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12 Hours in Tulsa

Night golf, ice cream and a surprise Tiger appearance highlight a major sprint
Tulsa

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“You look like you’re going to a golf course,” Randall from QuickTrip tells me as I slap a bag of ice on the counter. I’m not wearing traditional golf attire. I check my back pocket and, for once, my glove isn’t in there. How could he know that? Is ice suddenly Tulsa’s hottest golf accessory?

“Saw your ride,” he says, nodding toward pump No. 8. Ah, yes, the 10-foot matte black Sprinter van with a giant broken tee logo emblazoned on the side is tough to miss. I tell Randall he is correct: I am going to a golf course. Multiple, if all goes according to plan. But I’ve also got to hit Braum’s ice cream, contend with Tiger Woods, potentially solve the mystery of why the Southern Hills clubhouse is painted pink and get to a Tulsa Drillers baseball game. Due to another Golfer’s Journal event, we’ve only got 12 hours in town, so time is of the essence. But first: a full tank of gas.

In Tulsa, that black muck I just paid six bucks a gallon for is everything. It’s the reason many people live and work here. It’s why the skyline sprung up. It’s behind how the city’s crown-jewel, Southern Hills, got built during the thick of the Great Depression. The city still goes by “The Oil Capital of the World.” 

But reducing this place to a single commodity, or even a single golf course, is a crude miscalculation.

12:00 p.m.

I first met Jared Gallagher during an impromptu stop at Kickingbird Golf Club down the road in Edmond. It was June 2020, and I was three days into the two-month, cross-country maiden voyage of the van. As I pulled into town, I threw out a bat signal on Twitter, asking if any local diehards wanted to meet up. Gallagher was the first to arrive. 

Eighteen holes at Kickingbird turned into 18 White Claws in front of the van, which turned into a party in fellow BTS Member Brent Christy’s nearby backyard. As dogs sizzled on the grill and glow balls illuminated the pitch black, 12 strangers-turned-friends took turns hitting shots on the 60-yard hole Christy carved into his lawn. Around 1 a.m, I finally packed up and continued east.

That night reinforced for me the truism that good people and golf is the ultimate recipe for long-lasting friendship. It stuck with Gallagher, too. “Why can’t we do this sort of thing on a hyperlocal level?” he asked his friend Spencer Drury, who was there that night. Two years later, Gallagher and Drury’s media startup, Red Dirt Golf Collective, is credentialed to the PGA Championship at Southern Hills and emerging as one the foremost storytelling outlets covering all things golf in Oklahoma and parts of Texas. 

The Gathering Place, along the Arkansas River on the south side of Tulsa, seemed like the logical place for old friends to reunite. Spanning 66.5 acres and costing $465 million, it’s the single largest private gift in American public park history, thanks to George Kaiser—chairman of the BOK Financial Corporation, which serves as the parent company for Kaiser-Francis Oil Company. With playgrounds that double as functional art, slick-wood paneled boathouses, NBA-quality hoops, modern minimalist workstations and even a bar, The Gathering Place is far from any “park” I’m familiar with. It’s a monumental feat of both architecture and access, and was added to Time Magazine’s list of The World’s Top 100 Greatest Places after opening in 2019. 

After catching up on the last two years (not much has happened, right?), Gallagher, myself, and the van’s new captain, Foster McCune, turn into children while sampling The Gathering Place’s attractions. We chase each other through the net bridges of a medieval castle and lose each other in a garden of mirrors. We walk and talk and laugh until we arrive at the QuikTrip Great Lawn. Only in Tulsa can you find a green space sponsored by a gas station. I ask Gallagher about the dystopian factory across the river. He tells me it’s the Holly Corporation oil refinery. 

I can feel the urge to keep moving, so I grab my phone to check the time and see a text from Jamisen Allen—a BTS Member I met during our event at this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open. It’s a picture of our van in the parking lot. He’s in town on business and asks what we’re doing today. 

1:38 p.m.

My first and only visit to Southern Hills came on March 13, 2020—a dreadfully cold and dreary day. The course was in its post-Gil Hanse renovation infancy. Its fairways were dormant and the newly resurfaced greens were rock hard. The word “pandemic” was only creeping into my lexicon, and the 2022 PGA Championship was still slated for Trump National Bedminster. As I finished up on 18, beneath the shadows of the famous soft pink clubhouse walls, I got a text from my editor: “You better get your ass home.” Lockdown was also about to enter my lexicon.

