6,398 yards, 132 Slope from the Member Combo Tees
Course: In Norman, Oklahoma, and home to the University of Oklahoma golf team, the Jimmie Austin Golf Club was designed in 1950 by Perry Maxwell, with redesign work by Robert Cupp in 1996 (categorized as a “total rebuild”) and Tripp Davis in 2012 (which Tripp actually categorizes as a restoration). The redesign altered a lot of Maxwell’s original work, but is consistent with his design style for the most part. Perry died in 1952, so this is one of his final courses. Jimmie Austin was one of the main contributors to the 1996 renovation project, earning the namesake of the course.
Maxwell is widely known for his green complexes, which are legendary. He worked with Alistair Mackenzie on Crystal Downs and locally, JC Melrose, while his other work includes one of my all time favorites, Prairie Dunes, as well as Colonial and Southern Hills. His work on greens and other renovations are extensive, which includes Pine Valley, Merion, Augusta National and Maidstone. His greens were typically large and undulating, primarily using the existing terrain and land forms. Oftentimes, the greens and fairways heave and swell, making it easy to understand why some of these are referred to as, “Maxwell Rolls.” Perry’s ability to achieve unique sculpting of the greens and fairways melding into the natural landscape all while sporting bold and daring characteristics time and again was otherworldly. The attractive visuals of his courses match up exactly with how they play, which truly enables you to interact with artistic masterpieces. This is one of the greater joys of the game.
Based on my ‘unbridled enthusiasm’ for Maxwell, when I realized I would be within a few hours of one of his courses, I decided to make it happen. As a bonus, Oklahoma is one of the states I still needed to play in. It was a no-brainer. The course itself is on rolling terrain with Bishop Creek carving its way throughout while their celebrated Bur Oak trees preside over it all. The bunkers are rigidly shaped yet with soft, large cushioned edges, which give off the look of canyons. Almost as if the terrain has opened to expose the cavernous bunkers, muddling depth perception if nothing else. The greens didn’t disappoint; with some raised, some below the fairway while others pooled at the natural end of the hole. There were some forced carries over the creek and water came in a bit. But the bunkers and greens define most of the course’s character, along with the use of the hills and creek. There was variety in the routing and the gentle rolling of the hills made for a nice walking round. I enjoyed the holes where the ground game could be used through the green, while there were a tad too many forced carry approach shots for these types of green complexes. The forced carries, however, typically relied on strategic angles and lines as an additional component of play, which made up for the absence of a ground game (a little) on those holes. Overall, it was an enjoyable play and some where I would be able to have a regular game.
So after taking some time to look around and warm up at the range, I pulled up to the First tee and was ready to take on the Sooner State for the first time. Only thing was, I had a ten-some in front of me. More on that later.
The First is a 367 par 4 (from the Member Combo tees). The “Gentle Giant.” The fairway bends to the right slightly, fairway bunkers are on the left while trees are on the right. The green is fairly large and while it appears level, has a lot more movement that at first blush. Greenside bunkers are on the front left and there is an entry point from the fairway towards the right side. Lots of positional strategy here, but attacking from the left side seems more prudent since it allows a clear shot to the green.
The Second is a 150 yard par 3. “The Dance Floor.” Bishop Creek makes its first appearance, as the back tees is a forced carry over it to the green. One of the intriguing characteristics of the course is how it interacts with the creek and comes into play on so many of the holes. Other tees forward are on the other side of the creek. The front of the green ramps up to the green, which is a little raised. Bunkers are wrapped around the sides and rear of the green. The green eschews from a ridge line that runs in the middle of the green, with the rear half running in that direction and the opposite on the front half. It’s a challenging tee shot with the green being so well defended by the bunkers, but anything short is a good bail out option.
At this point, there were indeed close to ten guys playing together directly in front of me. They were also on the First, but it was too surreal to actually believe was happening. I pulled up as some of the them were still teeing off. They looked at me and just kept playing. Perplexed, I waited patiently and played the hole after they were done.
The Third is a 300 yard par 4. The “Hidden Depths” hole. A short par 4 where the fairway widens as it gets closer to the green and trees encroaching on the right. A slight tilt to the left. Now the creek runs along the left side. The green is slightly raised and immersed with bunkers on either side. The bunkers are wide as well, so extend out considerably from the edges the green. The green is wide but shallow, with the rear running off into collection areas. Figuring out what angle you want to approach the green and at what distance keeps the hole engaging, as well as the green complex.
As I finished the hole, the mega group was still teeing off. One of them gruffly told me they would let me through on the Fifth. Ok…
The Fourth is a 370 yard par 4. The “Uphill Climb.” The tee shot is a forced carry over the creek. The fairway runs uphill to the green. It’s straight, but the fairway curls around a bunker on the left, then widens. The fairway feeds into the green, with bunkers on either side on the front. Again, the green is the star here, undulating and even moving towards the rear even though it appears visually to still be going uphill.
