TULSA, Okla. – Tulsa Country Club, home of the 2014 Women’s NCAA Division I Golf Championship on May 20-23, is an elegant, old-line club that’s been recently restored. The course, a 1920 routing, by legendary designer A.W. Tillinghast, was masterfully retrofitted by Rees Jones in 2010-11 and presents a stern test of ground-game thinking and varied shot-making.
The club sits just more than a mile northwest of the city’s historic Art Deco downtown and presents the same kind of architectural flair. Winds average 15 miles per hour out of the south, and with newly firmed up ground that will mean a lot of extra calculating beyond yardage to figure out how far shots will fly and where they will come to rest.
Here’s guide as to what to expect on this 6,194 yard, par-70 layout:
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No. 1, Par 4, 393 yards
A tough opening hole, with the tee shot into a head wind to a fairway that turns steadily right, around a well-treed corner. The second shot is played from a fairway that cants left-to-right as well, and the green sits just above the fairway, on top of a very steep front bunker. It’ll take two very controlled shots to hold the putting surface here in regulation.
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No. 2, Par 4, 375 yards
First strategic decision of the day: lay up off the tee or play a drive downhill as close as possible to the exposed creek crossing the fairway, 290 yards off the tee. With its improved drainage and top dressing, the fairways here can run fast, especially the last 30 yards of the fairway that pitch downhill. The tee shot in the 220-250 yard range has to thread a narrow part of the fairway protected by a deep bunker on the right. From there, the second shot is seemingly straight, 50-60 feet, to the smallest green on the course perched atop a steep slope. Here’s a hole where missing the fairway means no chance of getting home in two.
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No. 3, Par 5, 536 yards
This hole is played straight downwind, along the top of a ridgeline along the eastern edge of the property and at the highest part of the golf course. The fairway kicks sharply left, feeding long drives into a bunker. The approach zone is protected by a large bunker on the right, 100 yards short, and by another bunker on the left low side, about 50 yards out. Given the awkwardness of this approach area it might well make sense to lay way back on the second shot and leave a full third shot in (100-125 yards) to a green that kicks hard left.
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No. 4, Par 4, 390 yards
The last of a very tough opening sequence, all of them requiring left-to-right tee shots. This straightaway par 4, also downwind, requires a 200-yard carry off the tee to reach a very well bunkered fairway, and from there a mid-iron to one of the largest greens on the course.
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No. 5, Par 4, 370 yards
All of a sudden a wide-open fairway, though here the trouble is all greenside, thanks to a very tight bunker pattern that demands a perfectly flighted short-iron approach in. There’s a devilish front left hole location, on a little shelf protected closely on the front and left.
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No. 6, Par 3, 161 yards
Three will be some weird numbers made on this par 3, thanks to a headwind from the left and a peninsula-style green that juts out into a pond that wraps around two-thirds of the green – front, right and behind. The ideal play is a draw that holds into the wind, but lose it a touch right and the ball will go “kerplunk.” With the hole cut on the right side there will be a strong temptation to bail out left, leaving one of the toughest recoveries at Tulsa CC: a long bunker shot, downwind, to a green sloping away into the water.
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No. 7, Par 4, 340 yards
Tillinghast’s fingerprints are all over this great little short par 4, with it featuring the tightest driving zone on the golf course. The hole sports a perched green with a false front, a shelf mid way back, and an up-and-over back left tier that is very hard to fly the ball into and hold. There’s minimal advantage to a driver off the tee here for those who carry it longer than 230 yards. A vast diagonal bunker edges in on the left side and effectively shuts down the landing area 240 yards out. Even downwind, the hole is nowhere near drivable, and the green is more receptive to a full approach shot hit with spin than to a half-wedge that comes in hot.
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No. 8, Par 4, 421 yards
A good, long, dogleg left just past the halfway point and tumbling downhill to a fallaway green that is best approached on a left-to-right flight path – no easy matter from a fairway that tilts right-to-left. Two huge fairway bunkers on the outside of the turn force everything left and into the woods along the inside. A very tough hole, one that’s oriented towards downtown, with the skyline rising as if it is right behind the green.
