By Ken MacLeod
Russ Myers is walking away from an event that his current employer has been working hard to secure.
Myers, 43, is back in Tulsa for his second term as superintendent at Southern Hills Country Club after a five-year stint at Los Angeles Country Club, which in 2015 was awarded the 2023 U.S. Open.
Unlike Southern Hills, which has held the U.S. Open three times, the last in 2001, Los Angeles Country Club has never had an Open, and never sought one until recently. The USGA has been knocking on its door for the better part of three decades and new club management finally agreed to the idea in recent years, after massive restoration projects on both the North and South courses. The club will also host the 2017 Walker Cup.
The work done by Myers and his crew surely helped Los Angeles CC look attractive to the USGA. Still, Myers is surprised that anyone is surprised he’s back in Tulsa.
"Walking away from the U.S. Open is not the way I looked at it," Myers said. "That’s seven years down the road and a lot can happen. This is an opportunity to come back and work with people I really enjoy and respect at one of the top courses in the country."
Chris Wilson, a former assistant to Myers at Southern Hills and in Los Angeles, has been promoted to head superintendent at Los Angeles CC.
Myers is replacing K.D. Davis, who is now the superintendent at Royal Oaks Country Club in Dallas. While Myers was away, Davis oversaw a successful conversion of greens on the West Nine at Southern Hills to Champion Ultradwarf Bermuda grass. However, conditions on the bent grass greens on the championship 18 were a concern the past two summers, leading to an aggressive aerification program that is ongoing.
"I’ve found the course in excellent condition on my return," Myers said. "I know rounds have increased since I left and that has increased stress on the greens. There have been some evaluations of whether the greens were accumulating organic matter. But they wouldn’t be the first course in America to have to deal with that.
"Right now we’re being as consistent as possible in what we’re doing and not trying to produce anything we can’t do on a daily basis. Right now, they are acting as healthy greens would. We have six to seven inches of root depth. The key will be seeing how they are in September after you go through a hot summer.
"My first priority is to verify we can have a long-term future with these greens. That is my No. 1 and only goal until about Sept. 15."
Other projects are lining up at Southern Hills. Architect Gil Hanse, who also oversaw the renovations at Los Angeles CC, will be helping Southern Hills with design work for an improved short game area and a new indoor teaching facility is scheduled to begin construction next fall. Myers expects he and Hanse will also search for old photographs to make sure as much of Perry Maxwell’s original 1936 design is embraced as possible.
Myers’ return was facilitated in that his wife, former KJRH news anchor Lindsay Patterson, has many family ties in the Tulsa area and she was happy to be back among them. The couple have a 4-year-old son, RJ, and 2-year-old daughter, Grace.
In Myers’ first go-round at Southern Hills, he was hired 11 months before the 2007 PGA Championship, in which he had the course in superb condition despite blistering heat. He also prepared Southern Hills successfully for the 2009 U.S. Amateur Championship before accepting the job at Los Angeles CC at the outset of 2010.
"Whether it’s myself, or Mike Wooten at Cedar Ridge, or (former Southern Hills assistant) Jeremy Dobson at The Patriot, you pour your whole life into these properties," Myers said. "I take pride in what we accomplished in LA, but also in what we did here previously. Golf in Oklahoma is a big thing. It’s a great place to be part of the game and its history and tradition. Hopefully we can provide stability and great golf course conditions. We’ll see where it leads."
Southern Hills General Manager Nick Sidorakis led the charge to bring Myers back and is glad to see him return.
"Russ did a fantastic job here previously and had the golf course at an extremely high level of conditioning," Sidorakis said. "When K.D. resigned, we reached out to Russ to see if he had any interest and it’s a great fit and time for him to come back.
"Russ is a proven superintendent who did excellent work here for 3 1/2 years, taking us to a level of excellent agronomic conditioning of the golf course."