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Golf in Southern Oklahoma Boosted by Homes & Native American Gaming

By: Steve Habel


Southern Oklahoma is a bit of a mish-mash, with its link to the Chisholm Trail and Great Plains Country to the west and the central Arbuckle Country - named after an ancient, eroded range traversing some 70 miles across the region, along with many rivers and lakes.

This is an area fraught with oil and natural gas reserves, farms and ranches by the thousands and nearly as many small towns. The varying topographies in the state create dramatic sites for great golf. Since getting away is half the fun in golf, isolation is a good thing.

During a recent trip to the Sooner State, we visited three very different golf courses, each spurred by a different impetus and bringing a unique style even as two of the trio was designed by the same architect, Oklahoma's own Randy Heckenkemper. After this venture through Native America (as the state is also known because of its history as a territory where many tribes were relocated) the golf in southern Oklahoma is more than OK - it's outstanding.

The Territory's Seventh Hole

Memorable Golf in 'Neighborly' Confines at The Territory

Our first stop was the bustling city of Duncan in the near-southwest region of the state and the terrific Territory Golf & Country Club. The testy but fair Heckenkemper-designed track is the centerpiece of a family-oriented golf and residential community, complete with a top-drawer restaurant and fabulous clubhouse.

Opened in 2004, The Territory was the brainchild of owners Rick and Barbara Braught - members of the McCasland Oil family - whose mandates centered on a community with family-friendly amenities and a stellar golf course. The result is a memorable atmosphere for members and guests, and an acclaimed course and a neighborhood in which residents see their children's children being raised. "From Day 1, our plan was to go well beyond fairways and greens and create a complete experience," said Rick Braught.

Heckenkemper took an environmentally protective approach to his design, as all of the golf holes were carefully placed to fully exploit the natural terrain, including numerous rock outcroppings, old-growth oaks, sumac and wild plum and pecan trees. Most of the holes wind in varying directions, while the fairways and landing areas take advantage of the 640-acre site's 100-foot elevation change and the naturally rolling landscape, a large irrigation lake and Stagestand Creek, which meanders throughout the property.

This design strategy, sometimes called "modified target golf," minimizes disturbances to the natural vegetation while offering enjoyable playing widths of maintained turf. Fairway, tee and rough locations are planted with Tifsport Bermuda, and the greens, ranging in size from 6,000 to nearly 10,000 square feet, use a blend of A-1 and A-4 bentgrasses, which offer extremely fast playing surfaces.

Carded at 7,110 yards from the back set of five tees, the par-72 layout earns a rating of 73.9 and a Slope of 126. It's hardest holes are its par-4s, including the 445-yard ninth (which plays down into a large landing area before rising up to an elevated green guarded by mounds left and a bunker right); the epic 475-yard 14th (whose fairway narrows at the landing area and moves left away from a rock outcropping and a bunker toward a perched green); and the 434-yard closer, which ascends off the tee and plays into the prevailing wind.

No. 12 at The Territory

Three of The Territory's four par-3s are downhill, so their yardage (239 yards at No, 4, 176 yards for the eighth and 193 yards for the 13th) can be reduced by a club if you're swinging well. The fourth one-shotter, the tough 228-yard 17th, will take a long and accurate shot to get to within par range on the 38-yard deep green.

I really liked the 372-yard, par-4 fifth, a hard dogleg-left over a ravine. The hole requires a hybrid or long iron off the tee and a dart-tight approach to a putting surface that slopes back to front. See if you can knock it all the way to the top corner of the bend on the 365-yard par-4 sixth; if successful, you'll have a wedge or less to a deep and receptive green.

Only one of the four par-5s at The Territory are grip-it-and-rip-it offerings, as these holes mandate sound course management to navigate through stands of trees and around corners on three of the holes. The 566-yard second brings water, sand and tall native grass into play on the approach, and the 514-yard seventh can be attacked from the small spit of fairway to the right of a bunker that sits smack dab in the middle of the fairway. Or you can play it conservatively from the left with three good shots.

The double-dogleg, par-5 11th plays downhill to the landing area and then rises to the green. A mature oak is located right of the first landing area and another one is left of the second landing area to influence strategy. Here, the smallest green on the course is framed by grassy swales and a collection of depressions.

Let it fly on the par-5 15th, but be wary of the swale short and left of the green that can turn birdie in double-bogey in a flash with a bad bounce.

Facilities at The Territory include a driving range encompassing approximately 11 acres, a 15,000-square foot putting green, a 5,000-square foot chipping green and three par-3 practice holes.

Upon opening, The Territory was named by Golfweek as one of its Top 10 New Courses in the U.S. The magazine recently followed that up by ranking it on its "Top 50 Residential Courses" list. Golf Digest has included the course in its "Best-in-State" rankings. Located on the historic Chisholm Trail, The Territory is within a short drive of boating and fishing lakes and mere minutes from schools, shopping, dining and churches.

