An old friend will soon be returning to town.
Pawhuska Golf & Country Club originally opened in 1921 during the oil-rich wave of prosperity which has come to represent the town’s Golden Age. When the club closed down in 2009 (although the name had long since been changed to Buffalo Hills Country Club), it ended an impressive nine-decade run as a vital part of the community .
"At that time, it was ranked as one of the top nine-hole golf courses in Oklahoma," Buster Hedgcoth said early last week. "And, believe it or not, there still are quite a few nine-hole courses left around the state."
Hedgcoth, a former longtime club member, made the comments during a brief stop last week near the Farrell Avenue entrance to the time-honored facility.
Over the last four weeks, the Perry Maxwell-designed course has been reclaimed from the elements. Dead trees, downed limbs and weeds are being cleared away. Temporary greens have been installed and renovations are progressing rapidly at the clubhouse.
Following a purchase of the property by local businessman John Long, Pawhuska Golf and Country Club will soon be coming back to life as a privately-operated public course.
"If everything keeps going like it has been, we could be open for play within the next week or two," Long said.
Long acquired the historic property despite being a non-golfer ("I’ve never played in my life," he said) and immediately undertook an active plan to reopen the club under the original PG&CC name.
The success resurrection of the course was facilitated by Long’s perfectly-timed hiring of Ben Martin, who had recently retired as superintendent of the Sand Springs municipal course — an 18-hole facility carved from the foothills of southeastern Osage County.
Martin’s knowledge of the local course spans generations. Not only has he personally worked at the Pawhuska club on previous occasion, but his father served many years as superintendent of the local course.
With regard to one of the primary challenges facing the new Pawhuska Golf Club, Martin is the perfect choice.
"I re-built the greens here in 2000 and had been employed here since 1992," Martin said during a break in course-related activities on Monday.
More than a dozen persons were busily at work around the links and at the clubhouse. According to Martin, the temporary greens are ready to be played. The main thing holding up the golf is completion of clubhouse facilities.
"You can’t very well send golfers out to play unless you can offer them some kind of refreshments when they come back around," the superintendent pointed out.
Martin said he expects the green fee will be $5 per person (per nine holes) when the course opens and until the greens are rebuilt and the course is fertilized this fall. Weekend green fees will probably be $7.50 for the near future.
Rental carts will be offered, he said, but a decision has yet to be made about whether or not to allow privately-owned carts.
"Before we fertilize it, the course has got be sprayed with something that will turn everything brown," Martin said. "But, by next spring, everything will be looking a lot better."
One person who’s especially glad to see the course reopening is Monty Unruh, the golf coach at Pawhuska High School. Unruh became PHS golf coach the spring after the local facility closed in 2009. Since then, Huskie golfers have managed to achieve success (one earned All-State honors and this year’s team advanced to the state tourney).
"Not having a course in town has really limited how we practice ," Unruh said. "This is going to create a lot more interest for us."
The original incorporation papers for Pawhuska Country Club were filed on May 14, 1919, listing three principals: Ed Kennedy, F. Farrar, and Robert Stuart.
Beneath a front-page headline "Country Club Grounds" in the Sept. 18, 1919, edition of The Osage Journal was the following article:
"Efforts are being made toward the purchase of lands on Clear Creek for a country club. It is the desire to get the land in time that a club house, swimming pool, golf and other amusements can be enjoyed next year. Pawhuska is badly in need of some place for out door amusements and out door recreation and the club answers the need as it can be answered in no other way."
As the oil business boomed, there was unprecedented business and residential construction underway all around town and throughout Osage County in 1919. In the spring, the city a tract of land "in the Lynn grove facing on East Eighth Street" for the purpose of being made into a public park. Meanwhile, plans were taking shape for a new road to connect Pawhuska and Bartlesville, its oil-hungry neighbor to the east.
Early December 1919 brought the peculiar headline "Golf Professor Visits City," in reference to a recent inspection made of the grounds by the golf pro from a course in Muskogee. The article went on to state:
"M. Brown, golf professor (sic) of Muskogee, was in the city the first of the week inspecting the grounds at the Country Club and pronounced them perfect for golf links. He will be here again next week when he will take up the work of laying them out and putting them in shape. Good club grounds have been one of the needs of the city. Up to the present, there has been little opportunity for recreation such as is afforded at a well organized club. The grounds secured for this purpose are nicely located and will prove a popular resort."
In June 1920, however, the course and all of its recreational amenities remained a work in progress. According to the Journal:
"Efforts are being made to place the country club grounds in readiness for the coming season. The grounds have been cleared and a force of men are at work taking out the rock and smoothing down the surface. Surveyors have located the site for a dam for a swimming pool which will be constructed as rapidly as possible."
Bill and Maxine Erwin owned and operated the old Pawhuska Golf & Country Club from 1945 to 1955. In addition to the continued presence of the swimming pool, there were rail rides and tennis, sunrise breakfasts, banquet dinners and dancing. The club was site of the first Southwest Cattlemen’s Convention and hosted numerous live bands, including Bob Wills and The Texas Playboys.
The club reportedly became Buffalo Hills Golf Course in 1965 when it was under the management of Pawhuska owner Frank Lorenzo.
Before being filled in a few years ago, the club’s nearly Olympic-sized outdoor swimming facility was thought to be the oldest public pool in Oklahoma. Countless Pawhuskans learned to swim there during its eight decades of existence.
"I was one of them," Martin said.
Perry Maxwell info
The Pawhuska course was one of the earliest to be designed by the late Mr. Maxwell, a former businessman and banker who designed
nearly 70 U.S. courses in 20 states — including Hillcrest Country Club in Bartlesville (1926). Some of Maxwell’s earliest courses were the Muskogee Country Club in 1907 and Dornick Hills Golf & Country Club in Ardmore (1914).
Two years after designed the links at Pawhuska Country Club, Maxwell also created the designs for Cushing Country Club and Duncan Golf & Country Club. In 1923 , he laid out Twin Hills Golf & Country Club in Oklahoma City.
Other Maxwell-designed Oklahoma courses include Bristow Golf & Country Club (1923), Cherokee Hills Golf Club in Catoosa (1924), Ponca City Country Club and Shawnee Golf & Country Club (both in 1929). In 1936, Maxwell designed Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa and Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas.
Elsewhere around the area are Maxwell’s Neosho Municipal Golf Course (1924), Prairie Dunes Country Club in Hutchinson, Kan. (1935) , Arkansas City (Kan.) Country Club and McPherson Country Club (both in 1937). He also designed courses in Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New York and Pennsylvania.
According to Martin, the Pawhuska course has the longest par 5 hole in Oklahoma — 665 yards. The par-35 course has a maximum distance of 2,807 yards (if you play a round of 18 by using each hole twice).