By Ken MacLeod
For a combined 105 years, Steve Carson and Alsie Hyden have been coming to work each day striving to make public golf in Oklahoma City not just fun, fast and affordable, but an integral component of the quality of life for area residents.
Their longevity is remarkable. But it’s the quality of what they did in that time that truly stands out.
On Sept. 30, both will retire. Hyden, 88, has been the director of golf at Lake Hefner since 1968 after moving over from Trosper Park in 1966. Carson, 69, started as an assistant at Trosper Park in 1971, became director of golf there from 1976-90, and then replaced the legendary U.C. Ferguson at Lincoln Park in 1990.
A pair of 39-year-old professionals who have each been well prepared for this day will replace them. Aaron Kristopeit has been the head professional at Lincoln Park since 2011 and Brad Sliauter has had that role at Lake Hefner since 2016.
“Everyone knows Alsie and has a story about him,” Sliauter said. “He stops and talks to everyone he sees. Even now, if he’s out the first question he’ll ask is, `Do you play golf?’ If the answer is no, then he says, `Why not?’ and that opens the door to a conversation introducing them to the game.”
“Steve and Alsie have meant so much to junior golf and public golf in general in Oklahoma City,” said Mark Felder, executive director of the Oklahoma Golf Association. “I can’t say enough about either of them.”
The two ran golf operations that helped make Oklahoma City the envy of the nation when it came to providing quality yet affordable public golf. Working in conjunction with city leaders, the nine-member Oklahoma City golf commission and the other professionals, they oversaw 36-hole facilities that would average between 70,000 and 110,000 rounds annually, with a full pro shop, PGA instruction, junior, senior and women’s programs, restaurant and meeting space and practice facilities — the total package that a public course interested in sustaining the game’s future should offer.
Beyond that, each had a soft spot for groups they felt were underserved.
Hyden championed women’s golf when it wasn’t always popular to do so, always having at least one female instructor on staff and making sure access to lessons, leagues and other issues was equitable. He was the first man inducted into what was the Women’s Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame, which has since merged with the Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame.
“Alsie supported women before it was popular to do so,” said Hall of Fame board member Louise Johnson. “He brought Jackie Hutchinson out there and she was one of the first female pros in the area and still gives lessons today. He has done so much for the state and the game and he’ll be missed.”
Carson has long provided support to minorities and underprivileged golfers, helping support the Eastern Golf Association and later the First Tee of Oklahoma City and the Special Olympics.
“We wanted to get the local community involved in golf,” Carson said. “The Eastern Golf League was a great organization to work with and did everything they could to get the kids equipment, access and an introduction to the game.”
During his tenure the city authorized major renovations by Randy Heckenkemper of the East and West courses as well as built a new clubhouse that is the envy of most public facilities in the state.
Because Lincoln Park has maintained consistent conditioning allowing golfers to play the ball down, it is a constant hub for competitive events, whether high school, college, OJGT, OGA, WOGA, South Central Section or other groups. Supporting all those endeavors may be taken for granted in OKC, but each of those same groups will not use the City of Tulsa’s golf facilities due to lack of commitment to maintenance.
“I think both of them share a common bond that the public golf experience should be as good as they can provide,” said golf course architect Randy Heckenkemper, who worked with Carson on extensive renovations to the East and West courses and with Hyden on the North Course at Lake Hefner.
“That extends from course design to conditioning, pace of play and how golfers are greeted at the door. They made every golfer feel like they were the most important person they were going to talk to that day. They created their own loyalty programs through customer service. You always got great value for what you paid and that’s what customers really appreciated.”
“The legacy for both is their support of public golf,” said LeeAnn Fairlie, a member of the Oklahoma City Golf Commission and a Hall of Fame inductee. “I don’t think there will ever be anyone who touched as many lives as Alsie. He always treated all the women and juniors with respect and he still loves to teach. Steve has done wonderful things with the Special Olympics and the Eastern Golf League.”
Hyden’s career began at LaFortune Park in Tulsa in 1961 working for Charlie Wiesner. Hyden left to become the head professional at Adams Golf Course in Bartlesville in 1963, then was persuaded by Joe Walser to come to Oklahoma City. He had run hugely successful women’s clinics in both Tulsa and Bartlesville and took that concept to OKC.
Hyden was an excellent basketball player in his younger days and competed for a traveling YMCA team against future Harlem Globetrotters legend Marques Haynes and was also the “only white guy” on his Air Force base team during his years in the service.
His lifetime love affair with golf started at his rural Tulsa home when he saw a neighbor hitting wedges in his yard. An interested Hyden was asked to come watch his group play on a Saturday morning, and he raced back to his house to call his friends and tell them about this strange and wonderful game he had just witnessed. They rode their bikes three miles to a course called Highlands, rented clubs and swung away. His life was on a new path.
Dan Langford, the director of golf at Earlywine Golf Course in OKC, has worked with Carson and Hyden for many years to bolster the golf experience for public players. He worked directly for Hyden early in his career and credits him for any success he’s had.
“To say Alsie is an icon is insufficient, he’s more than that,” Langford said. “He’s been like a second father to me and is the most honorable man I know. Nobody loves the game as much as Alsie. He loves the interaction with the players and his vision of what the future could look like has been the key to his longevity. He always wanted to help shape the future of public golf and recreation in Oklahoma City.”
To that end, Hyden regrets that one of his ideas never took, and that was to build an endowment to support public golf. He still thinks it could.
“I’ll leave that to the next guy to run with,” he said.