PGA Championship returns to Oklahoma

Q&A with Scott Mabrey, Club President Southern Hills CC

PGA Championship returns to Oklahoma

PGA Championship returns to Oklahoma
Courtesy: Mike Klemme

Estimated reading time: 10 minutes


TULSA, OK. Back in the saddle and ready to test the world’s best players. Southern Hills CC — the famed design from Perry Maxwell provides an array of engaging holes and even more devilish green featuring the famous “Maxwell rolls” — named after its architect in which vexing contours are a constant hurdle to rise above.

The 104th PGA Championship marks a record 5th time the event has been staged at Southern Hills and the 8th major championship played there with three previous U.S. Opens staged there in 1958, 1977 and 2001.


PGA Championship returns to Oklahoma

The last major championship came in 2007 and resulted in Tiger Woods winning his 13th major championship and 4th PGA Championship title.

The golf course was updated through the efforts of Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner in 2018.

Getting an up close assessment comes best from the people totally familiar with the scene and few know the intricacies better than Scott Mabrey — president of Southern Hills.

PGA Championship returns to Oklahoma

PGA Championship returns to Oklahoma

Who is Scott Mabrey?

Since 2019 Mabrey has been CEO of Mabrey Bank. He joined Southern Hills in 2001 — the last time the club hosted the U.S. Open and joined the Board of Governors in 2018. He became a member of the Executive Committee of the Board in 2019 and eventually President in January 2022. He was selected All-State golfer in 1990 and played one year of small college golf.

The 50-year-old was introduced to golf by his parents when in kindergarten.

Mabrey won the club championship at Southern Hills in 2018 and has been runner-up four times. He also serves as co-chair on the tournaments and traditions committee at Southern Hills. Married to Julee, with three children — daughters Ashley and Ellen Park and son Drew.

“I take a lot of pride in being a member at Southern Hills because of its golf tradition, family atmosphere and it is full of great people who give back to the community and want to make Tulsa and Oklahoma better for all.”


PGA Championship returns to Oklahoma



When you hear the name Southern Hills – what comes to mind immediately?

Tradition, history and a great, hard golf course.


Southern Hills was not originally scheduled to host the ’22 PGA Championship but was inserted into the spot when the PGA of America opted to not stage the event at Trump Bedminster in New Jersey. How did you hear the news and how long did it take the club to express its interest in hosting the event?

Since we partnered with the PGA to host two of their premier Championships, the date of our PGA Championship was always somewhat flexible. Like everyone else, we became aware the PGA was considering a new site shortly after the events of January 6th.

Our contract with the PGA stipulated both parties could agree to move the date and PGA staff was already on site for the Kitchen Aid Sr. PGA Championship so conversations with the PGA leadership happened naturally. We also reached out to gauge the willingness of our local corporate partners to support back-to-back Championships and received outstanding support.

PGA Championship returns to Oklahoma


Gil Hanse was hired by the club to update the Perry Maxwell design. What were the marching orders from the Board regarding the golf course?

We did not give Gil and Jim Wagner any direct marching orders. We knew we were hiring the best two guys in the golf course restoration and design business so we followed their lead. Our Superintendent, Russ Myers, previously worked closely with Gil and Jim at Los Angeles Country Club on its restoration.

Russ was impressed with Gil’s work and those two had formed a great bond and friendship. Gil did most of the presenting to the Board and Golf Course Restoration Committee. He presented the idea of restoring the golf course to Maxwell’s original intent as much as possible. He provided thorough explanations and illustrations of what that would entail. It made a lot of sense right away so we let him and Jim do their work.

They were genuinely interested in the Committee’s input, perspective and insight these members could give them into the golf course, how holes played, etc. It was a very productive process and the restoration is magnificent.


PGA Championship returns to Oklahoma


Southern Hills has been the host site for big time events — the most recent being the 2021 Senior PGA Championship and the one before that was when Tiger Woods won his13th major at the ’07 PGA Championship. Three times the club has hosted the U.S. Open (1958, 1977 and 2001). Is securing a future U.S. Open return to Southern Hills a central priority in the years ahead?

Southern Hills has been an institution in the history of golf since 1936 and is one of a handful of clubs that has hosted multiple PGA events and USGA events. Southern Hills has also regularly hosted Collegiate Championships, Trans-Miss Championships and hosts its own Jr. Invitational for high school boys and girls that we are extremely proud of. Since 1948, of all the legendary competitors in the game of golf have competed at Southern Hills.

