Nine things to know: Southern Hills Country Club
2. Perry Maxwell put his stamp on it
Perry Maxwell started out as a bank vice president who decided he could design a golf course on his dairy farm. He became the impressive and incredibly prolific “father of Oklahoma golf”.
Maxwell did most of his work in this state – by the time he arrived in Southern Hills in 1935-36, during the Great Depression, he had already designed more than 40 golf courses – but, oh, how he shared his work beyond the borders of Oklahoma. Golf writer Mac Bentley once said of Maxwell that “his genius came from recognizing Mother Nature’s design”.
Others accepted. Dr. Alister MacKenzie has partnered with Maxwell to create Crystal Downs in Michigan, Melrose CC in Philadelphia, Oklahoma City Golf & CC and Augusta National.
Maxwell also helped renovate Pine Valley, Merion, and the National Golf Links of America. He joined Marvin Leonard to build Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas; Maxwell and his son, J. Press Maxwell, brought Prairie Dunes to life in Kansas; and top-notch courses on campuses in Oklahoma, Ohio State, Michigan, and Iowa State all bear Maxwell’s fingerprints.
Maxwell cited a trip to Scotland after his first wife, Ray, died in 1919 of appendicitis as inspiring his design philosophies. He used topography, embracing the contours of the fairways, undulating greens and bulges around and on the greens, called “Maxwell rolls”.
When he took on Southern Hills, workers lined up to earn 25 cents an hour, and the job was completed for $100,000. Each hole had twists and turns, the bunkers were deep and well placed in the best places where the doglegs started, and a stream meandered through the property. But the most vibrant aspect of Southern Hills was the greens, and Gil Hanse, entrusted with the restoration project in 2018, some 66 years after Maxwell’s death, said that hadn’t changed.
3. Gil Hanse restored the chandelier
When they set out to restore Southern Hills in 2018, Gil Hanse, Jim Wagner and their team had one skeptic watching them from afar: legendary Oklahoma pro Jerry Cozby, whose workplace for 41 years had been a another Perry Maxwell gem, Hillcrest CC, 45 miles away.
Cozby had his doubts until his eldest son, Cary Cozby, the Southern Hills golf manager, invited him to see the restoration work being completed. Jerry Cozby loved it.
“This guy (Hanse) gets it,” Jerry Cozby told his son.
Hanse said he didn’t really understand all the topography Maxwell had going for him until he opened up the place. Too many trees had thickened, too much grass hid the stream, too many fairways had become narrow. Once the Hanse team started trimming the trees and giving more prominence to the creek, they focused on shorter grass and cleaner edges along the greens and brought back the slope and contours on the fairways.
“The classic Southern Hills character has been preserved,” Jerry Cozby told reporters.
4. Three holes stand above the rest
Give him a chair and some time and Gil Hanse knows where he’s going. “No. 10 is a cool hole. That’s probably where I would camp,” he told Andy Johnson on The Fried Egg podcast.
He is 441 yards but will play shorter thanks to a downhill tee shot. A bold tee shot will leave only a short iron in the steeply sloping green, but players who get too aggressive on the tee will find the devilish flow of Southern Hills crossing the fairway.
Ben Hogan sang the praises of Southern Hills’ signature scenic par-4 12th hole. A 456-yard left dogleg, its fairway slants from right to left, pushing balls down the flowing creek to the green, which is also protected by three fearsome bunkers.
Give a guy a one-shot lead in a major on Sunday and the choice of which 18th hole he would play to protect him, chances are no one will choose Southern Hills’ par-4 18th.
“Killer finish,” Hanse said. “Finishing hole par excellence.”
In seven men’s majors here, only two winners have tied the closing hole – Tommy Bolt at the 1958 US Open and Tiger Woods at the 2007 PGA. The 18th will play for 491 yards, with the second shot uphill to a green that slopes treacherously back and forth. Put it in the wrong place on the green and good luck with two putts.
In the fourth round of the 2001 US Open, the top three – Retief Goosen, Mark Brooks and Stewart Cink – all rolled 18 with victory within reach.