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The Old Still Defines the New at Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club
When renowned golf course architect Bob Cupp was brought to Norman, Okla., some 15 years ago for a renovation of the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club, he was given one mandate by the University of Oklahoma's Board of Regents: Keep the original "feel" of the course crafted by native Oklahoman Perry Maxwell.
18th Hole & Clubhouse at Jimmie Austin OU Golf Course
With the amount of work needed to bring the course up to modern playing standards that could have been a daunting task. But Cupp, ever the student of great golf architecture and subtle nuance, found that the way the bunkers were refined and placed on the lengthened and revamped layout would allow him to keep Maxwell's thumbprint.
"The look of a constructed golf course is dictated by its bunkers, their shape and where they are placed," Cupp said. "Maxwell's bunkers were round, slightly raised and have elevated edges. I stayed with that design but made most of the bunkers bigger and put them where they are true hazards if the player is not accurate."
Cupp's redesign of Maxwell's gem allowed Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club to regain its place as one of Oklahoma's top courses. Once the renovations took told and course maintenance was brought up to contemporary standards, the venue was deemed enough of a challenge to host the U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship in July 2009, becoming the first collegiate course to host the national event.
The rich heritage of Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club dates back to the mid-1940s, when the land was home to a U.S. Navy recreational facility. Situated on what was called "South Base," the facility was an annex to the Norman Naval Air Station. In 1949, in coordination with the Navy and with the leadership of then OU President George Lynn Cross, construction began on the OU Golf Course. Maxwell was commissioned to build the project and, in January 1951, the course opened for play.
A Peek through the Trees at Jimmie Austin OU Golf Course
The extensive renovation of the course was completed in 1996, thanks to the generous contributions from OU supporters, and especially that of namesake Jimmie Austin. "The strategy of the course was completely updated - with new greens, tee boxes and a total change in the way the course played," Cupp said. "Because of the way the game had changed, there seemed to be no excitement in the shots, you just kind of hit a shot out there and went on without thinking of a lot of consequences and any kind of real plan."
Since Cupp's redesign, the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club has hosted the 1997 Oklahoma State Amateur and NCAA Regional, and the Big 12 Women's Championship the following year.
Because the course is just a couple of Anthony Kim shots away from the University of Oklahoma campus, nearly everything at the facility shares a common "Boomer Sooner" theme. That's okay, even for a native Texan like me.
Bird's Eye View of 12th Hole at Jimmie Austin OU Golf Course
We spent a wonderful autumn afternoon at the facility, just as the leaves began to fall off the huge oak trees along fairways. Cupp's work is a testament to how to bring a venerable course into the 21st Century, while enhancing its history and playability.
The Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club is plenty tough, too, playing to a par of 72 and a testing 7,387 yards from the tips, where it carries a rating of 76.2 and a slope of 132. Because there are so many up-and-down shots, and it's necessary to "move," it seems to play even harder.
The opening hole is a 461-yard, dogleg-right par-4 that sets the table for the kinds of tasks you'll face at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club. With the rough high, any shot through the fairway's turn is liable to settle down and make the approach - over a huge round bunker front-left - even more formidable.
You are allowed to ease back into the round on the 171-yard par-3 second, but be ready to be precise on No. 3, a drivable (329-yard) par-4 with bunkers across the front of a shallow putting surface. The fourth is an uphill 445-yard par-4 with an "S-shaped" landing area guarded both sides by bunkers.
No. 5 - at a whopping 625 yards - is the longest and toughest hole by handicap at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club. Here your main emphasis is to get into position to have an approach shot that can avoid the huge tree overhanging the front-left of the green. Three bunkers will grab any shot to the right of the putting surface.
The eighth is another fine par-5, heading up the hill and to the left around a huge oak tree near that pinches the landing area. The 42-yard-deep green is partially hidden behind a stand of trees on the right front, and - again - bunkers guard the left side. The front nine closes with the 420-yard, par-4 which, because of a series of four bunkers that divide and narrow the landing area, forces you to choose between a layup off the tee or a booming drive to carry the sand.
No. 10, a drivable (319-yard) par-4, offers the opportunity to get a stroke back and a little momentum if you can avoid the four bunkers that defend the putting surface.
Your next real test will be on the 592-yard, par-5 13th, which is split in the landing area by a creek and guarded in front, both sides and rear by sand. The second-hardest hole here, it takes three good shots to make a par. There's no time to rest as No. 14 - a 441-yard, dogleg-right par-4 - keeps you under the gun thanks to a rolling fairways and a 39-yard-deep, slightly elevated green.
Few par-3s anywhere will compare with the length and challenge of the 283-yard (yikes!) 15th. The good news is that the hole has a generous bailout area in the front that will catch short shots; the bad news is that you will probably have to use that spot to find a way to get up and down on a huge, undulating green that is almost as tough as the intimidating tee shot.
The round ends at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club with two more tests: the 483-yard, par-4 17th (where you play up and over a hill to a triangle-shaped green), and the 586-yard, par-5 18th. On the closer, you drive through a narrow chute to a landing area squeezed by trees and sand. It's best to lay up on your second shot to a wide, welcoming fairway, but if you decide to reach the green in two you must thread your ball through a handful of tall trees over a ravine to a green fronted by a deep bunker. It's a fitting finish to a great round of golf.
On the south end of the golf course is the Charlie Coe Golf Center (named after the two-time U.S. Amateur champion and six-time Walker Cupper), which features two chipping areas and a 12,000-square-foot bentgrass chipping area with seven bunkers. Bent and Bermuda putting greens are also offered.
"This course is different than any I have done before because of the effect of the Maxwell-style of bunkers," Cupp said. "I feel good about the way it ended up as a melding of several sets of ideas."
We felt good about it, as well, and think you'll enjoy a round at the Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club.
For real Sooner fans, or if you just really want to continue that whole Crimson and Cream theme, spend some time at the awesome Sooner Legends Inn & Suites, a family-owned and -operated sports-themed hotel with its rooms containing memorabilia of University of Oklahoma sports legends.
Beginning in the lobby, moving along the hallways and into the guest rooms, its restaurant and bar, the entire facility is dedicated to continuing the memory of OU sports. Each room displays Sooners along with their stories, their greatest Sooner memories and where they are today.
I stayed in the Bud Wilkinson Suite, where there had to be 40 photos of the former Oklahoma coaching legend. The inn offers complimentary wireless Internet, fully-equipped business center, fitness center and heated outdoor pool. Included each morning of your stay are two complimentary hot, homemade breakfasts with a variety of foods that will satisfy anyone's appetite.
The folks here are very friendly, even to Texas Longhorns and weary golf writers.
For more information about Jimmie Austin OU Golf Club, visit http://ougolfclub.com/golf/proto/jimmieaustingolf. For more information about Sooner Legends Inn & Suites, visit www.soonerlegends.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.