The storied Tulsa, Okla. club developed its new History, Trophy and Founders’ Halls over the past six years, to chronicle its rich championship golf legacy and key role in the city’s growth. While the pandemic has delayed the displays’ unveiling, club leaders are looking forward to the extra excitement they will provide upon reopening, and for years to come.
SINCE 2014, Southern Hills Country Club (SHCC) has been preparing for 2020 to mark another important milestone in the Tulsa, Okla. club’s storied 85-year history. Only two months in, however, events began to unfold to ensure that the year is now likely to be remembered most, at least for the short term, for the disruption it brought to SHCC, along with the rest of the club industry, through the coronavirus pandemic.
But even in the face of this latest challenge, 2020 still promises to leave behind the best evidence yet of why Southern Hills has stood since its founding as one of the nation’s most enduring and admired properties—and proof of why it is as well-positioned as any club to continue to thrive as this latest threat subsides.
As the year began, SHCC was finalizing plans to celebrate the completion of a six-year campaign to preserve and promote its heritage by instituting a comprehensive archiving process and installing 19 permanent displays in its clubhouse, to showcase not only its world-renowned championship golf pedigree, but its important role in the history of Tulsa as well.
Those displays, in newly renovated History Hall, Trophy Hall and Founders’ Hall corridors within the Southern Hills clubhouse, had just been completed as March began. But the club then had to be “closed as soon as [the displays] were opened,” reports General Manager/COO Nick Sidorakis, because of the coronavirus outbreak. That caused postponement of plans for a series of special events that would include an initial unveiling party for members on March 25th; a featured media presentation during coverage of the now-cancelled Big 12 golf championship, when it was to be held at SHCC in late April; and an appearance by Dave Stockton to help commemorate the 50th anniversary of his winning the 1970 PGA Championship at Southern Hills, during which he would personally dedicate the display of photos and memorabilia from that occasion.
Even with all of that temporarily off the table, however, Sidorakis knows there will eventually be ample opportunity for all who are associated with Southern Hills to fully appreciate, and benefit from, the club’s extensive preservation initiative. From the members who were able to see the displays before the club was closed, he reports, he heard nothing but glowing exclamations of “wow” about all that had been assembled for display. “It’s an impressive venue that immediately gives you a sense of depth and presence,” he says. “It has the feel of a museum, and it just makes you want to spend hours taking it all in.”
With the opportunity to do that in person temporarily denied by the club’s closing, Southern Hills’ Marketing & Communications Manager, Reagan Kingsley, has been keeping members’ interest engaged, and whetting their appetite for more, by sending out a series of social-media posts featuring pictures of individual displays and summaries of the featured tournament and what life was like in the year that it was held.
Getting It All Together
Like many GMs, Sidorakis, who has been in his position at Southern Hills since 1995, had long been nagged by a desire to find the time and a way to properly corral the club’s archival material, which he admits was “all over the place” for many years. When SHCC’s clubhouse was made over as part of a $20 million renovation project in 2007 (“The Bold New Approach at Southern Hills CC,” C+RB, June 2007), an initial attempt at creating a History Hall was made. But six years later, Sidorakis knew the club was still just scratching the surface of what a place with its legacy deserved.
So in 2014, he reached out to Andy Mutch, the former curator of the United States Golf Association Museum who then founded Golf Curator, Inc., to specialize in helping some of the U.S.’s most historic clubs, including Merion Golf Club (“Living History,” C+RB, January 2017), launch comprehensive and ongoing archive programs.
As has been the case at Merion and pretty much every other club among the dozens that Mutch has worked with, though, those programs are really only as effective as the help he can get internally from a club’s staff and membership. At Southern Hills, the lion’s share of that assistance came from Clyde Chrisman, a 30-plus-year member who checked all the required boxes: he was retired, so he had the time; and he had strong affinity for golf and the club, so he had the passion. In short, Sidorakis says, Chrisman was the “godsend” needed to get the right traction for the process, as he willingly took on the tasks that called for dogged persistence, to track down the materials from past champions and other sources that would create complete and compelling displays.
After securing approval for the vision from the SHCC Board, a new Historical Committee was formed, consisting of Sidorakis, Chrisman, Mutch, Dan Lowry, the club’s facilities director, and an interior designer. The original plan was to focus only on an enhanced History Hall featuring elaborate, chronological “chapters” of the championship golf events held through the years at Southern Hills. But the project then expanded to also include creation of a Trophy Hall, featuring replicas of all the major tournament trophies won in competitions held at the club over the years, and a Founders’ Hall, with materials relating to the equally fascinating history of the original development of the club and its founding mission of social and recreational interaction, including documents pertaining to Perry Maxwell’s original design of the golf course “where championship golf will be held,” and the involvement of philanthropist Waite Phillips (one of the founders of Phillips Petroleum) in helping to establish Southern Hills.
The cost of the initiative also grew along with its expansion, from an initial budget of $400,000 that was then increased by another $300,000 for some of the replica trophies alone (only one individual, John Bowles, is authorized to duplicate the PGA Championship’s Wanamaker Trophy, and only Nicholas Winton can reproduce the U.S. Open trophy; both reside in London, England). But a donation drive spearheaded by Jim Bush, SHCC’s President in 2018, that drew participation from many of the club’s other past presidents not only significantly helped to defray the additional costs, but spoke to the widespread support and appreciation for the effort that ran throughout the Southern Hills membership.
The end result is “amazing and beyond my expectations,” Sidorakis says. Together, the three halls now “really provide the basis for properly preserving and promoting our history and tradition, and for giving both new and existing members a special sense of pride to be part of all of that and to help carry it forward.
“It’s just too bad we have to wait now for everyone to be able to see it,” he adds, understandably. But the good news is, there’s no doubt it will clearly be worth the wait. C+RB