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OKC's Lake Hefner North Golf Course is a Municipal Jewel
Surprises abound in Oklahoma City, including a bevy of great golf courses designed by noted architects. These designers have fashioned a series of tracks that are both challenging and reflective of their locales, venues enhanced by the constant wind and rolling terrain that earmarks the plains of Central Oklahoma.
Lake Hefner North's Namesake in Background
Perhaps the most demanding and fun of these is the North Course at the city-owned Lake Hefner Golf Club, which sits along the south side of its namesake lake just west of downtown Oklahoma City.
The North Course was designed by the noted Perry Maxwell (it was reputed to be his final golf course in Oklahoma), but the track - with tiny greens, a limited amount of land for holes and no irrigation system - had to be rebuilt virtually from scratch in 1994 by Oklahoman Randy Heckenkemper.
Under the Heckenkemper rebuild, the North Course became a par 72 layout that plays at 6,970 yards from the back tees, where it's rated at 73.8 and sloped at 127, more than a handful for proficient golfers. "The course is a lot easier from the up tees, but when competitive players go back to the tips they realize how hard Lake Hefner North can be," Heckenkemper said. "With the wind off the lake, you better be on your 'A' game."
Lake Hefner's North Course has a great set of par-4s. In fact, three of the hardest holes by handicap here are two-shotters, a rarity on modern courses. Seven of North's par-4s are 406 yards or longer, and its toughest hole, the 454-yard par-4 12th, takes two great shots to get close to the putting surface in regulation.
"We had the land to make Lake Hefner North the longest and most demanding of the Oklahoma City courses, and we believed that the way to make that happen was to fashion stout par-4s," Heckenkemper said. "The way the best players hit the ball these days, they are going to try to reach just about every par-5 in two, so we used the par-4s on Lake Hefner North to make them think about club selection a little more."
Each of the greens at these holes has openings in front to allow for a rollup shot, if required. And that shot selection may be the one of choice if the wind is in your face and the greens have dried out from the breezes, heightening the subtle breaks on the putting surfaces.
Lake Hefner North Course
On the first two holes - a 418-yard par-4 first and 175-yard par-3 - Heckenkemper gives you time to get your bearings before pulling out the whipping stick. No. 3 stretches 424 yards and plays uphill to a green ringed on three sides by sand bunkers. The 590-yard, par-5 fourth heads toward the lake and slightly downhill. This is a true three-shot hole even if the wind is at your back.
The front side ends with a tough trio - the 555-yard par-5 seventh (which plays left to right over a lake and through a stand of trees on the right to a smallish green); a 204-yard par-3 guarded by a huge bunker on the right; and the beat-me-across-the-head, 435-yard par-4 ninth, whose approach is played uphill to a green protected front-left by sand.
The back side at Lake Hefner North is a study in balance and a testament to Heckenkemper's skill as a designer. Here you will find three par-4s of more than 400 yards (we already mentioned how hard No. 12 is), two par-5s that can be reached in two with a pair of superior shots and a lot of guile; a short par-4 (the 352-yard 13th) with a target fairway and then an approach over a lake; a short par-3 (152 yards) with water from tee to green and a bunker on the putting surface's starboard side; and a 210-yard par-3 where you have to attack a shallow, well-bunkered green that - again - requires a carry over water.
Lake Hefner Golf Course facility also boasts the South Course, a 6,305-yard par-70 design by Floyd Farley that opened in 1965. Lake Hefner South carries a rating of 70.5 and a slope of 123 from its back set of three tees.
The facility sports a fine practice area and huge driving range, highlighted by a three-hole par-3 course that's just right for beginners and junior golfers not quite ready for the bigger courses. Heckenkemper said many golfers show up to Lake Hefner GC an hour before their tee times to use the par-3 course as a warmup for their rounds.
"We worked hand in hand with Alsie Hyden, Lake Hefner's director of golf, to make sure we designed a course and practice facility that both fit the level of golfer in Oklahoma City and challenged the best players in the region, of which there are quite a few," Heckenkemper said. Golf Digest rated Lake Hefner North as the fourth "Best Public Course" in the state for 1996, and that opinion hasn't swayed much since.
Lake Hefner has a fully equipped pro shop (a sign therein boasts that the shop will beat any area competitors on equipment price and selection) and a quaint grill and dining room area that serves up an Eggs Benedict which many locals consider the city's best.
For more information, http://www.okcgolf.com/golf/proto/okcgolf/hefner/hefner.htm.
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 Texas CEO Magazine 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, and another (www.checkinginandplayingthrough.blogspot.com) on his many travels, which took him across the nation and to 105 different golf course in 2009. Habel is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America and the Texas Golf Writers Association.