TULSA, Okla. -- Tulsa Country Club is a place where the head superintendents’ trio of Labrador Retrievers play tag with the resident foxes of the front nine.
A wood statue of TCC’s original course designer, A. W. Tillinghast -- carved out of the felled oak whose stump serves as its base -- oversees a southeast view of the Tulsa skyline.
Each hole has a descriptive, literal or tongue-in-cheek name.The par-4 No. 13 -- “Innocent” -- not so much.
“It can bear its teeth,” TCC head golf pro Jeff Combe said.
Site of this week’s 2014 NCAA Division I Women’s Golf Championship, the historic TCC course (circa 1920) is hosting its second such tournament. It hosted the 1999 Division I Women’s final in 1999, and is the site of numerous, past LPGA Tour, U.S. Golf Association and state and local tournaments. Its next assignment is the 2015 USGA Junior Girls Championship.
“It’s been just a home-run hit, I think,” Teresa Becker said, Kansas associate athletic director and chair of the NCAA’s Division I Women’s Golf Committee.
A fan since an October 2013 site visit, when she and NCAA Associate Director of Championships and Alliances Carol Reep walked the course with Combe and TCC superintendent Brady Finton, Becker said that stroll confirmed the selection committee’s October 2012 decision to use Tulsa Country Club for this week’s Division I final.
“Our coaches have been dropping strong comments and hints to the committee during the last several years to really be thoughtful and considerate of true championship courses,” Becker said.
TCC appears to have delivered, scoring new fans among the 24 teams playing this week’s par-70, 1,694-yard layout.
“The grass is different, to home,” Stanford’s Lauren Kim said, who finished third in the individual competition. “It’s completely different. You just have to learn how to hit out of it, It grabs your club more and the ball sits and grabs the grass more. Definitely a challenge, but I’ve enjoyed every minute of it.”
Even relentless, blustery winds during Monday’s practice, Tuesday’s first round and Wednesday’s second round didn’t sour appreciation.
“I didn’t hear one student-athlete -- and I didn’t have one coach -- say one negative thing,” Becker said. “‘They said, ‘you know what? That’s golf. It’s part of the game. It could be worse.’”
“It’s a great championship course,” Tulane head coach Lorne Don said, whose Green Wave registered the tournament’s first under-par round during Thursday’s third round. “It’s an old-school style course. A lot of the courses we play now, the fairways are huge and they can hit it anywhere and get away with it, but that’s not the case out here.”
It is not. Picture a golf course dropped amid mature, urban parkland. Founded in 1908, Tulsa Country Club is bordered to the south by the Owen Park neighborhood, which dates to 1910. Newer neighborhoods ring it to the west, north and east.
Backyard dogs bark behind fences and tall hedges. Fire trucks wail by.
“We did see foxes during our practice round,” Stanford’s Kim said. “The fourth tee, a par 5. We saw two little foxes and they were really cute. We were like ‘awww.’”
UCLA head coach Carrie Forsyth likes the back-and-forth sequence of TCC’s front nine -- one hole tight against the next -- and that same par-5 No 3, playing at 538 yards.
But she respects its back nine.
“And I don’t have the best memory of memorizing every hole,” Forsyth said. “But I can tell you every shot, every green -- everything you need to do on the back nine -- because it really stands out. It’s a well-designed nine. It’s really a challenge. You’ve got elevation changes, you’ve got creeks -- a lot more to it.”
Duke head coach Dan Brooks, whose newly-crowned 2014 champion Blue Devils won the 1999 Division 1 title after a storm-shortened three rounds at TCC, likes the current front-nine layout.
“There are some tough holes, particularly on the front side,” he said. “It’s just a great golf course. With the conditions, it’s all championship-type stuff. I try not to dissect the course. I try to get my team to see it as one shot at a time. There aren’t hard holes. There aren’t easy holes. It’s just one shot at a time. The front has some tough holes on it, though.”
Arizona State head coach Melissa Luellen, four-time All-American at Tulsa and the 1988 Division I low medalist, is proud her hometown course showed off this week.
“I love the style of this course,” Luellen said. “It has everything that you would want. It has the combination of the run-off areas, hole locations, the trees, the style of the greens. To me, it is just the perfect golf course for the NCAA Championships. Not only is it great for the competitors to play on, but it is great for coaches and spectators because you can just cross over. The old-fashioned courses are so tight and close together.”
Player shots aren’t all TCC has taken. A December 2007 ice storm destroyed 100 trees on the property and damaged more than 300 others, according to Combe.
“Sometimes you look at it as God’s way of trimming your golf course back a little bit,” he said.
The most drastic alteration of Tillinghast’s original design came in August 2010, when noted golf course architect Rees Jones oversaw a complete renovation of the compact TCC course (it re-opened in 2011). More trees were removed, this time on purpose.
“We planted 190 trees back, but put them in the right locations,” Combe said. “It just got too crowded. Over the years, the trees had just grown up and were growing into each other. And one of the big things for us was to get back to the great sight views of the classic course.”
Wood from an old oak removed outside the back clubhouse terrace went to local sculptor Clayton Coss, who carved the likeness of Tillinghast then mounted it to the original stump.
Another touch was to name TCC’s 18 holes -- a Tillinghast signature. Jones, along with Combe and other TCC administrators, retraced tradition by combining seven of TCC’s original nine hole names with new names informed by research of other Tillinghast courses.
A bronze plaque at each Jones-rehabbed hole displays that hole’s moniker.
“It brings some character back, but it brings back some history of what it used to be, and people love seeing that,” Combe said. “It’s just something that’s unique and different.”
“Not all the courses have that so I enjoy looking at the names,” Stanford’s Kim said. “One of my favorites is Profanity Creek. A par 3. It cracks me up every time I go there.”
“I laugh at that every time I see it,“ Tulane’s Don said of No. 14, which is bisected by a steep, small creek.
When TCC is closed and Finton’s staff is at work, his Lab, Sky, and those belonging to his first superintendent, Oz -- Scooby and Callie -- chase the front-nine resident foxes underneath rehabbed old hardwoods and Rees Jones-dictated saplings.
That will be one of Becker’s memories of this week’s Division I championship.
“It’s just a classic place,” she said.