The Fifth is a 533 yard par 5. The “Cross Country” hole. The creek doesn’t come into play directly, but runs parallel to the fairway on the right, pulling the terrain in that direction after the fairway crests. At the point of the crest, the fairway cants to the right and starts downhill, with the green set on the right side of the fairway and a nest of bunkers on the right side, just short of the green. The green rests on a ridge, with the rear side moving in that direction and vice versa. Getting the ball to roll down towards the green and avoid the bunkers was a pretty fun shot. It’s a good hole, making use of the terrain and slopes that were created by the creek over thousands of years.
As promised, I was allowed to pass the group on my approach shot. Leaving them safely behind, other groups gladly waved me through and the round was going swimmingly. That wouldn’t be the last of them though.
The Sixth is a 165 par 3. The “Maxwell Classic.” The creek once again comes into play and must be carried to reach the green, which is elevated and surrounded by bunkers on the both sides. The green is large, allowing ample space to nail the tee shot, as it’s either going on the green, in the bunkers, or in the creek. It’s a picturesque hole, with the green sitting on a shelf above the creek.
The Seventh is a 393 yard par 4. The “Punch Bowl.” A slight dog leg left with trees on the left side ensuring cutting the turn is a sufficient challenge. The creek runs along the right side but is not really in play unless you really hit one well over on that side. In fact, we don’t really see the creek again until the Twelfth. The closer you get to the trees, the shorter your approach will be but the further you need to hit it to clear them. After the turn, the fairway narrows and ascends to the green, which is elevated and set on a hill, running back to front.
The Eighth is a 557 yard par 5. The “Thread the Needle” hole. Like the Seventh, there are trees covering the left side where it ever so slightly bends. After the bend, the trees subside and the fairway narrows with a row of bunkers imposing themselves on the second shot. The green kind of hides off to the right, with bunkers on either side and a green that slopes away from center. It’s a cool par 5 with the bunkers and movement of the green. Along with precision in placement, accuracy with length is necessary. And it all starts with the green and what angle you want to come in at to deal with its undulations.
The Ninth is a 375 yard par 4. The “Bishop Creek” hole. Interesting for the creek to have the namesake of this hole, as it’s still over on that far right side and not really in play. As we’ve seen on some of the holes, a relatively straight hole is made interesting with how the fairway is shaped and bunkers placed. Here, the contours move left to right and the left side encroaches into the fairway with bunkers, forcing the decision off the tee to lay up short of them or hit to the right and past them. The green is elevated with bunkers on either side. It’s also wide open and more susceptible to wind, which made a considerable impact when I played it.
The front nine incorporates Bishop Creek early and often and seems to have more undulating terrain than the back. The par 5’s had a lot of character, the par 3’s were fun and the par 4’s were diverse enough to run the gamut of shots and playing styles. I’d rank them 5, 6, 3, 2, 8, 1, 9, 4, 7.
The back nine starts with the 304 yard par 4 Tenth. The “Brief Respite” hole. A short par 4 that tightens as you get closer to the green. There is a creek that must be carried off the tee and then runs along the left side, but it isn’t Bishop Creek; must be a tributary. Bunkers on the right and the creek on the left force decisions off the tee on whether to wail away for the green or ease up to the safer and wider fairway further away from the green. Brief Respite is an apt name for the hole, as the approach is also not that complicated and with two conservative shots, even birdie is in play. It appears there used to be a tree in the left center of the fairway, which I believe has been removed. Not sure if it was original or not, but would have been interesting to see how it affected play of the hole. It seemed to be short off the tee.
At this point, the course began backing up. A few groups out there were slow but were gracious enough with letting other groups pass. No big deal. The ten some front before, however, starting to catch up and then decided to find some empty holes.
The Eleventh is a 373 yard par 4. The “Chute to Illusion” hole. The fairway moves downhill and with the raised bunkers on either side, the tee shot is fairly blind. The chute so to speak runs between these bunkers and down to the green, with water off to the right. Knowing where you want to be for the approach is vital while standing on the tee and with the undulations of the fairway, there are ways to get the ball tumbling towards the green. It seems like this area of the course underwent some significant changes. I’m not sure how long the water has been there and even the green may have been moved more to the right. The Twelfth tees also seem to be relocated more over to the left. It’s a fun approach shot and hole in general.
The Twelfth is a 156 yard par 3. The “Finesse and Forgiveness” hole. It seems the tees and Eleventh green swapped positions and while the tees used to be more over to the right with a carry over the bunkers on that side more in play, the hole now focuses on the green more and the tee show allows more freedom where you’d like to position yourself. The green moves from back to front and our old friend Bishop Creek much be carried from the tee. A single center line bunker is short of the green, with the green draping around it. There are also short grass collection areas high right and hight left. It’s a fun par 3 with a lot going on with the green complex.
