Oklahoma golf 2023
By Ken MacLeod
Every year brings transition and notable memories and accomplishments, but 2023 feels keenly like a turning point year in many ways for golf in Oklahoma.
Let’s look back at this busy year filled with triumphs and tragedies.
The shocking and untimely passing last week of Pat McCrate, director of golf at LaFortune Park in Tulsa and South Lakes in Jenks, stunned and saddened his many friends and admirers. It also left much uncertainty regarding the future operations at two of Oklahoma’s most successful public courses, a story we’ll be watching closely in the days to come.
Even before McCrate’s passing, it was a year of tremendous transition among major figures in the state. Those of us fortunate to know Ron Ripley, an ardent supporter of golf and key member of the Oklahoma Golf Hall of Fame board, mourned his passing in July.
Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa saw the retirement of long-time general manager Nick Sidorakis, who had led the club through numerous major championships and renovations. That was followed by the surprising departure of superintendent Russ Myers, who resigned to join architect Gil Hanse and his team in their development of new courses and renovation of existing classics.
Tim Mendenhall, a fixture at Oakwood Country Club in Enid for 38 years, has transitioned into director of golf emeritus, while Zach Tucker moves from Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club to replace him.
Cleve Stubblefield retired this fall as general manager at Cedar Ridge Country Club in Broken Arrow after a distinguished career that saw the club host numerous LPGA events as well as last spring the LIV Tulsa tournament.
Also Rob Yanovitch, who had been director of golf at Shangri-La Resort since Eddy Gibbs purchased it in 2011, resigned to become the new general manager of Twin Hills Country Club in Oklahoma City.
Wesley Chaney, who was leading the effort to improve the state park golf courses, resigned to become the new director of golf at Dornick Hills in Ardmore. His position has yet to be filled.
Jeff Wagner, who did an incredible job at Boiling Springs Golf Course in Woodward, became superintendent at Stillwater Country Club, replacing Jared Wooten who is now at Cedar Ridge CC where his father worked wonders for decades.
Indian Springs Country Club in Broken Arrow underwent an ownership change late in 2023 when member Bill Chambers purchased the club from Ryker Young and Paul Glover.
And while we’re on the topic of Hall of Fames, the 2023 class of the Oklahoma Golf Course Superintendent’s Hall of Fame was a great one including Mike Wooten, Bob Randquist, Gary Hallet, Ray Beard and Rick Murray.
A new Oklahoma High School Golf Coaches Hall of Fame was also established and the first class included Ed Cox, Robert Wilson, Steve Ross, Ken Posey, Jeff Doherty and Bill Roller.
On the course, the competition was incredible from junior golf to the upper echelon of the professional ranks.
Ryder Cowan nearly pulled off an unprecedented trifecta, winning the OGA Junior Boys Championship, the OGA Stroke Play Championship and making it to the final match of the OGA State Amateur Championship at Southern Hills where he lost to William McDonald. Julianna Hong of Norman won the OGA Junior Girls title in the event held at Lincoln Park.
In the senior ranks it was the year of former professional Peter Vitali, who won the Senior Stroke Play and the Senior State Amateur while also teaming up with Blake Gibson to win the Senior Four-Ball Championship. Kyle Hudelson won his third OGA Mid-Amateur Championship.
The Oklahoma Open capped the OGA schedule with a dramatic finish that saw former OU golfer Blaine Hale win the tournament with a birdie on the 18th hole to edge former OU teammate Max McGreevy. Hale went on to earn his PGA Tour card by finishing in the top five at the final state of qualifying school.
Also notable in that event was the historic second-round 59 shot by Edmond North senior Parker Sands, a tournament record by two shots and one of the great rounds in state history.
On the Women’s Oklahoma Golf Association side, Sydney Hermann of Ponca City came home to capture an emotional victory in the WOGA State Amateur Championship at Ponca City Country Club.
The American Junior Golf Association returned to the state with the Talor Gooch Foundation Junior Championship and Preston Albee and Lisa Herman emerged as champions.
