Presented by Corona Premier
Even before progressing towards a semi-formal rota, the U.S. Open had come to be defined by a handful of great venues. Pinehurst No. 2, Pebble Beach and Oakmont come to mind.
But the PGA Championship has been more nomadic over the years. To date, only one golf course has hosted four or more times.
This week, it also becomes the first to host its fifth.
Yes, the PGA of America is building a home 200 miles south in Frisco, Texas, where it will hold several events (including this one). But for now, the archetypal PGA Championship golf course is Southern Hills Country Club, the pride of the golf scene in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Perry Maxwell's Plains Masterpiece
Southern Hills opened in 1936. Even C-students of American history will realize that that's something of a miracle. Golf course construction was just a tiny niche of the sectors of industry the Great Depression ground practically to a halt. But the club's three main founders - Bill Warren, Cecil Canary, Waite Phillips - had enough to put the necessary resources together and give valuable employment to enough people to get the club going.
As for the course, the architect was an easy choice. Perry Maxwell had lived in Oklahoma since he was 18 and had a portfolio of more than three dozen golf courses - including collaborations with Dr. Alister MacKenzie at Crystal Downs in Michigan and elsewhere - to recommend him.
Maxwell's routing of Southern Hills is ingenious, wandering down and away from a clubhouse-topped ridge and amongst meandering creeks to greens perched on the site's natural contours and featuring "Maxwell rolls" within their borders, making for stern approach and short-game tests, to say nothing of the putting challenges.
Over the decades, as at most classic courses, trees encroached, fairways shrunk and several portions of the property's system of creeks were covered up. Still, the course was a respected test - hosting the U.S. Open in 1958, 1977 and 2001; and the PGA in 1970, 1982, 1994 and 2007.
After an intensive modernization and restoration effort by architect Gil Hanse, associate Jim Wagner and their band of "Cavemen" shapers, Southern Hills emerged anew in 2019. Hanse and company removed hundreds of trees and re-exposed the course's creeks, which interact with holes sometimes by flanking fairways, other times crossing the line of play and still others meandering dangerously close to greens.
The rediscovery of Southern Hills' native water features goes hand-in-hand with Hanse's team's reintroduction of acres of short grass, especially around the course's demanding, perched green complexes. Now more than ever, gravity will be every player's adversary, carrying mislaid golf balls down and away from the greens, which themselves have rediscovered subtle shoulders that make them play even smaller than they appear.
For any student of golf courses watching the championship either in person or on TV, the work by Hanse's team will make the 2022 PGA Championship appointment viewing. Contrary to the all-out birdie-fests that are common throughout the PGA Tour schedule, low scores will be in short supply this week, making every birdie and occasional eagle feel rare and precious. Likewise, spectacular par saves and a few disasters will round out the viewing experience, especially with fresh breezes expected every day.
As you get ready for an exciting weekend of great golf, here's a hole-by-hole look at Southern Hills Country Club.
Hole No. 1 - Par 4, 451 yards
Like many big-city-country-club golf courses, Southern Hills starts astride a hilltop clubhouse and heads downhill. Here, Maxwell orients the golfer directly toward the Tulsa skyline. The smooth curve of the fairway is broken on the left side by bunkers which, true to strategic design, guard the best angle to approach the green.
Hole No. 2 - Par 4, 480 yards
Options and width are crucial elements of course design, and Hanse's restoration has brought both to this long two-shotter. A meandering creek runs diagonally through the landing area, and a tree on the far side prompts a decision off the tee. This is one of those holes where being down the middle of the fairway can be problematic.
Hole No. 3 - Par 4, 444 yards
Reversing direction from the previous hole, this two-shotter demands precision off the tee and into the green, which will slough off shots into three bunkers or low-lying short grass chipping areas.
Hole No. 4 - Par 4, 377 yards
This short par 4 showcases the value of interesting terrain as a test of a golfer's skill. No amount of driving range practice can replicate the approach shot, likely off a hanging lie to the small green benched into the clubhouse-topped ridge with bunkers on all sides.
