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Wagner’s passion, grit have made Boiling Springs  Oklahoma’s must-play sandbelt adventure

by Ken MacLeod

Across the country, golfers are paying premium rates and willing to venture thousands of miles to play fun and creative golf on natural sand-based layouts.

From Sand Hills, Dismal River and other venues in Nebraska to Sand Valley in rural Wisconsin, these courses stir the souls of golfers who long for a links-type experience without the time and trouble of seeking an ocean.

Oklahoma may have its own natural attraction to promote to the traveling golf cognoscenti, thanks to the vision of several and the passion of one.

Jeff Wagner, with his faithful friend Heidi.

Woodward in far western Oklahoma is home to Boiling Springs Golf Course. Readers may remember a Golf Oklahoma feature circa 2013 that trumpeted the restoration of the course under the guidance of Woodward native John Dunn, but that was short lived. Nematodes attacked and mostly destroyed the new greens the following year.

The course retreated but not Dunn’s vision, shared with architect Jeff Blume who worked with him on the first renovation. Now they just needed someone at the course on a daily basis who shared their inspired view of what Boiling Springs could become.

In the spring of 2015, they found that man in course manager and superintendent Jeff Wagner.

Born in Ardmore, raised in Enid and a graduate of Oklahoma State, Wagner had worked for several prominent clubs in Colorado, including The Glacier Club, but was available due to an ownership change when the Boiling Springs job opened. It was divine intervention for all concerned.

Third hole invites even in dormancy of winter.

What he and his small crew have done since 2015 is remarkable, a herculean effort to remove over 100,000 invasive Eastern Red Cedar trees, slowly exposing the natural sandscapes. New products have helped control the nematodes and the greens have come back spectacularly. Irrigation patterns have been adjusted to keep the water in the fairways only, allowing the areas bordering the fairways to return to sand, native grasses and trees natural to the site.

Think Pinehurst No. 2 since the renovation with more trees and elevation changes.

“The sand is a prized feature in today’s modern golf and we put a lot of effort into creating those sandscapes on the edges to capitalize on the topography that was there,” Wagner said. “The rolling nature of the sand dunes is now emphasized. Everything we’ve done was to expose these unique topographical features. It’s like nothing in Oklahoma. The courses I could compare it to would be in the Melbourne sandbelt in Australia.

“At our price point ($40), it’s just an unheard of opportunity for those who are in the worm hole of destination remote rural courses.”

Wagner’s effort and passion have resulted in a course that will attract play from near and far. Blume gives him full credit for bringing his vision to life.

“He has done an amazing job and is absolutely the perfect fit for that course needed,” Blume said. “My thought was always that in terms of quality of the site, Boiling Springs had the same potential as a Pinehurst, Dismal River, all these sand-based courses that have become destination resorts. If we could expose the sand we would have a bit of a poor man’s Prairie Dunes, but even different from that – very similar to Royal Melbourne in Australia as far as the character of the site.

“Jeff has taken my initial vision and gone 10 miles farther down the road than I ever thought possible. Every time I go look at it I’m just amazed at what he’s done. The way he’s opened up the natural contours and natural dunes, it’s got a beauty all it’s own.”

The course was originally designed by Don Secrest and opened to rave reviews in 1979, but the invasion of the Red Cedars combined with the fluctuations in maintenance standards dependent on how the energy business in Woodward was faring led to ups and downs. Dunn, a Woodward native who operates a golf management company based in Oklahoma City, made a big commitment to bring it back after the devastation of the 2008 recession, but the improvements were short-lived.

This time around all those involved believe they have a formula for long-term success. The painstaking removal of the cedars has been the key.

“People would drive hours to play here then lose a ball on every hole,” Wagner said. “You get a dominant female and it produces 150 juvenile trees, gobbling up hundreds of square feet and it becomes a jungle environment. We’re not done fighting it and have many more to remove. The more we peel back, the more we accentuate the natural features, the better this place will be.”

As the burn pit has smoldered for five years, the wonder of the original site, right next to Boiling Springs State Park, has emerged.

“You go back to the Golden Age of golf course architecture and the sites were chosen where the land was the star of the show,” Wagner said. “Nothing was manufactured. I’ve played a lot of these destination courses and I don’t see any reason why Woodward can’t provide a similar experience. And for $45!”

The sheer enthusiasm that Dunn, Blume and Wagner have for the project is catching.

“God put me here for a reason,” Wagner said. “This is the moment we’ve been fighting for and it’s really exciting. What’s going on here is a community effort and everyone here wants to see Boiling Springs put back on the map.”


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Ken MacLeod

Publisher Golf Oklahoma | Oklahoma's No. 1 Golf Source