Oak Tree Golf Club, as it was originally named, was shamelessly constructed in 1976 with a view to making it, as the club proudly boast, “the hardest golf course in the world” so it was only a matter of time before the major championships arrived in Oklahoma City, allowing the top players to pit their golfing wits against such a stern challenge.
And so, the best amateur and professional golfers have all been tested in recent times, with the US Amateur (won by Scott Verplank) held here in 1984, the USPGA (won by Jeff Sluman) played in 1988 and the Seniors USPGA (won by Jay Haas) hosted in 2006.
Pete Dye updated his original design in 2002, adding extra tees and replacing all the greens with more gently contoured putting surfaces but Oak Tree still remains a beast from the back markers. In 2008, Oak Tree changed hands and was rebranded as Oak Tree National. Pete Dye was once again commissioned to renovate his course and the club was duly honoured by becoming host venue for the 2014 US Senior Open.
The course is laid out over rolling terrain and it has the lot in terms of punishment; length off the tee, wild rough, deep bunkers, obstructive oak trees (of course), tricky greens and – with lakes and streams at thirteen of the holes – plenty of water to cause trouble throughout the round.If you are ever in the position of pitching up here with a member expecting a walk in the park then think again as the examination presented by this course starts on the first tee and continues until the final putt on the 18th green.
When the wind is blowing -- which happens frequently in Oklahoma -- Oak Tree can be as demanding as any course bar none. Pete Dye was called upon to create an 18-hole torture chamber and the possibility for double-bogey or worse exists on nearly all the holes. There is little real subtlety -- it's always about being able to hit one precise shot following another. That's not to say the holes are dull but it's primarily about ramping up the difficulty meter to a very high level.
When you throw in super fast greens -- with water lurking on many holes -- you have ample opportunity to provide a healthy donation to the club's ball fund. Oak Tree is your poster child for "black and white golf" -- there are no grey colors here. Proportionality is a major element for top tier architecture. Do or die shots / holes can wear down people to excess.
Interestingly, the evolution of Pete Dye went from some insightful imagination in his career to creating psychological golf mind fields. When you stand on any number of tees at Oak Tree there's a clear heavy mind game involved and few architects have perfected that specific type of architectural terror than Dye.
Amazingly, when the club hosted the PGA in 1988 there was genuine concern that scores would be too high. Unbelievably, that specific week the field faced a very gentle breeze and the course was ripe for a number of low scores.
Oak Tree is the kind of course you play once -- get bludgeoned to death if dealing with a 3-4 club wind -- and then cross it off your bucket list. Great architecture is about elasticity for a broad range of players. Providing alternative strategies so genuine excitement is fostered. When golf becomes the equivalent in walking over hot coals you don't relish doing that more than once.
by M. James Ward