An opening hole on a golf course is like the opening paragraph of a novel. Its immediate purpose is to arrest your attention and entice you to keep going. But there’s something else an opener can do, something more subtle. It can offer a preview of the experience you’re about to have. Later, when you’ve finished the novel (or the golf course), and you look back at the first paragraph (or hole), you realize that the entire work is all there, encapsulated in that introductory moment.
This is exactly how I’d describe the opening hole at Perry Maxwell’s Southern Hills.
First, it certainly captures your interest. The adjective that keeps coming to mind is “grand.” The back tee sits in the shadow of a grand clubhouse. From there, players launch their first drives off a grand hill, with the Tulsa skyline framed grandly on the horizon. As a championship opener, it’s ideal. As a welcome to mere amateurs, it’s pretty intimidating.
But what you recognize later, after the rest of your round, is that the 1st at Southern Hills does much more than simply be grand. It represents the whole course in miniature.
For one, it lets you see how the full routing is organized. Like many Maxwell courses, Southern Hills hinges on a couple of axes. The first is on the clubhouse hill, and the second is in the heart of the property, along a gully that’s mostly dry. On these axes, you’ll find several tees and greens—including the 1st tee and the 1st green. So the 1st hole connects one main axis of the routing to the other. In between, through the recently thinned-out trees, you can see portions of nearly every hole on the course. It’s a thorough preview.
The 1st hole at Southern Hills also serves as an introduction to Perry Maxwell’s design philosophy—specifically, his penchant for using the natural movement of the land to create strategy for golf.
The fairway moves gently to the left, following the right-to-left slope of the terrain. The green conforms with the land as well, running away and to the left. So it’s better to hit your approach from the left side of the fairway. You’re playing into the slope of the green and between the green-side bunkers.
From the right side of the fairway, things get trickier. Here you’re aiming down the slope of the green, in line with the bunkers. And your lie encourages a right-to-left ball flight, which accentuates the poor angle. Suddenly, your landing zone has become very small.
Today’s fairway bunkers, which were added by Gil Hanse and are not original to Maxwell’s design, amplify that strategic dilemma. They guard the most desirable portion of the fairway; the closer you place your tee shot to them, the better off you are. Mind you, that’s not necessarily the smart play, as these bunkers exact a genuine penalty. But the wider the berth you give them, the tougher your next shot will be.
For all of these reasons, the 1st at Southern Hills is one of my favorite opening holes. It delivers an obvious thrill as well as a quieter encapsulation of the structure and philosophy of the entire course. It’s a fitting start to one of Perry Maxwell’s best novels.
MORE PGA COVERAGE FROM THE FRIED EGG
- A video with Gil Hanse on what the pros will confront at Southern Hills
- The Restoration: Southern Hills and the future of championship golf
- A PGA Primer on the traits and challenges of Southern Hills
- Paulie’s Picks: Attributes and players to consider for the PGA
- What to Know About Perry Maxwell: The life, work, and philosophy of the architect behind Southern Hills
- Oklahoma and Maxwell-themed T-shirts for the 2022 PGA