Hole No. 5 - Par 5, 656 yards
The first of Southern Hills' two par fives is one of the longest in major championship golf, though it will still yield plenty of birdies thanks to the prodigious power of the modern player. Approaches that miss this small green to the right will not find sand but possibly water, in the form of the creek that lies at the bottom of a long slope.
Hole No. 6 - Par 3, 226 yards
Long par threes are a test not just of players' abilities but their confidence - who is disciplined enough to play away from the flag when it is cut perilously close to either of two flanking bunkers? Who knows his swing well enough to ensure he will miss on the proper side? This hole asks both questions.
Hole No. 7 - Par 4, 443 yards
Playing close to trouble off the tee in order to open up an angle to the green is a bedrock strategy on thoughtfully-designed courses and it is a key trait of this hole, as is the case repeatedly at Southern Hills.
Hole No. 8 - Par 3, 220 yards
The second long one-shotter in the space of three holes marks the first time since the first hole when water of some sort will not be in play (assuming no players top their tee shots into the creek that fronts the tee box). Still, there is plenty of woe around the green in the form of three nasty bunkers.
Hole No. 9 - Par 4, 395 yards
The first formal return to the clubhouse comes after the player's tee shot (hopefully) skirts two fairway bunkers before confronting the three that flank this pitched green.
Hole No. 10 - Par 4, 376 yards
The system of creeks that runs throughout the course reappears here, with the rightward sweep of the hole contrasting with the slight leftward pitch of the landing area, making it play smaller than it appears. Five bunkers surround the elevated green. Approach shots that miss left could roll down as far as 30 yards away from the putting surface.
Hole No. 11 - Par 3, 173 yards
The shortest hole on the course brings golfers from an elevated tee down to the very eastern edge of the property. The creek that runs left of the green - and will catch some wayward tee shots - is newly restored thanks to Hanse, Wagner and their Cavemen team.
Hole No. 12 - Par 4, 461 yards
Arguably the most famous hole at Southern Hills, its up-and-over terrain and strenuous challenge at the green combined to form what no less of an authority than Ben Hogan called one of the best in all of golf.
Hole No. 13 - Par 5, 632 yards
Southern Hills' second three-shotter will reward long hitters who can smash a baby-draw that drifts slightly left down a narrow corridor between trees. From there, it's an exacting second shot for those who want to get home in two, as two small ponds and five bunkers guard the tiny putting surface. On days when the PGA of America maxes out the distanc, players will tee off directly over the 12th green.
Hole No. 14 - Par 3, 230 yards
Long par 3s tend to be open across the front of their greens. Not so here, as six bunkers ring the putting surface, which gradually widens from the pinched front to the somewhat more spacious rear two-thirds. Expect the PGA of America to play around with both the hole locations and the tee locations here.
Hole No. 15 - Par 4, 417 yards
This mid-length, dogleg-left par 4 is where during the final round of the U.S. Open, Hubert Green was told of a death threat against him, and that security officials were surveilling the area for possible snipers. How's that for pressure? Green lived, and won.
Hole No. 16 - Par 4, 522 yards
The small, elusive green on this brute of a par 4 gives it away: this is typically a par 5 for the members, so the best golfers in the world should prepare to struggle to hold the green in regulation with mid- and long-irons. This hole will likely change drastically over the course of the tournament, switching from downwind on Thursday and Friday to directly into the wind Saturday, if the current forecast holds.
Hole No. 17 - Par 4, 371 yards
Position and tactics are more important than brute strength on this short par 4, but Kerry Haigh's setup team may move the tees forward here, at which point it will transform from a wood-and-wedge to a risk-reward reachable two-shotter at a pivotal time in the round.
Hole No. 18 - Par 4, 491 yards
Long and difficult, this is a proper major championship closing hole. It played nearly half a shot over par in the first round of the 2007 PGA. The creek angles across the line of play in the landing area, demanding precision off the tee. From there, it's all uphill to the pitched green, past a gauntlet of bunkers.