We have a State and local community that strongly supports golf and Championships, a cost friendly environment to host events and a membership that is willing to share its club. That’s a long way of saying that hosting major Championships is part of the fabric of Southern Hills and we would certainly welcome the opportunity to host another U.S. Open or PGA Championship.


How much of a difference will the May time slot have on how the course plays versus the June and August time slots when past US Opens and PGA Championships have been played previously?

The May time could have a huge impact. In June and certainly August, there is almost guaranteed to be a south wind all four days and the wind typically does not blow as hard in those months. The course plays harder and completely differently with a north wind which could happen one or two days in May. So, the players will likely have to adjust for different winds and the course could play differently from day-to-day.

Also, May is a windier month than June or August. June and certainly August are also much hotter temperatures than May. The average high in May during that week is probably around 78-80 degrees and in August it is 94-96 degrees. The Bermuda rough will not be as thick in May as it would be in June or August though.

I don’t necessarily think that means the course will play easier because there are more closely mown areas around the greens so the ball runs a lot further away from the greens. The rough will be high enough that the players will still have trouble controlling the spin.


PGA Championship returns to Oklahoma


What do you think Perry Maxwell would think of how Southern Hills has evolved since its inception in 1935?

I think he would be proud that his world-renowned golf course has stood the test of time. He would also be proud of what Gil and Jim did with the restoration. It requires a player to hit every shot in the bag. He would probably be surprised at how fast green speeds have gotten since he designed the golf course making his undulating greens play even more difficult.

Read next

Horizon Irish Open R1

Tours
By M. James Ward


Choose a hole from each nine that you believe will play a pivotal role in determining the winner this year and the reasons for the selection.

On the front side I will give you two. The 5th will likely be very pivotal. It is the first par-5 so players will feel like they can make a birdie. They will almost feel pressure to make a birdie because the first three holes are extremely difficult and will be tough to birdie. Even though 5 is a par-5, it is a very long, difficult one and it’s also easy to make bogey. I can see guys pressing to make a birdie and end up making bogey.

The 7th will also be pivotal. It is basically a new hole — the only non-original Maxwell green and hole when the restoration was done. Floyd Farley moved the green in the 60s so Gil and Jim felt they could get creative with this hole. They did a masterful job as it went from a relatively benign hole as the 15 handicap to a very difficult hole now as the 3 handicap. The approach shot for the 7th is probably the toughest 2nd shot on the golf course. Players will typically have 9-iron or less into that green with a cross-wind and a creek right next to the green on the right.

On the back nine, two holes especially standout. The 17th will likely be pivotal. It is a short par-4 by today’s standards as it is less than 390 yards. It is still a difficult drive as a ball hit to the right third of the fairway generally goes into the creek on the right. The 2nd shot is typically directly into the south wind into a very narrow green. Players will have a wedge or sand wedge which typically can spin a lot which is a difficult shot into a narrow green into the wind. Players can make anywhere from birdie to double-bogey on the 17th. If Kerry Haigh chooses to play the hole shorter it can play as a potential driveable par-4. This can be very intriguing as well. There is a creek in front of the green and on the right.

Assuming the tournament is close, the 18th on any great golf course should be a pivotal hole. The closing hole at Southern Hills is one of the toughest par-4s in golf. It is almost 500 yards long and the 2nd shot is substantially uphill and into the prevailing south wind. The drive is tough, the same for the 2nd shot, around the green is tough and the green is tough. The green has two tiers and the back one is especially narrow so when the pin is there it is hard to get the ball to that location when hitting into the wind with a mid to long iron. The green is also tough to putt — remember what happened to Retief Goosen and Stewart Cink in 2001.


PGA Championship returns to Oklahoma


How important a role will having a full gallery present for the event have and what do you expect the daily attendance will be during the four days of competition?

Daily attendance will be about 40,000. A full gallery will be very important as it adds to the excitement and pressure of the tournament.

The players will feed off the energy that you don’t get when crowds are reduced or eliminated.


For those coming to Southern Hills for the first time — whether as players in the field or those on the grounds — what do you hope to hear about the comments they have?

You always want to hear the players and the fans compliment the golf course. I hope the spectators feel as though they were on a world-class golf course and treated great by the volunteers, the PGA staff and the Southern Hills members, which I know they will be as Tulsa is a great city.

I hope the players feel as though they played a tough but fair championship golf course that truly produced a worthy champion.


What benchmarks will you use to assess a successful and memorable PGA Championship?

Comments from the players on the quality of the golf course for starters. In tandem with a memorable tournament/finish, good weather and finally, with the players, the PGA and the spectators saying they want to come back.