Q&A With Clyde Chrisman
The Southern Hills historian tells us how the course has changed and what binds the many champions there. Plus, he explains the Clock Tower and why the clubhouse is pink.
We are on the cusp of a sensational week at historic Southern Hills. So no need to sully things by analyzing the PGA Tour’s denial of releases, the Saudis releasing more money and Greg Norman making a mess of things. That’s what the blog is for!
Clyde Chrisman has been been the go-to for all questions about 2022 PGA Championship host and is the historian at a club rightfully proud of its place in golf history. A longtime member, Chrisman kindly answered all of The Quadrilateral’s questions about the past championships, recent course work and other key details as Southern Hills prepares to host a record fifth PGA. You can follow him here on Twitter.
GS: What would you say has been the common thread here between previous majors and winners at Southern Hills?
CC: Ball strikers who can chip and putt who are playing well at the time. All 7 of the major championship winners have led after 36 holes (same for the two Tour Championships and the Senior PGA). In fact, the only two who didn’t lead or share the lead after the first round are Dave Stockton and Tiger Woods. It’s not a course where someone has gotten hot in the last round or two and made a late charge to win. Also, the green complexes are the defense at Southern Hills and those who do best on them will win.
GS: Has the reintroduction of more short grass around the green complexes accentuated their importance and if so, favorite examples we should look for next week?
CC: Kerry Haigh has called them some of the best in the country if not the world. Ben Crenshaw said, and I paraphrase, “you could putt these greens your entire life and not figure them out.” One of the great characteristics on the green complexes, in addition to the subtle internal breaks (Maxwell Rolls), were the edges that sloped away from the center of the greens.
Over time, topdressing and sodding collars had softened the slopes on some of the edges and the high bunker faces had resulted in backstops on some of the greens. Both of these characteristics, that had evolved over time, were eliminated in the restoration and will make the relatively small greens (5000 sq ft on average) play even smaller.
Russ Myers had been establishing more short grass even before the restoration. Gil [Hanse] and Jim [Wagner] expanded that trend. In previous championships, many shots that just missed a green would settle into heavy Bermuda rough. No longer. Now the players will have more options on how to recover. More often than not, balls that roll off the restored edges of the greens will not be hung up in rough, but will continue to roll down the slopes.
Good examples would be behind 1 green, left of 3 green, right of 5 green on the front nine. On the back, any ball hit on the left side of 10 will likely roll 30-40 feet toward the creek leaving a very difficult recovery. This is probably the best example. Left of 11 green now risks running into the drainage creek that was uncovered in the restoration. A ball hit on the left side of 15 green will also run the risk of rolling off.
GS: The second hole has been widened, but there is a tree in the middle and fairway expanded. Help us understand what we’re looking at here and how this has been playing post-Hanse restoration compared to past majors?
CC: The creek that runs through the property crosses the fairway on No. 2 some 260 yards from the tee. It makes a right turn up the left side of the hole and turns right again and runs behind the green. Originally, there was a fairway on the left side of the creek and a fairway bunker that protected the left side. There were also two native trees in the left center of the fairway not far past the creek. Over time, numerous trees were planted on both sides of the creek that eliminated the option to go left. Also, the two native trees were removed and the rough was brought in on the left side. Two new oaks were planted to hug the rough on the left side. As a result, the fairway on No. 2 became very narrow and this hole played as one of the more difficult in the championships.
During the restoration, the trees that were planted on both sides of the creek were removed and the fairway left of the creek was restored. In addition, the fairway cut on the left side was extended all the way to the creek and the rough was brought in on the right side. Overall, the fairway is wider than before the restoration, and has been shifted a bit to the left. As a result, the two large oaks which had been in the rough were now in the fairway. There was discussion of removing both trees but the fairway width of the fairway would have appeared even more expansive. It was decided to leave the tree closest to the tee, somewhat as a tribute to the two native trees that were once in the fairway. The limbs of the tree were raised so that most shots from behind it are not impacted. The tree is more of a visual impediment than an actual one.
The tree is 340 yards from the back tee. Since the fairway slopes left most balls hit toward it will roll left of it. Only a ball that stops directly behind and close to it will require some type of recovery shot.
GS: If you could ask Perry Maxwell one question about the design, what would it be?
CC: Perry Maxwell did not do much, if any, writing about his work. At best, we have comments he has made about golf course design. To my knowledge, no one who has seen Southern Hills has come up with any other way to lay out the holes. I would ask Mr. Maxwell, during the design, what decisions, if any, he had to make about the layout. It would be interesting to know what alternatives might have been considered.
GS: The 7th green was moved and is the lone non-original green. Why did it move?
CC: The 7th hole was originally a dogleg left and the green sat close to the property line near 61st street. The tee shot went over a ridge and down toward the creek and runs through the property. The second shot was back up the ridge to the north. Our guess is the green was not located closer to the creek because of a large grove of trees growing near the creek and do to the risk of flooding. Maxwell also liked dogleg holes with the fairway sloping away from the green.
