EDMOND — Soon after Oak Tree National was awarded the 2014 U.S. Senior Open, a countdown calendar in the clubhouse was started. The countdown began with more than 1,000 days.
Three years later that countdown chart is nearing single digits. Oak Tree will host the prestigious Champions Tour event July 10-13.
“When the number starts out at more than 1,000 you become kind of numb to it because it’s such a long way off,” said Oak Tree PGA teaching pro Jim Woodward. “When they started putting up tents and building grandstands that’s when you really saw everyone around here get excited. Every day it’s that much closer.”
Scott Verplank, the former Oklahoma State star and longtime PGA touring pro, will be one of the top story lines when he makes his Champions Tour debut on his home course.
“I remember when the tournament was six months away, then six weeks,” Verplank said. “Now it’s, ‘Oh, gosh, it’s almost here.’ You see all the work being put into it by so many different people. It’s really cool to see it all come together. Things started changing a couple of months ago when they started building grandstands and TV areas.”
Oak Tree marketing director Steve Kimmel said the U.S. Senior Open will bring back some luster following a period when Oak Tree went through ownership changes.
“You’re talking the U.S. Senior Open, which is the biggest event on the Champions Tour,” Kimmel said. “This tournament means so much to a lot of people around here. Everyone is excited that we’ll host such a great golf tournament. It’s one of those events you spend three years preparing for. It’s exciting it’s so close.”
Corey Pavin, who won 15 PGA Tour titles, shot even par to finish 17th at the 1988 PGA Championship that Jeff Sluman won at Oak Tree.
The 54-year-old Pavin hasn’t played the Pete Dye-designed course since. He was still on the regular tour when the Senior PGA was held at Oak Tree eight years ago.
“I’ve always liked playing in the Midwest,” Pavin said. “It’s nice to go places we haven’t been. A lot of players are really looking forward to this tournament. I’m sure the fans will come out in droves, which makes it a lot of fun.”
Oak Tree hasn’t been on center stage much in the past three decades, but the 7,214-yard, par-71 layout is known by every pro player, especially veteran seniors.
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 — has never played Oak Tree. He’s excited about making his debut in a few weeks.
“Everyone definitely sees that as a championship venue,” Lehman said. “It has a lot of history. It requires a lot of skill. But almost all Pete Dye courses demand a lot of skill. Some courses are made for majors, some aren’t. This is one of those courses that’s more than worthy of a major.”
Paul Levy, who will be the next PGA president, played in the 1984 U.S. amateur at Oak Tree.
“It’s a course with a great history, a statement course,” Levy said. “When I was in college back in ’88 Oklahoma State was the program. This is a golf hotbed. There are so many great players from this part of the country. It’s a tournament players are looking forward to.”
Annually ranked among the top 20 courses in the United States, Oak Tree has had a reputation for being an elite course almost since the day it was built in the 1970s.
“We haven’t had a USGA event here since the U.S. amateur 30 years ago,” Woodward said. “The membership is really amped up. It should be a great week.”
E.J. Pfister, who won medalist honors at Oklahoma State at the NCAA tournament in 1988, now works at Oak Tree. He’s considered one of the top 100 teaching pros in the country.
“There’s been a lot of positive energy around here in recent weeks,” Pfister said. “I’ve had so many friends ask me about it. There are so many quality players in this tournament, a lot of great players that fans can follow.
“And Edmond responds well to golf. You see it all the way down to the junior programs. It’s a great venue. All the sponsors and volunteers have really stepped up. It should be a great week. Everyone is getting really excited.”