Tillinghast-designed layout at Tulsa CC revived

Cost-effective makeover breathes new life into vintage course.

November 1, 2010

Rees Jones is working on a carefully orchestrated, cost-effective course renovation of Tulsa Country Club in Oklahoma.

The club, which dates to 1908, moved to its present site on the outskirts of downtown Tulsa in 1916, when A.W. Tillinghast was employed to redesign an existing golf course. The rolling, tree-lined layout, bisected by natural creeks and with panoramic views of the city’s skyline, was overdue for a makeover.

According to Jones, much of the character of the original Tillinghast design had faded over the years. With limited historical documentation available, Jones said the challenge was imagining what Tillinghast had intended for the site.

“We took inspiration from what we did at Baltusrol’s Upper and Lower courses,” Jones said, referring to current remodeling efforts at two of Tillinghast’s best-known creations. “Mindful of the membership’s expectations, we tried to instill Tillinghast’s design imperatives back into the golf course.” He noted that while the layout and sequence of the golf holes did not change, nearly everything else on the course is new.

Another of the challenges faced by the design team was the fact that Tillinghast did not have a signature “style” and rarely repeated himself. Referencing the firm’s work at Quaker Ridge and Bethpage Black, two Tillinghast classics located in New York, the design team created a sculpted bunker style that fit the scale of the compact site.

Tulsa C.C.’s $4.7 million construction budget had to cover the installation of a new irrigation system and pump house, which together was a third of the budget. The remainder, Jones noted, was judiciously spent to:

•Create 18 new greens built to USGA specifications
•Rebuild all greenside complexes and bunker surrounds
•Rebuild and in some cases relocate tees to improve shot variety
•Create strategic fairway bunkering at all the par 4’s and 5’s
•Regrade the fairways to improve surface drainage
•Lay 23 acres of sod
•Replace the majority of the cart paths
•Redefine all ponds
•Replace all bridges
•Improve subterranean pipes and other infrastructure

“We were able to squeeze every last drop out of the allocated budget,” Jones said. “We proved that with the right team and a good contractor in place, we can do a lot of quality work on a limited budget.” He added that the front nine was grassed this fall, 2010. A June, 2011 reopening is scheduled. The greens were seeded with a new strain of heat-tolerant bentgrass. A hardy strain of bermudagrass is being used in the fairways.

“We’ve added some length—the revised course will stretch to just over 7,000 yards, par 70—and greatly varied the yardages on the par fours,” said Bryce Swanson, Vice President and Senior Designer at Rees Jones, Inc.

According to Jason Fiscus, the club’s general manager, “Rees Jones is doing a masterful job of enhancing every hole on the golf course and bringing back the original Tillinghast characteristics that had been lost in a previous renovation.” He added that the most notable changes came at the layout’s par 4’s. “On the old course, players were using essentially the same clubs on their approach shots,” he said. “Rees lengthened some par 4’s and shortened others to create more risk-reward options and strategic interest.” With par 4’s ranging from 350 to 495 yards, players now get to use every club in the bag.

“We fully expect the revised layout at Tulsa C.C. to be among the best course in this area,” Fiscus stated, adding that the club has attracted nearly 35 new members as a direct result of the overhaul. “Looking ahead, we expect the renovation to be a huge driver in attracting new members,” he said.  

Jones, who wrote the forward to The Course Beautiful, a collection of articles on course design authored by Tillinghast and reissued in 1995, is well-acquainted with the work of a man whose courses have endured. Noting that most of Tillinghast’s design principles are still in vogue today, Jones wrote, “Those of us who are fortunate enough to continually play his courses never tire of his designs.”

By next spring, the members of Tulsa C.C. will be able to say the same thing of their refurbished Tillinghast layout.