In 1960, the club started the first rebuild of the greens. The USGA had just come out with their first set of green specifications and the Southern Hills greens were rebuilt using those specs. Each green was surveyed to retain the original contours. At that time, the 7th green was moved to the south to gain better airflow for the bent grass. Architect Floyd Farley supervised the work. The green was later rebuilt, but not moved, by Keith Foster to more closely resemble a Maxwell design.
During the restoration, and since the 7th green was not original, there was consideration of rebuilding the original green and also building one further back and closer to the creek. It was ultimately decided to go just with the green closer to the creek. This added about 50 yards to the hole. At the same time, at tee was established just back and left of 6 green that added another 50 yards.
What was relatively uninteresting short par 4 of 384 yards has become 489 yards with decisions off the tee. Do I lay up on top of the hill or try for the bottom and risk rolling into the creek? Will be interesting to watch.
GS: What’s the history of the clock tower that is the logo for the PGA Championship?
CC: While it has become the main public symbol of Southern Hills, overtaking the Crest which depicts all six of the major activities for members in the early days of the club, it’s history is not necessarily memorable. Upon it’s creation, I don’t believe anyone thought it would be come the major logo for golf championships held at Southern Hills.
There has always been some sort of structure where the Clock Tower resides on what we call the “Upper Tee” (to distinguish it from the “Lower Tee”, so we don’t get confused. This small structure housed a dispenser for range balls where one could fill a bucket by pressing a button and alerting the pro shop to let it rip. The membership was ecstatic when it was announced that there would no longer be a charge for range balls. Thus, no need for the machine that dispensed them. So, what to do the structure?
In the mid 1990’s, a forward looking president of the club thought a tower would fit nicely. A design was made and, in typical fashion for such projects back at that time, an influential member was selected to find other members willing to fund the project. That was not a problem so the Clock Tower came into being just in time for the 1996 Tour Championship. The Clock Tower was first used in a logo for the 2007 PGA Championship. The Crest returned as the logo for the 2009 U.S. Amateur Championship, but the Clock Tower made a comeback for the 2022 PGA Championship. The clocks in the tower were donated by Rolex.
So, what once housed the range ball dispensing machine, became the iconic symbol of Southern Hills.
GS: Tell us about the History Hall (pictured atop the newsletter) inside the clubhouse?
CC: The club’s rich history was never fully displayed until General Manager, Nick Sidorakis decided, in 2014, it was time to go all out and do so. He engaged Andy Mutch, who founded Club Curator, Inc., to help us with the project. Andy was the former director of the USGA Museum who started his company to assist clubs in archiving and displaying their histories.
Andy designed a layout consisting of three separate areas that would contain information and artifacts related to the founding of Southern Hills (Founders Hall), replicas of championship trophies (Trophy Hall), and all of the golf championships held here (History Hall).
After much work, design, gathering more artifacts, and construction, the three areas were opened in March, 2020.
GS: Otis Winters first served as a volunteer for the 1946 Women’s Amateur and is the Championship Historian for the 2022 PGA, spanning 76 years. What are some things you learned from him in better understanding your club’s rich history?
CC: You often hear people say that So and So has forgotten more about the topic than I will ever know. You can’t say that about Otis because he has yet to forget anything!! He can still describe Babe Zaharias holing out for an eagle 2 on No. 7 during the final match of the 1946 Women’s Amateur. And he has those stories from all of the championships.
He also has great knowledge about the inter workings of the club over the years and who the power brokers were at various times. So, I just listen and try to keep up.
GS: In researching the history of the club and course, is there a mystery question you haven't been able to answer and what would it tell you about Southern Hills?
CC: Why is the clubhouse pink? Not sure what it would tell us other than someone wanted it pink. What is known is that the same architect that designed Southern Hills previously designed a home for one of the founders. The home was painted red and then whitewashed to reveal a pink tone. Southern Hills followed and looked similar. So, maybe we know how it became pink but not why pink was chosen.
GS: Some recommended dining in Tulsa for those of us invading your home town?
CC: Mahogany’s and Bull in the Alley. But they will be full!!! Might be able to get in Ridge Grill or Mondo’s for Italian. Similar to Southern Hills, the Tulsa downtown area has undergone a total transformation. Rather than a place to avoid, it is now a hub of activity. The Tulsa Arts District contains shops, restaurants, green space along with the Woody Guthrie Center, the Bob Dylan Center, and Cains Ballroom. On a day someone is not attending the championship, the Gathering Place and Discovery Lab on Riverside Drive are a must for families.
GS: Where will we see you doing the most spectating and where would you suggest people hang out?
CC: I will not be doing much spectating except during the practice rounds since I am also in charge of Scoring. But, if I was, on the front I would hang out around 2 tee. That is also near 1,3,7,8, and 17 greens. Another good area on the front is near 5 green/6 tee. You can also see 2 green, 3 tee, and 7 tee. On the back, I would hang out around the 13/16 greens area. You can also see 14 and the tee shot on 17, which will be fun on days when the tee is moved up.