By Ken MacLeod
Although it has a huge summer junior program and a popular lighted driving range, Lit’l Links Golf Club in Broken Arrow has battled two giant issues when seeking more adult rounds on its fun par-3 course, one built to give a thorough examination of a golfer’s long and medium irons to wedge play.
First and foremost was the condition each summer of the formerly bent grass greens. On a good year, the course might lose only a few, while in a bad year, the majority of the greens would be suffering by the time the heat of July and August hit.
The second issue is the misconception, perhaps caused by the iffy choice of a course name, that the course is just for kids. Nothing could be further from the truth. Yes, it’s a par-3 course, but one that can stretch to more than 3,000 yards from the tips. Stand on any tee box on the hillside property, try to factor in the wind and the slope of the green and pick your weapon and shot shape carefully.
It’s a giant jigsaw puzzle, but one that you can solve to some degree in two hours or less. With the lighted driving range and pro shop loaded with new and used merchandise, it’s certainly an interesting and enjoyable place for golfers stressed for time or looking for a place to improve their scoring shots.
The good news for long-time patrons and newcomers is that the course has converted all 18 of its greens to Bermuda greens. The really interesting part about this is that it used a strain of Bermuda grass developed at Oklahoma State University called Latitude 36. It is not one of the ultra-dwarf varieties such as Champion or Mini-Verde that have been used on other Oklahoma courses that have converted to Bermuda.
Instead, Latitude was developed with funding from the USGA as a cold tolerant hybrid for use on tees, fairways and athletic fields. About the most closely mown surface it has been used on previously to Lit’l Links was as a croquet court at Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club, with great success. It is also in use at both Kauffman Stadium, home of the world champion Kansas City Royals, and at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City.
The cold tolerance was the key factor for Kyle Ingram, PGA professional, and course superintendent Neal Carroll. The course was not in position in terms of cost or manpower to purchase or be constantly putting on or taking off covers. It is hoped the Latitude 36 will survive Oklahoma winters with the same hardiness of common Bermuda fairways. Any areas that do experience winter kill will be patched in the spring.
"It’s an interesting experiment," said Dr. Dennis Martin, OSU professor and Turfgrass Extension Research Specialist, one of five men who developed and patented Latitude 36. "If you’re looking for something to survive and be affordable, then it could work out great. You can’t mow it as low as you would an ultra dwarf like Champion or Mini Verde."
Martin said OSU is working on ultra dwarf Bermuda varieties that will be cold tolerant enough to survive winters without use of covers, but those are probably five years away from commercial availability.
The greens at Lit’l Links were sodded instead of sprigged. A few were done in 2014 and the majority this summer. It will take another year before Carroll will be able to get them to speed and firmness he wants, but the good news is there will be no heat issues next summer. The winter will tell the tale.
Notes: Lit’l Links is located just off the Creek Turnpike at Olive (129th E. Ave.). Call 918-481-3673 or go to www.litllinks.com for more information.
The aforementioned junior program has produced 24 golfers who have won state championships, including multiple state championships by several.