Two years later, I can’t wait to see how much has changed at Southern Hills as it prepares for its major spotlight, but once again, macro forces are at play. Rumors have been circulating on Twitter all morning that a private jet belonging to Tiger Woods is en route to Tulsa. Is he actually headed to scout Southern Hills today? My day? Is he really going to tee it up again just one month after limping home at Augusta? Most importantly, will we still be allowed to stop by? 

At 1:38 p.m., Ken MacLeod, Publisher of Golf Oklahoma Magazine, confirms my worst fears with a grainy cell phone image of Tiger on the grounds at Southern Hills. No visitors allowed today. Instead of pulling in, we drive past the gates on 61st St. and turn onto Lewis Ave.

2:00 p.m.

Gallagher thinks he’s cracked the case. People have debated the story behind Southern Hills’ pink clubhouse for decades. The leading theory involves Bill Warren, owner of Warren Petroleum Company, who convinced Waite Phillips, fellow oilman and chairman of First National Bank of Tulsa, to donate the land to build Southern Hills during the height of the Great Depression.

Long story short: Warren built St. Francis Hospital just next door to Southern Hills in 1959. If you drive east past the golf course on 61st Street, you can’t miss the big pink hospital on your right. Pink hospital, pink clubhouse—you put two and two together and boom, Warren probably just liked pink.

But Gallagher has a different theory, and it’s why he’s brought us to the McClintock Mansion on Lewis and E 41st. It goes something like this: Otis McClintock was one First National Bank’s directors and a former oil partner of Phillips. In 1932, McClintock sought advice from Phillips on an architect to build his new home. Phillips suggested John Duncan Forsyth and Donald McCormick. When it came time to finish McClintock’s 7,500-square-foot French Country villa, the duo painted it a deep red before whitewashing it to bring out a shade of pink that’s now synonymous with Southern Hills. 

Three years later, in 1935, McClintock was named chair of the Southern Hills clubhouse committee and hired Forsyth and McCormick to build it and, of course, paint it. Today, the McClintock mansion has faded to a soft white with the subtlest of soft pink undertones. But even from a quick glance as you pass by on E 41st St, it’s hard not to see Southern Hills in it. We decide it’s time to reward our detective work with some ice cream.

3:30 p.m.

As a card-carrying member of the lactose intolerant community, I was concerned by Gallagher’s suggestion, but he was adamant that nowhere in the country has better “fast food” ice cream than Braum’s. And nowhere outside Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Texas, and Arkansas will you find a Braum’s. So, as they say: When in Tulsa, completely ignore your physiological restrictions and go get some fucking ice cream. 

Consequences aside, Gallagher was right. I opt for a chocolate M&M milkshake, which tastes like the secret lovechild of a Wendy’s frosty and McDonald’s M&M McFlurry. The ice cream is rich, yet doesn’t leave that milky film across your taste buds. The M&Ms are cold and crushed, traveling seamlessly through the straw along with their chocolate escort. Feeling frisky, I dunk some crinkle cut fries in my shake. (Just trust me.)

We open up the van doors to ensure maximum air quality and tend to our ice cream in blissful silence. Suddenly McCune pushes his aside and announces he’s leaving room for $2 beers tonight at the baseball game—and we should head that way soon. The first 1,000 fans tonight receive a PGA Championship pint glass.

5:00 p.m.

We had to go. Folks here don’t ignore the Tulsa Race Massacre, and we couldn’t either. In 1921, white mobs burned down 35 square blocks of Tulsa’s thriving Greenwood District neighborhood known as “Black Wall Street.” Two thousand Black homes and businesses were torched. Six thousand Black Tulsans were held in internment camps in the days that followed. Somewhere between 30 and 300 were killed. 

The juxtaposition of the city’s complicated race history is clear in the Greenwood District, where Black Wall Street murals and memorials surround shiny new Oneok Field—home of the Double-A Tulsa Drillers baseball team. On one hand, Greenwood has all the vitals of a full recovery: museums, art galleries, shops, restaurants and a stadium. On the other hand, it’s unclear which are Black-owned, and one can only wonder if minor league baseball is what the original pioneers of Black Wall Street had hoped for a century later. 

