By Ken MacLeod
Members of The Oaks Country Club in west Tulsa are excited about the thoughtful renovation currently under way of their A.W. Tillinghast routing by Atlanta-based architect Bill Bergin, a member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects and a former PGA Tour golfer.
Bergin has studied original Tillinghast designs in books and gleaned all the information he can from old aerials and other plans and drawings available at the club. He has played and visited many a Tillinghast design. Still he said there’s an inherent challenge to restoring or renovating the work of the turn-of-the-century architect who designed Bethpage, Baltusrol, Winged Foot and many other highly-respected courses.
"Almost no one has an original Tillinghast design, because they’ve all been altered over the years," Bergin said. "We’re following his themes, but doing our own interpretation. I played the 1980 U.S. Open at Baltusrol and it was a Robert Trent Jones course. Now it’s a Rees Jones course.
"It’s hard to get the actual nuances of what his true design style was. We see three or four bunker styles that he used. He had great variety, unlike a Seth Raynor, whose bunkers all were similar."
What everyone can agree on is that the routing Tillinghast came up with at the hilltop tree-lined course was superb and it won’t be changing much. Bergin has altered the par-4 10th hole by moving the tee box left and the green back so the angle of attack around the large pond has changed. The tee on the par-3 11th has also moved back while the green is now centered between two large specimen trees.
Other changes are more subtle. Greens will still be small with subtle breaks, the kind that members will only slowly master. The bunkering will be altered to allow more run-up areas but also challenge the better players who want to attack pin positions. With more forward tees and by allowing more ground approaches, the course should become easier for the higher handicap players and more difficult for the lower handicap players or those playing the back tees. The course will now max out at 6,950 yards but is actually considerably longer than it was previously as many of the old distances were measured from the back of the tee to the back of the green, while the new measurements are from the middle of the back tee to the middle of the green.
Cart paths will be moved and select trees removed to create wider, better angles of play.
"They talk about the Maxwell rolls at Southern Hills, but Tillinghast also used subtle rolls," Bergin said. "He used gradual contours, which is right in the direction I think golf should be heading. We want subtle greens that take a lifetime to learn. At a private club, members can play up to four days a week and you really want the type of design that has variety and subtlety. You really have to learn them. You may be two feet away from where you were the day before and the pin is in a similar place, but the putt breaks differently."
The new greens will be planted with 007 bent grass this fall and reopening is planned in May. A new pitch and putt course with Bermuda greens has already opened and has proven popular with golfers of all ages. Read much more about the renovation in the Oct.-Nov. issue of Golf Oklahoma.