EDMOND — For Corey Pavin, Oak Tree National will look a lot like it did in 1988 when Jeff Sluman won the PGA Championship.
For Jay Haas, who won the Senior PGA at Oak Tree eight years ago, the course will look different for the 2014 U.S. Senior Open (July 10-13).
With input from Oak Tree pros Scott Verplank, Bob Tway, Willie Wood, plus club owner Everett Dobson and project shaper Bill “Hollywood” Willingham, Tripp Davis and Associates spent 10 months in 2008 and 2009 restoring the par-71 layout.
“The intent was to take the course back to the way Scott and I and Bob remembered it back when they hosted the U.S. amateur in ’84,” Davis said. “That meant taking it back to smaller greens.
“What made Oak Tree very intimidating in the beginning was trying to hit shots into smaller greens, especially compared to today’s standards. With smaller greens it’s more difficult to get up-and-down to save par. Plus, you bring double-bogey into play on a lot of holes.”
The “Back to the Future” renovation project began when Davis, a former All-American at OU who played on the Sooners’ 1989 national championship team, spent extensive time with Verplank, Dobson and Willingham on No. 18, which will be No. 9 during the U.S. Senior Open when the front- and back-nine will flip-flop.
“Pete Dye courses can entice aggressive players to take chances but there are domino effects,” Davis said. “If you end up in that bunker it’s safer than hitting in the water, but it’s an extremely difficult bunker shot that can lead to bogeys.”
Nearly every change can be traced to Dye’s original design in the late 1970s.
A good example is No. 17, a 201-yard par 3. A wall that had been constructed in front of the green has been removed, replaced by the original giant beach bunker, one of 22 bunkers added during renovation.
“A consistent bunker style was the biggest change, but we also worked on every green,” Davis said. “Scott and I spent a lot of time on (No. 9) in particular to get it back to the way it was in ’84. Over the years that green became twice the size. It’s now small and narrow with little bitty shelves like it was originally.”
New bunkers also were added on a handful of fairways. Tway’s son, Kevin, who is on the PGA Tour, was used as a trial case for fairway bunkers on No. 1 in an attempt to prevent most players from blasting driver over the sand.
“We lost a tree in the middle of that fairway that used to force a lot of players to hit 3-wood and play to the right,” Davis said. “By adding fairway bunkers, the hole will play much differently than it did in 2006 for the Senior PGA.”
USGA officials have the option of using different tee boxes, another part of the renovation project five years ago.
Accustomed to playing from the tips, Tway the past two weeks has practiced from members’ tee boxes.
“When the USGA moves around tee boxes it gives some of the holes a completely different look,” Tway said. “Course knowledge helps but you still have to play well. Just because you know where you want to land, you still have to hit it there. I’m very much looking forward to see how the pros fare on this course.”
Tway said every major tournament at Oak Tree has changed the course.
“When the pros are in town the fairways are a little firmer and are cut a little lower, so the course plays a little faster,” Tway said. “In the 1988 PGA the course played the shortest I can ever remember. And that was with wood drivers. I hit it to places I had never hit it before or since ’88.”
From the tips, Oak Tree National plays at 7,219 yards, but officials can tweak the course to under 7,000.
“It’s really not about length,” Davis said. “There aren’t many holes where length gives you an advantage which is unusual today. So many courses are now about length, but shot-making is vital to scoring well at Oak Tree. With it back to being like ’88 it will be interesting to see how players’ approach some of the holes.”
Growing up in the Atlanta area, Davis was intrigued by golf architecture. After a brief stint on the Buy.com tour, then known as the Hogan Tour, Davis returned to OU to earn a master’s in landscape architecture.
In the past two decades, his company has constructed a few courses but has concentrated on re-designing coaches like Preston Trails and Brook Hollow in Dallas.
Since this will be Oak Tree’s first major tournament since the changes, Davis is curious how players approach “Back to the Future” Oak Tree.
“Pete Dye requires golfers to take a strategic approach to every hole,” Davis said. “If a player plays aggressively it can produce some birdies but if you miss in the wrong place you also bring big numbers into play. That’s what had been lost.”