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No. 9, Par 3, 183 yards
Here’s the handiwork of Rees Jones on full display on this elegant, slightly downhill par 3 with great spectator views all around. A subtle diagonal shelf in the green crates three distinct areas, the hardest one to reach being front right, tucked into a corner flanked by sand short, right and long. Here again, we see the advantage of a left-to-right approach shot. The standard right-hander’s draw shot fares poorly here, and throughout Tulsa CC.
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No. 10, Par 4, 386 yards
The start of a four-hole run of par-4s with lots of ground movement. The 10th hole is left-to-right slider off the tee and into the green, with a putting surface that feeds front to back in a classic, ground-hugging way.
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No. 11, Par 4, 366 yards
Slightly uphill, through a relatively narrow chute of trees, and then a wide open approach to a green at eye level that is very hard to orient given the open-field background and lack of trees or any definition behind. If the hole is cut on the right half of the green it’ll look (from the fairway) as if suspended in mid-air over the front bunker. The tendency here is to favor the left side of the fairway, though that brings one close to a deep bunker running 230-255 yards out on that side.
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No. 12, Par 4, 350 yards
By now it should be obvious: if you can’t drive the ball well you can’t score at Tulsa CC. Case in point is this intensely bunkered landing area, where a fade has to thread a bunker right at 210 yards away and two bunkers on the left at 220-260 yards away. The kidney-shaped green has an inviting front right, then wraps around two enormous bunkers to the far left. If the hole is cut up top, a drive is in order tot h far right of the fairway; with the flag up front it would pay to lay back a little.
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No. 13, Par 4, 274 yards
The tees will be moved way up here to give the players a chance to live or die by playing boldly. This reverse camber hole turns right but is canted to the left, making it hard to work the ball around the dogleg right protected by trees on the inside. A drive carrying 225 yards that flies over a yawning cross bunker front right of the green has a good chance of ambling down onto this narrow green, one that falls away to the back left. There will be some eagles here, but also some frustration for players who block the ball right off the tee.
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No. 14, Par 3, 161 yards
This par 3 looks superficially like the sixth hole, but the effect of the creek along the right side is subtle rather than screaming. There’s also a more forgiving bailout left, one which will come into play a lot here as the hole plays into the wind and golfers worrying about losing it right.
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No. 15, Par 4, 415 yards
Yet another left-to-right tee shot, though if it’s overcooked the ball will find trouble on the short side of the hole, whether amidst trees or in one of two yawning bunkers 205-245 yards from the tee. The fairway is slightly convex, making it hard to hold, and even for those that settle properly it’s a rescue club or fairway metal from 170-200 yards in.
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No. 16, Par 5, 466 yards
Relatively short and reachable in two (or at least tempting) after a strong drive that goes right-to-left – only the second such tee shot on the whole golf course. It’ll be easy to hit it too strong to the right off the tee here, through the fairway, into deep rough, trees or even over the fence line out of bounds. The second half of this double dogleg sweeps steadily right through three distinct sets of bunkers (155 yards away from the green, 100 yards and 40 yards), to an elevated green with yet more sand on the right side. It’s all in the second shot here, with lots of options and all sorts of scores possible.
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No. 17, Par 3, 151 yards
The last of there par-3s playing into the prevailing south wind, with the front and right side heavily bunkered and all sorts of dramatic tilt to the green falling rather steeply left.
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No. 18, Par 4, 386 yards
Inelegant but functional, its chief virtue being that it brings golfers from the middle of the course back to the clubhouse. The offset bunkering here helps orient a tee shot, with the goal to hold the line on a left-to-right shot (again!) without reaching the mid-grouping of sand 245 yards out. Trees intrude sharply on the right side and form a vertical jail cell. From the fairway, the idea is to navigate around or over a very big magnet of a front-right greenside bunker to one of the more contoured greens on the course. Putting here is elusive, as there is far more upslope to the green than one feels with ones feet.