By Ken MacLeod
The PGA of America is donating $250,000 to help reinvigorate two 36-hole public golf facilities in Tulsa, it was announced at a press conference today at Page Belcher Golf Course in west Tulsa.
The donation is part of a new effort by the PGA of America’s charitable foundation PGA Reach to leave a golf legacy in each market in which the PGA hosts one of its major championships. The 2022 PGA Championship is May 19-22 at Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa.
The $250,000 will help kick start the effort of the Citizen’s Golf Advisory Committee to raise $1 million to match the Tulsa City Council’s designation of $1 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for golf course improvements if it could be matched with $1 million in private donations.
Disclosure: This reporter is one of four members of the committee, the others are Southern Hills General Manager Nick Sidorakis, golf architect Randy Heckenkemper and former City of Tulsa budget director Pat Connelly.
The $250,000 donation falls under the auspices of a new program under PGA Reach called A Place To Play. The PGA of America looked at many options in Tulsa, including the potential of a putting course at The Gathering Place or elsewhere, before directing its attention to the community effort to restore the 36-hole public facilities at Page Belcher and Mohawk Park, both of which have deteriorated dramatically in the last six years.
The plan is for the PGA of America to donate $250,000 at the site of the PGA Championship, KPMG Women’s PGA Championship and one at-large donation each year.
The genesis of the idea came after PGA CEO Seth Waugh led an effort to restore West Palm Beach Golf Club, a shuttered public course in West Palm Beach, Fla. Waugh raised over $50 million for that endeavor, much of it from members at Seminole Golf Club.
“We recognize that public/private partnerships can go a long way in each market,” said Jeff Price, the Chief Commercial Officer of the PGA of America. “Given what is happening in Tulsa, it made a ton of sense to contribute and get that matching fund going. We have complete confidence in Nick and the committee that they will generate the match and improve these courses to the benefit of all Tulsa golfers.”
A requirement of the PGA donation is that course operator Troon hire a PGA professional to implement programming. Former operator Billy Casper Golf has seldom had a PGA professional on staff since taking over operations from former pro George Glenn in 2008. By contrast Troon, which purchased BCG in 2021, is the largest employer of PGA professionals in the world.
“We have a good working relationship with Troon and confidence in Troon,” Price said. “And like I said, we have tremendous confidence in Nick and we want to be a part of the solution.”
Rich Richeson, a national accounts executive with the PGA of America, toured all four courses last week with members of the committee, course superintendents and managers and national Troon officials, including regional director of operations Tony Marino and Jim DeReull, vice president of agronomy.
“The courses have great bones,” Richeson said. “They are in need of some TLC. We’re hopeful our donation will lead to just that.”
Marino and DeReull have been working closely with Heckenkemper on a $500,000 project currently under way at Page Belcher to improve turf grass conditions by removing trees followed by grading and sodding. The $500,000 comes from close to $900,000 in profits the four courses made during the past two fiscal years since Covid began.
Besides reinvesting that money, the city has committed to substantially larger maintenance budgets going forward and Mayor G.T. Bynum announced that the city was doubling its annual golf subsidy from $75,000 to $150,000.
With $250,000 toward it’s goal of $1 million secured, the committee is asking for any other individuals or companies interested in helping restore these course to go to the Tulsa Community Foundations online at www.tulsacf.org/golf. All donations are tax deductible.
The courses at both facilities had deteriorated to the point that the Oklahoma Golf Association, Women’s Oklahoma Golf Association, Tulsa Golf Association, the Oklahoma State High School Activities Association, colleges and the PGA South Central Section had ruled out using them for tournaments, the section due to both conditions and because there were no PGA professionals on staff.
“You take out 72 holes and that makes it tough when trying to schedule everything,” said Brian Davis, executive director of the South Central Section. Davis encouraged PGA Reach to look at the public courses for its donation after it became clear the project with The Gathering Place was not gathering momentum.
“With Nick’s connection with the PGA Championship and his reputation in town, we knew it would be a good project,” Davis said.
Sidorakis is also the president and board chairman of the First Tee of Tulsa, located at Mohawk Park.
If the $2 million is available, potential projects high on the committee’s list include irrigation system repairs at both facilities and improvements to cart paths, bunkers, additional turf sodding and numerous other projects.
“To raise the million dollars is a grass roots effort that will take all Tulsans to support the goals and to donate, whether it’s a dollar, ten dollars, hundreds of dollars or thousands,” Sidorakis said. “We need your support. We need Tulsans to step up and let the city know how important it is for improved golf course conditions at the public golf courses in this community.”