How Southern Hills came about and what put it on the map | Golf

When Southern Hills Country Club opened in May 1936, the biggest story in Tulsa that week was the arrival of the International Petroleum Exposition, known as the World’s Fair of the oil industry.

“Tulsa is not a large city, but among American cities of her size (150,000 people), she is outstanding – probably unique – in the degree of her metropolitan and cosmopolitan atmosphere,” the Tulsa World wrote in a welcome to 50,000 visitors from across the globe.

“Tulsa was for years known as the wealthiest city, per capita, in the world. In this city everything has been done in a thoroughly high-grade way. Tulsa is a wonderful city in which to live and raise a family, and a wonderful city to visit. “

Southern Hills opened to golfers for the first time that Saturday, fitting timing considering the role of oil money in its inception. Twenty-nine members teed off on the back nine of the 18-hole course – the front nine was days from being completed – with the head pro noting they were surprised the layout was in such excellent shape.

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Among the Day 1 participants were William K. Warren Sr. and Cecil Canary, Tulsa businessmen who made Southern Hills a reality. They approached Waite Phillips, a philanthropist who prospered in the oil business, more than year earlier about using Phillips’ land south of Tulsa for a golf course, something more spacious and family-oriented than the other options in town.

Phillips, citing the ongoing Great Depression, wasn’t sold on the idea but gave the men two weeks to come up with $ 150,000 for the cause. A day before the deadline, Phillips received a letter saying 140 shares had been sold at $ 1,000 apiece – and although it was $ 10,000 short, he donated his 300 acres anyway.

Phillips’ friend Perry Maxwell, a renowned golf course architect who had designed close to 50 courses by that time, was familiar with the land after surveying it previously. He laid out the 18 holes and oversaw the project to completion.

The swimming pool, polo field, skeet range, tennis courts, stables and bridle paths were introduced in 1935. A few months after the course opened, the clubhouse was completed and the country club had its official grand opening complete with a high-society gala weekend.

While Southern Hills became a hotspot for the city’s elite, it was always the site of quality golf, starting with local tournaments for men and women the year it opened. A decade later, Southern Hills hosted the first USGA championship in Oklahoma, the US Women’s Amateur won by Olympic gold medalist Babe Zaharias.

The US Junior Amateur followed a few years later, setting the stage for the 1958 US Open – the first major at Southern Hills and the biggest sporting event in Tulsa history to that point. Members worked for months to make a good impression on those attending and watching on television.

The tournament created a buzz within the city that has been rekindled with every major at Southern Hills – seven and counting, with the 2022 PGA Championship rapidly approaching. Tulsa World readers were advised then on what to wear (a wide-brimmed hat and long sleeves) and how much money to bring (15 cents for a Coke and $ 1 for parking).

Women in attendance dressed to the nines, wearing cat-eyed sunglasses and stylish hats. “Despite the searing heat, the milling crowds and the carnival-like atmosphere,” a Tulsa World columnist wrote, “the women were never prettier.

“There’s an old saying in Tulsa that you can stand at the corner of Fourth and Main and see more pretty women than any place in the world. They must have all been at Southern Hills Saturday. “

Oklahoma native Tommy Bolt emerged from a field that included Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, delivering a birdie on his first hole and finishing four strokes ahead of Gary Player. The real champion might have been Southern Hills, which established a national reputation that has stood the test of time.

kelly.hines@tulsaworld.com

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