Rave Reviews

Tom Watson hits out of a sand bunker on the 18th green during a practice round at Oak Tree Golf Club Tuesday. The 67th Senior PGA Championship begins Thursday.

The verdict is in: Oak Tree is going to be a difficult but fair test at the Senior PGA Championship this week.

Many players played their first practice rounds of the week on Tuesday, and Hale Irwin said he had not heard a single negative comment about the course.

“I think the players are all delighted to see the condition of the course,” he said. “I think we’re all looking forward to playing Oak Tree.”

Irwin said players could find some amount of relief on the greens.

“The only forgiving grace I can see right now is that the greens aren’t particularly fast,” he said. “They have a nice speed to them, but they aren’t fast greens. They may try to get them quicker, but I don’t know that.”

A four-time Senior PGA champion, Irwin hasn’t had any victories in more than a year. He and Edmond native Gil Morgan often battled for the top spot on the Champions Tour in the late ’90s.

Morgan agreed with Irwin’s assessment.

“Overall, from a conditioning standpoint, the course is maybe as good as it’s ever been,” Morgan said. “Our superintendent has done an excellent job, worked very diligently to make this a showcase for the club and for the area.”

Fellow Oak Tree member and 2000 Senior PGA Champion Doug Tewell said his house guest was complimentary of Oak Tree.

“Tom Kite, he just thought the golf course was in absolutely immaculate condition,” Tewell said. “Of course, he had to say that because he’s staying with me.”

The big question for those at Oak Tree who helped organize the Senior PGA was whether their efforts could help secure an even bigger championship — another PGA Championship or a U.S. Open.

Tewell was optimistic.

“I think they have done a magnificent job of preparing the golf course,” he said. “I think the PGA feels the same way. I think they are very pleased with what they see.”

Tewell said Oak Tree owner Don Mathis’ commitment to getting another major championship is important.

“I heard him talking about another PGA here or another U.S. Open,” Tewell said. “That would be great. I think the golf course and the city embraces it.”

Irwin had a bit of fun when asked about Oak Tree’s chances of hosting a the PGA championship or “something of that magnitude.”

“Well, what you’re referring to by ‘something of that magnitude’ is either the U.S. Open or the PGA,” he said. “I don’t think you can have the British Open here and I doubt the Masters is going to come, so my deductive prowess is tremendous.”

Irwin’s humor couldn’t hide he had doubts about Oak Tree’s ability to stand up to the changes in the game.

“Could we do it again?” he asked. “Yeah. But the technology has such an impact in how players play the game and courses like Oak Tree, they may withstand the playing pressures of this field, but could they withstand the pressures of some of the guys that hit the ball a really long ways? I just don’t know.”

Morgan said good things may happen in time.

“I still think Oak Tree is a great enough course to host the PGA Championship or the U.S. Open,” he said. “And I can foresee at some point in time that they may have an opportunity to do that.”

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