Cow pasture that defied Depression

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The Independent Online
MULE-SKINNERS insisted on being paid in advance so they would have enough money to buy feed for their animals. The rate was 25 cents an hour; the job, to build a golf course on the cow pasture owned by the Tulsa oil baron, Waite Phillips, writes Tim Glover from Tulsa. It was 1933 and, in what was once Indian territory, the market crashed from Sitting Bulls to Running Bears. They were in the middle of the Great Depression.

One in five men in America was out of work and some wise folk in Tulsa wanted to build a golf club as an 'economic necessity to preserve our health and sanity'. What was needed from Phillips was 300 acres and a few hundred thousand dollars. Phillips said he would play ball if the proposers raised dollars 150,000 and he gave them 18 days to do so. They fell 10 grand short but Phillips donated the land anyway.

The architect was Perry Duke Maxwell, a banker who became a self-taught course architect. He collaborated with the Scotsman, Alister Mackenzie, at Augusta National and it was Maxwell who was responsible for the greens. His fee for Southern Hills was dollars 7,500 and, working to the principle that 'first you need a suitable piece of land, then you do as little to it as possible', he created one of the finest courses in the US.

One of the finest holes is the 12th, a par four measuring 448 yards. Ben Hogan was fortunate enough to be stationed in Tulsa during the Second World War and, war or no war, Hogan discovered the joys of playing Southern Hills. He ranked the 12th among his favourite holes. It is a tight dogleg left with water in front of the green.

Bruce Lietzke recalls the hole during the second round of the US Open here in 1977. 'I was paired with Sam Snead and Arnold Palmer. Palmer hit his second shot 25ft over the back of the green into the trees and I hit mine 10ft over. Snead faded a five wood 15ft from the pin. Well, Arnold pitched in and I bounced mine in from the rough. Snead couldn't believe what he was seeing. Then he stepped up and side-saddled that putt in. The gallery went crazy.'