I’m not sure how to feel about it all, but I do believe it’s important we pay our respects and visit the places dedicated to keeping Black Wall Street’s story alive. We quietly walk around Greenwood for the better part of an hour before it brings us back to the entrance of Oneok Field.

7:00 p.m.

Supply chains, amirite? The PGA Championship pint glasses didn’t make it to the stadium for PGA Championship pint glass night. But Allen is unbothered. His original plan was the standard work trip evening of a quiet dinner and movie back at the hotel. After spotting the van, now he’s armed with a soft pretzel, $8 lawn seats and good company. He’d drink these $2 beers out of his Texas cowboy boots if he had to. 

Golf isn’t the only sport trying to “grow the game.” Baseball has been sliding from the national consciousness for years, and primarily for an issue it shares with golf: pace of play. Well, that problem ain’t a problem down here in the minors. All hail the pitch clock. A mere 15 seconds between pitches and two minutes between innings keeps things moving like Jeff Knox. 

All of a sudden it’s the bottom of the ninth and McCune and I have our rally caps on in left field. The Drillers are down a pair of runs with one on and two out against the Corpus Christi Hooks. Then Ryan Ward lights up the night, sending a moon shot to right field that sneaks inside the pole to tie the game. The lawn goes wild. 

The game is going to extras, but we can’t stay. We’re on the tee at LaFortune Park in a few minutes.

10:00 p.m.

Go past The Gathering Place, past Southern Hills, past the McClintock mansion, and just before you hit the pink hospital, you’ll find LaFortune Park Golf Course, where the lights go out at 11 p.m. and they kindly ask you to keep it to four per group. On my way into town, Gallagher and I put out a call on Twitter to see if any BTS Members were up for a late-night spin at LaFortune. Twelve smart people answered the call.

MacLeod is the first person I bump into on the putting green. I shake his hand, share a quick laugh, then meet my 12 new friends. Per local instruction, I run back to the van to bag up some of those beers I iced down at QuickTrip, and drop them over the fence that borders the opening hole. We head to the first tee as a 12-some and pair up from there. 

Before we’ve hit a shot, my group breaks the course’s only rule. My fivesome consists of Colton Craig, golf course architect and Oklahoma State grad; Reider Hunt, Craig’s childhood friend and Oklahoma State grad; Adam Rhoades, QuikTrip Financial Analyst and Oklahoma State grad; and Gallagher who, you guessed it, graduated from Oklahoma State. 

For the first three holes, they attempt to find their six degrees of separation. “I’m pretty sure I know your brother,” Rhoades says to Craig. “Didn’t you work at Karsten Creek?” Hunt asks Gallagher. On No. 4, Gallagher and Craig remember that they were neighbors in Oklahoma City before they met in Tulsa years later. I’m feeling like a fifth wheel on Pistol Pete’s wagon, but I don’t mind because the weather is perfect and the golf is good. 

The holes range from 60-180 yards. The greens are troublesome in spots, but they run true around the cup. The turf is tight but not too grainy. The lights are bright but not blinding. The Oklahoma winds continue to blow well past 10 p.m., which makes for fun shot-making. After a birdie on 13, Rhoades asks what I’m at for the night. I have no idea. There’s something about chipping an 8-iron from 110 that makes you lose any concept of score. 

As we finish up, Craig wonders why his half-set bag is so heavy. He unzips the side pocket to find a full liter of Svedka vodka he’d forgotten in there. We pass it around communion-style to commemorate a night well spent and head back to the parking lot. Gallagher knows from experience that the fun has only begun. 

When the lights go out at 11 p.m., the van lights come on. David Jones, superintendent at The Club at Indian Springs, regales us with tales from his completed quest to play every golf course in Oklahoma. Banter ensues about Tillinghast’s work at Tulsa Country Club, and why Phil might win at Southern Hills. I hear tall tales about Talor Gooch’s ball striking in high school, and how Matt Wolff only had two balls in his bag the day he clinched the national championship at Karsten. 

The clock strikes midnight and everyone happily heads their separate ways. Our 12 hours are up and the road is calling.

Tulsa