The rolling hills, towering old trees and rocky outcroppings lend considerable variety to a course that is both memorable and challenging. The track's architectural style utilizes classic sand bunkers and traditional playing strategies, with a suitable number of natural and manmade hazards that present players with numerous risk- reward opportunities.

"In the end, our goals were simple: create a classic course that will be considered one of the top tracks in Oklahoma," Heckenkemper said. "We think The Territory is a course that is truly 'multi-generational' in play, with routings that are fun and challenging for the entire family and that will rouse a golfer's interest round after round, year after year, while elegantly standing the tests of time."

Enough said.

For additional information, visit www.territorygolf.com.

WinStar's Ninth Hole & Clubhouse

Three Ws in Thackerville - WinStar, Weibring & Wolford

In Thackerville, just across the Red River from Texas, the much-ballyhooed WinStar Golf Course is a draw in itself. The facility is made even more appealing by its location near the WinStar World Casino run by the Chickasaw Nation of Oklahoma.

The championship track, designed by D.A. Weibring and Steve Wolford, doesn't have all the bells and whistles you'll find at the casino across the street, but it's a solid and demanding test, especially inside 100 yards of and on the greens.

Opened in 2006 and built on 225 acres that was once a peanut farm, the daily-fee course allows golfers to have fun and enjoy their rounds in a resort-type setting. Winstar boasts generous Tifsport fairways, silky smooth Grandprix bentgrass greens, and a fairway cut that extends around the perimeter of each green to present many recovery options.

According to Mike Hammond, WinStar's director of golf, Weibring and Wolford's goal was to create a course that was user-friendly for those who need it to be, yet challenging enough for higher-level players. It's hard to lose a ball here because there are no hidden shots or forced carries, and you can see where the ball lands.

But don't take WinStar for granted. Yes, each hole will offer its own risk-reward challenge and there is plenty of room to play, but this is very much a positioning golf course, especially when you get to the greens. WinStar plays at 7,340 yards from the tips, where it carries a rating of 75.1 and a slope of 124.

The Weibring-Wolford Group designed WinStar to compliment the rustic beauty of its natural setting, featuring sandy natural areas, native prairie grasses, tree groupings, four lakes and native wildlife on 225 acres of Red River basin. "The Weibring Group is known for the natural look and artistic character of their golf courses," Hammond said. "D.A. and Steve Wolfard have taken a beautiful piece of native land and created a golf course that fits the lay of the land, is gorgeous to look at and challenging for any level of player."

The design firm, perhaps better known for its outstanding work on the renovation at the TPC Four Seasons at Las Colinas, strives to give players choices on its courses. "We like to give the player options and not make the decision for them," Wolfard said. "Even though you have a high level of playability, that doesn't mean the course has to be boring."

The attention to detail is evident at WinStar, right down to the immaculate bentgrass greens that roll like silk and the square-shaped tee boxes. The putting surfaces are huge and fast and have a lot of subtle breaks, making it easy to two- or three-putt. Many of the greens are "turtle back" and, if you can't hold them, expect a long breaker to the hole.

WinStar's distance hits you right in the face from the opener, a 434-yard par-4 into the wind. Next up is a very demanding par-4. This 455-yarder is wide open off the tee, with a bunker off to the left. The scariest shot is the approach because of a water hazard and bunkers along the right.

No. 3 is a 620-yard par-5 that looks like a backwards question mark. Out-of-bounds lines the right side, while the left has a waste area. Be precise on the approach as a pot bunker left and another bunker right guard the back-to-front sloping green.

I liked the stretch that begins with the 335-yard par-4 fourth (which may be your best chance for birdie on the front), the 159-yard par-3 fifth and the 559-yard par-5 sixth, which - despite its length - can be reached in two with a great drive and a long iron or hybrid as it plays downwind. Just be aware of the trouble around the green: a bunker left and water back and right.

The ninth - a 182-yard par-3 with a pond hugging the green left and deep bunker right - is finisher for the out nine and maybe the best hole on the course.

Hole Nos. 10 and 11 are lengthy par-4s into the wind, but you will really need all you've got in the bag for the 494-yard, par-4 12th. Yes, the wind is behind, but don't stray on the second shot as grass and sand bunkers make for a tough up and down.

You can probably get a shot back on the 557-yard, par-5 13th if you can clear the trees lining both sides of the landing area and get a good look at the green. Take a chance at getting home in two, but stay right as water looms front-left.

The 190-yard par-3 14th plays downwind, but your tee shot must carry the entire waste area front of the green. Next is a hole that seems out of place with the rest at WinStar. On No. 15, a 450-yard par-4, the fairway is pinched both sides by tall trees, making for a tough drive, particularly since it's into the wind.

WinStar ends with a last chance at redemption at the 553-yard, par-5 18th. The home hole plays downwind and, with a decent drive, lures you to go for this green in two. But beware as water starts down the right side about 125 yards out and wraps around the green and bunkers and collection areas around the putting surface. The green is fashioned with a huge mound on the left and rolls from left to right toward the lake.

"The 18th is a great finishing hole," Hammond said. "It's a definite risk-reward with the water right. It's one where you could make an eagle or a seven."

