
Dye loves to talk golf. He tells stories from the 1930s to portray the evolution of a sport where equipment improvements have forced courses to play longer. He can still talk Stimpmeter ratings when asked about Oak Tree's reputation for diabolically fast greens.
“It was one of Pete's earlier ventures into the golf world,” Woodward said. “He made it extremely difficult. Greens in that day and age were overly severe. But nowadays they're not that bad.”
Brad Faxon, who has eight career PGA Tour wins, two Champions Tour wins and has played on two Ryder Cup teams, said Dye is one of the most revered designers in the industry.
“Pete is a pioneer in the business,” Faxon said. “He's built golf courses all over the world. He's brought a lot of architecture to golf. His courses have a distinct look. I have nothing but respect for the guy.”
There are reasons why Oak Tree's par-71 jewel in north Edmond routinely has been ranked among the top courses in the country.
And don't try to convince Dye he made Oak Tree too hard.
“Too hard?” Dye said. “It's not too hard. I've played it before and I've done OK. Jeff Sluman shot 8-under par at the PGA.”
Dye's Edmond creation is polarizing. Everyone agrees Oak Tree National is difficult. As caddie Romeo (Cheech Marin) told Roy “Tip Cup” McAvoy (Kevin Costner) in the movie: “Sometimes par is good.”
Oak Tree National is a course where par is good.
“Since I'm one of the four guys that plays here (along with Wood, Gil Morgan and Bob Tway), I hope everyone comes in and complains about Pete Dye,” Verplank said. “It's fun to play but it will challenge you. You can score if you play well. But if you don't play well it can come up and grab you.
“To me it's one of the two or three best courses he's ever built, a top 10 or 20 golf course in the world. It's as good a golf course as you're going to find.”
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.