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Maxwell's masterpiece in Oklahoma stands test of time
When Perry Maxwell designed Southern Hills Country Club back in 1933, little did the former bank vice president know that the layout nestled in northeast Oklahoma would evolve into one of the most decorated layouts in the United States.
By Brett Avery, PGATOUR.COM Contributor
If you were to put together a list of the people in golf history who do not receive nearly enough credit for their accomplishments, Perry Maxwell's name probably would appear near the top.
Maxwell bucked the game's conventions in several significant ways. Even a cursory read of the biographic details of this man of Scottish descent shows he often took the proverbial road less traveled.
A former bank vice president, he took up the game at age 30 and laid out a rudimentary course on his Oklahoma farmland a few years later. It would become Dornick Hills Golf and Country Club.
He grew the first grass greens in the state and drew the attention of Alister Mackenzie, working in partnership with him for three years in the early 1930s.
As the Depression ravaged the economy and course design jobs evaporated, he landed the most prominent work. In fact, he famously built Southern Hills Country Club, site of this month's 89th PGA Championship and completed a 1933 rebuilding of the greens at Pine Valley Golf Club. In 1937, Maxwell undertook a
revision of the relatively new Augusta National Golf Club and
opened the first nine
at Prairie Dunes Country Club, then in
1940 added three key holes at Colonial Country Club in Texas.
The work at Southern Hills is the cornerstone of Maxwell's career, especially as it becomes the site of a seventh major championship: the PGA in 1970 (Dave Stockton), 1982 (Raymond Floyd) and 1994 (Nick Price) and U.S. Open in 1958 (Tommy Bolt), 1977 (Hubert Green) and 2001 (Retief Goosen).
Maxwell aficionados take pride in the man's work and underscore his long-standing contributions to the game. He was known for his work in and around Oklahoma in the 1930s when Waite Phillips, one of the founders of Phillips Petroleum, handed over 300 acres of prime land to club officials.
Although now best known for its golf course, Southern Hills was, first and foremost, a place for a variety of recreational pursuits. That shows in the order in which its original facilities made their debut: a stables and eight miles of bridle paths in May 1935, then four tennis courts, then a skeet-shooting course.
Finally, in May 1936, the golf course made its official debut.
The layout was unparalleled in quality within the state and a model of courses for years to come. The clubhouse sits upon a bluff south of downtown, hence the name. From the first tee one can see across about six miles of treed neighborhoods to the skyline, which shimmers in the haze of a hot Oklahoma afternoon.
From the start club officials envisioned Southern Hills as a site for significant tournaments and within a few years of its debut they already landed the U.S. Women's Amateur (in the days when the USGA conducted only a handful of national championships). World War II forced shelving plans for that tournament but the event did arrive in 1946, crowning Mildred (Babe) Zaharias, who had won gold medals in the 80-meter hurdles and javelin throw in the 1932 Olympic Games.
Southern Hills passed another preliminary examination, this time the sixth U.S. Junior Amateur won by Rex Baxter in 1953. Notable in the match-play draw is the name appearing on the second line from the top: Jack Nicklaus of Columbus, Ohio, one of three 13-year-olds who made it all the way to the fourth round.
Finally, Southern Hills was ready for its close-up and provided a superb test for the 1958 Open, which crowned Oklahoma native Bolt and, as a bonus, saw Charles Coe of Oklahoma City win the low amateur medal. Despite punishing heat the gallery, estimated at 34,500 for the three days, neared record levels. It showed that Tulsa would support big-time golf with enthusiasm.
It wasn't long before major championships began visiting at a regular clip.
Maxwell's rolling greens, perched on just enough elevation to make missing them a nuisance, distinguished Southern Hills as worthy of its stature among the country's best layouts.
It also holds a special spot in PGA TOUR history. When THE TOUR Championship was created in the late 1980s it initially visited some of the most historic TOUR venues across the country. In the 1990s it ventured into new territory, seeing Pinehurst No. 2, the Olympic Club in San Francisco and then Southern Hills. Billy Mayfair (1995) and Tom Lehman (1996) captured those titles, following Maxwell's unconventional legacy.