The facility boasts a 10,000 square-foot clubhouse with a pro shop, locker rooms, grill and bar paneled ultra-cool woods, and a spacious banquet area.

WinStar Golf Course was nominated for Golf Digest's Best New Public Golf Course Award and Avid Golfer rated it as its Best New Course in 2006. You'll have fun at WinStar without the gamble of the nearby casino so long as you pay attention. That sounds like a good bet.

For more details or a tee time, visit www.winstargolfcourse.com.

Chickasaw Pointe No 10

Chickasaw Pointe Seeks to be Lake Texoma's Resort of Choice

Some seven miles west of the town of Durant, Okla., after a drive over a long bridge than spans an arm of sprawling Lake Texoma and high up on a hillside, is another Randy Heckenkemper-designed golf course - the 10-year old Chickasaw Pointe Golf Club.

Though in place since October 1999, the golf course and its adjoining amenities are just now becoming the centerpiece for the proposed Pointe Vista development, a new project on Lake Texoma involving a premier master planned residential lake community as well as a hotel, convention center and luxury resort. If all goes well, that project will result in a second golf course in 2012 or 2013.

With an array of amenities most resorts and communities only dream about (that's part of the pitch), Pointe Vista will feature small to large high-end lakefront home sites, most with views of the lake and two beautiful 18-hole golf courses (one being Chickasaw Pointe). The development will include the land across the road south of the current golf course in the area that once held the old Lake Texoma lodge and a state-run golf course.

There's even talk of a redesign of Chickasaw Pointe, but that may be a long time in coming. As it is, the course is a real beauty, a 7,085-yard par-72 tester with rolling hills, holes overlooking the lake, manicured Bermuda fairways and bentgrass greens.

Heckenkemper's course runs hard by the lake and is cut out of trees, with hardly a flat lie to be found. Depending upon what tees you play (and there are four sets), Chickasaw Pointe can really bite you if you're not hitting tee shots straight. It was originally meant to be Oklahoma State Park's crown jewel. It's now the crown jewel of the proposed development.

The front side is divided into the easy (Nos. 1 and 2 and 5) and hard (all the rest). You can forge birdies at the 550-yard par-5 first (where eagle is not out of the question) and the 180-yard No. 2 (especially if the pin is in the front).

But things change after that. The third, while not long at 400 yards, must be played to the right side and the steep slope left-front of the green must be avoided at all costs. No. 4 is more of the same, only longer (a par-4 at 440 yards) and pinched in the landing area.

The sixth is the toughest par-4 on the course, measuring a whopping 460 yards and playing into the prevailing southerly breeze. The front side ends at the 455-yard par-4 ninth, a hole that requires one of the most demanding tee shots at Chickasaw Pointe.

Drive back up the hill and the tee of the short (355-yard) par-4 10th and you'll feel like you can see forever. Since the hole plays downhill, you might be tempted to swing for the green off the tee, but remember there is trouble all around that target. Like a young Drew Barrymore, this hole is beautiful and short but deadly, so play the percentages.

No. 12 is a pretty 520-yard par-5 that wraps around the lake and offers birdie chances. It's best to take your best shot here as the final four holes at Chickasaw Point are all tough.

The par-5 15th is a real three-shot hole despite measuring just 545 yards. A large swale along the right will kick balls out of play and anything over the green is death. No. 16 is a 225-yard par-3 into the wind and over an extended waste area to a green surrounded by four bunkers; it's the course's sixth-hardest hole by handicap. No. 17 turns quickly to the right. There's nothing but trouble if your tee shot goes through the fairway (and that's a real possibility at this 395-yard par-4).

The closer is a massive 455-yard par-4 that plays uphill and into the wind to a landing area before ending at a sloped green perched high above the fairways. Holy Toledo!

"If you have not played the course before, then we recommend you invest in a yardage book," suggests Ryan Chapman, Chickasaw Pointe's director of golf. "This course puts a demand on the placement of the tee shot. On Nos. 1-6 you must favor the right side, on holes 7-10 you favor the middle and on holes 11-17, you favor the left side of the fairway off the tee. Then on No. 18, just find the fairway - it's the long second shot that matters.

"Be sure to avoid the 49 strategically placed bunkers as well," Chapman added. Thanks for the tip.

We heard that playing Chickasaw Pointe in a south wind would be a bear and perhaps the toughest course of this southern Oklahoma trio. We got all we wanted and more. With a rating of 74.5 and a 124slope, this track is much more demanding than in reads on the scorecard. So bring your best swing and a pocketful of balls.

For more information, visit www.pointe-vista.com.

Steve Habel is one of Cybergolf's national correspondents, contributing news stories, features, equipment and book reviews and personality profiles from his base in Central Texas. He is also the managing editor for Business District magazine in Austin and works as a contributing editor for Horns Illustrated magazine, a publication focusing on University of Texas sports. He also writes a blog (www.shotoverthegreen.blogspot.com), which features news on golf and the Longhorns.