As the Tour rolled out of Texas, we headed into some potential danger zones with weather. When I was planning the route I knew it wouldn't be all sunshine and 70 degrees and this was one of the areas of the country that I was concerned about. I was playing some of the country's best courses in less than ideal conditions. Any way that I sliced it, I wasn't going to be able to play them all in prime season.
For my first round of golf in Oklahoma, I was greeted with some serious breezes and some serious temperature drops. Let's call it 40 degrees with 40 mph winds, give or take a degree or an mph. The good news is that I was playing Oak Tree National, one of Oklahoma's finest layouts and one of Pete Dye's most difficult designs. This would be the toughest test of golf that the RGV Tour has encountered to date.
It was cold, it was windy and I fought hard. I couldn't feel my hands but I did manage to find a grand total of 5 pars and I was able to break 100. With water on 13 of the 18 holes, the course doesn't allow much room for error and you gotta drop those birdie putts when you get the chance. The highlight of my round would come when I would lip out a 5 foot birdie putt on the 13th hole.
Oak Tree National opened up in 1976 and was redesigned by Pete Dye in 2002. The course has hosted a number of high profile tournaments, most recently the 2014 US Senior Open. It was an excellent place for the RGV Tour to kick off Oklahoma.
The 2nd tour stop in Oklahoma was Southern Hills. Southern Hills is a Perry Maxwell design/gem and one of America's most storied golfing destinations. The course has hosted 7 major championships for men (3 US Opens and 4 PGA Championships.) Southern Hills welcomed the RGV Tour with open arms and this was easily one of the tour's most memorable stops. Thanks to the team at Southern Hills for bringing out Channel 6 to raise awareness for The First Tee and The RGV Tour. Takeaway: You haven't really lived until you have hit driver from atop a motorized vehicle on the evening news.
The last tour stop in Oklahoma was Karsten Creek. Home to the OSU golf teams, Karsten creek is set to host the NCAA's in 2018. While the tour was a little early to fully witness the green grass, the brown stuff plays pretty nicely.
I decided to press my luck with the weather and head further north into Kansas. The lure of Prairie Dunes and Flint Hills National was too much to resist. They sucked me right in like a tractor beam. First up on the agenda, was Flint Hills National. It must be noted, that as good as these courses played, they are no where near their full potential due to the off season.
Flint Hills is a Tom Fazio design and the site of a serious push up fest for the RGV Tour. In a serious display of upper body strength, RGV Tour Player, Dave Pivinski, did about 200 pushups during the round. The next day, he said he could still feel his arms, but we could tell he was hurting. What a champion!
Prairie Dunes CC would become an instant RGV Tour favorite. After playing the 1st 3 holes, I was already considering membership. Probably due to it's remote nature, the club is very affordable, and for the right golfer it is one of the best deals in the Top 100.
Against my better weather judgement, I would push further north towards Kansas City and an Easter date with a group of irresistable nieces. Amidst the Easter egg hunts, I would find some satisfying rounds at Milburn Country club and The National at Kansas City.
On my way out of Kansas City, the tour would encounter it's first and hopefully last snow day. Snow days, when you are a kid, are awesome. They are not so awesome as a tour pro on the RGV Tour. The pros at Old Hawthorne and I were ready to golf in the snow, but the Superintendent wisely vetoed the play request.
As the tour rolled into St Louis, Jack Frost followed. The good news is that when you tee it up in 30 degree weather, you will most likely have the entire golf course to yourself. That was indeed the case for rounds at St Albans Country Club and Westborough Country Club.
With the weather being cold and just gearing up for spring, it is tough to play such excellent golf courses, knowing how much different they will be in a month or so. Even though the dormant zoysia plays very nicely, it is hard not to imagine what these courses would look like in full green, leaves on the trees, mode.
The most accurate description I heard was "You are photographing models without their make up on." I mean they still look good and you are going to get some good photographs, but you know there is another level. In the end, Kate Upton is still Kate Upton and that spring... she is coming soon.
I also managed to take in a St Louis Blues hockey game, naturally, I got confused.
While I didn't have the time to take in all of the top courses in Missouri, one of the contenders for best in state is easily Boone Valley. The course was designed by PB Dye, son of Pete Dye. Some holes do remind you of Pete, but you certainly don't walk off of 18 and feel like you played a Pete Dye course. PB has a style all his own. The course is located only 3 miles from the Daniel Boone home, hence the name.
With one last day in Missouri, I decided to head to Branson and figure out what all the fuss was up there. As it turns out, they are fussing about for good reason. The design team of Coore & Crenshaw currently has a project under construction and you also have another 18 holes in the works from Mr Tiger Woods. With some good stuff already in place, Branson will be a serious place to put on your calendar as a future golf destination. Just give it a year or two.
Right now, you have Buffalo Ridge Golf Club and two par 3 layouts. The Gary Player par 3 was closed for the upcoming Legends of Golf tournament, but the Top of The Rock was ready to rock the golf party.
While the nine hole par 3 course will certainly impress, what grabs your attention immediately is the giant sink hole next to the driving range. In May of 2015, the foreground of the picture above used to be a Tom Watson designed putting green. After heavy rainfalls, a sinkhole 40 feet deep and 70 feet wide opened up below the putting green. Property owner and Bass Pro Shops founder, Johnny Morris decided to explore. Today, crews have removed 70,215 truckloads of dirt and rock and exposed a "Cathedral of Nature" 350 feet wide and 200 feet deep. It is certainly a site to behold.
With The Top of The Rock preparing for the Legends of Golf tournament, we were treated to some excellent course conditions. Each one of the 9 holes is visually impressive and has is it's own style. A lot of money and attention to detail was put into the course and it pays off. The Top of The Rock is just as much fun to play as it is to look at..
I will leave you with some shots from the RGV Tour's round on The Rock. I gotta head south and find some spring weather in Arkansas.