Two new professional events came to the state in 2023. Cedar Ridge Country Club in Tulsa hosted the LIV Tulsa Championship won in a playoff by Dustin Johnson. With over 40,000 spectators in three days it was one of the best attended LIV events on U.S. soil, but the contract was not renewed for 2023 nor was LIV able to find another suitable venue in Oklahoma despite the best efforts of Talor Gooch and Charles Howell III.
Also making its debut was the Compliance Solutions Championship on the Korn Ferry Tour, held last June at Jimmie Austin OU Golf Course in Norman. The weather was steamy and attendance was light as most of the Oklahoma players in the field were not in contention, but it would be nice to see this event gain traction going forward as it brings some of the world’s best professional golfers to the state and many of those will become future stars on the PGA Tour.
And in a totally fun event with star power, Viktor Hovland and Ian Davis won the Oak Tree National Pro-Scratch.
It was heartening to see former Norman High School and Oklahoma star Kaitlin Milligan earn her LPGA card at its final stage of qualifying.
In golf course news, the spectacular par-3 venue The Battlefield opened at Shangri-La Resort in Afton, taking that resort to an even higher level that is able to compete with any golf resort in the region. And the city of Edmond completed a fantastic $22 million renovation of Kickingbird Golf Course, lifting that facility to among the elite municipal courses in the state and region.
The Patriot in Owasso completed a major renovation to improve drainage, creek beds, bunkers and more. And the folks at Winter Creek in Blanchard announced they would be bringing in Ernie Els to help rebuild the former Indian Ridge course that was partially built but never opened. If and when that comes to fruition it would be the first new regulation length course built in Oklahoma since The Patriot in 2010.
In Edmond, brothers Tim and Todd Graves are building a new teaching academy, practice facilities and six-hole course for their booming Graves Golf enterprises. Architect Colton Craig is doing the design work.
A bond issue passed in Tulsa that will help recent improvements to the city-owned courses Page Belcher and Mohawk Park continue by designating $8 million to golf to go along with another $1 million match program that the Tulsa City Council had approved a year earlier. A new pump house is being installed currently at Mohawk Park, which has been without reliable irrigation most of the past two years. More improvements to come.
One of the biggest golf stories of the year was the weather. Courses across northeastern Oklahoma had to clean up from massive storm damage from a derecho with 100 mph straight line winds on June 18. This was after many courses across the state had to spend time and money to make repairs to extensive winter kill in the spring.
For a rare time since 2008 there were no course closings in the state of which we are aware. Rounds remain strong at public courses and many private clubs throughout the state have waiting lists to join.
The future is bright for every day players and our top competitors. The two OJGT Players of the Year – Megan Blonien of Altus and Cameron Cheek of Owasso – became among the final players to sign collegiate scholarships in December when Blonien signed with Arkansas and Cheek with Oklahoma. That capped a terrifically strong recruiting class of Oklahoma seniors including a slew of Division I signees.
Looking ahead to events outside the ordinary in 2024, we will have the return of the Compliance Solutions Championship June 19-23 at Jimmie Austin. Also the U.S. Women’s Amateur Championship will be held Aug. 5-11 at Southern Hills, the 10th USGA championship at the historic venue. Babe Didrickson Zaharias won the same championship there in 1946.
A little further down the line, Oak Tree National in Edmond announced that the 2027 U.S Senior Open will be held there. Everyone cross your fingers that a then 51-year-old Tiger Woods is still interested in pursuing USGA championships.
So there’s a glimpse at a few of the major major stories of 2023. We invite you to scroll back through the hundreds of other stories we covered and all five of our digital issues located here at www.golfoklahoma.org and return often for more coverage of golf throughout the state in 2024. Remember to follow us on Facebook and X (Twitter) and sign up for our weekly newsletter on the home page if you’re not already receiving it. And tune in each week to the great podcast The 73rd Hole with hosts Sam Humphreys, Jim Woodward and Taylor Williams.