The Thirteenth is a 472 yard par 5. The “Cross Creek” hole. A slightly elevated tee shot and a fairway that fattens and slims as it shimmies amongst the trees. Indeed, the creek must be carried, which bisects the fairway for the second shot. Once over the creek, there are a bevy of bunkers on the right side guarding the green for those that may get overambitious on the second shot. The green is raised, with bunkers at various spots below it, with movement from back to front. It’s a nice par 5, where the tee and second shots are vital to scoring well.
The Fourteenth is a 357 yard par 4. The “Power” hole. Probably named for its length. The hole bends to the right, with the fairway bunkers first on the right, then left. The green is raised and well protected by bunkers as well, but reminded me a lot of the Thirteenth green. Regardless, stay out of the bunkers and you should be in good shape.
The Fifteenth is a 203 yard par 3. The “Run it On” hole. Aptly named for the wide mouth of the green. Despite its length, running it even from the tee is in play, which sets itself apart from the other par 3’s we’ve seen thus far, all of which feature a forced carry tee shot. There’s a single green side bunker on the left, with the green moving in that direction. One of the rare instances of an inviting green whereto width invites an array of shots, just respect its movement from right to left.
And oh yeah, the ten some was back. This time, they had no inclination to wave me through and seemed to relish how annoying they were. Topping shots then dropping another ball like they were at the driving range, all while completely oblivious that I and the groups behind me were waiting as much as ten minutes between shots. It was maddening.
The Sixteenth is a 368 yard par 4. The “Plateau” hole. The hole bends to the right a little, then downwards to the green and like the hole before it, feeds directly into the green. It’s one of my favorite greens on the course, with the rear lip lifting up, creating a semi punchbowl feel, which makes every square inch of it of use. You can get balls to roll back from the sides and the approach angle into the green becomes more important, as well as how you want to flight the ball in. A fantastic green and a nice par 4.
The Seventeenth is a 410 yard par 4. “The Grove” hole. Bending to the right with a larger than normal bunker complex off to the left, this hole leads to the elevated green, once again fully transitioning from the fairway to the green. The green moves from right to left and was also one of the more fun ones of the round.
The Eighteenth is a 545 yard par 5. The “Adventure” hole. An adventure it is, with the tee shot a forced carry over a Bishop tributary to a modestly wide fairway, with trees on the both sides. The fairway starts down and right, which widens as it proceeds towards the green. The fairway then cedes to Bishop Creek, with the green on the other side. So figuring out where to place the second shot, and if you want to go for the green, it’s all placement strategy that begins on the tee. The green moves quickly from back to front, towards the green, with the front moving down into a collection area before the creek. A nice crescendo to the round and I’m sure it’s been a game changer with matches coming down to the wire.
The back nine is on flatter terrain than the front, but the par 5’s are good while the greens in the middle of the nine were very good, for their shaping and how they invited shots from the fairway. Lots of variety all while the character of the greens and bunkers as the unifying theme. If I had to rank them, I’d go 16, 17, 15, 18, 13, 10, 11, 12, 14.
Generally, Jimmie Austin maintains the essence of Perry Maxwell and like other courses I have played of his, is exciting and engaging. The greens and bunkers are the stars here and while I’m not sure which holes are still original (I think the Thirteenth might be and the Sixteenth feels like it might be as well), the terrain and creek were used well and most of the strategy is positional. The creek getting I’d love to play here during the warm season to see how different it plays, but it still played fairly fast even when dormant. There is a treasure trove of Perry Maxwell courses in this area (Perry was an Oklahoma native) and this course is a nice example of his character. The fairways could have more rumples and rolls, but that may be a reflection for the terrain more than anything else. The interplay with the creek shows a nice example of the routing as well. In all, the course was worth the travel and the University of Oklahoma is fortunate to have it as there home.
Gripes: I really haven’t done a gripes in a while, but that group in front of me was too much. They were all members and go out each day at Noon to play with each other. They’re not supposed to go out in more than foursomes, but it was obvious they don’t care. It’s a semi public course, but they are members and feel the need to exercise their dominance over the course. After they finished, I saw some of the carts dash out to the course again, ready to insert themselves wherever they could for some more holes. It’s not the first time I’ve seen something like that and I’m sure it won’t be the last. Why they refused to wave anyone through was the baffling part though and honestly, out of all the states I’ve played in, was the worst display I’ve seen thus far. The course staff did come out and talk to them though. So if you’re in the area, play in the morning or later in the afternoon to avoid that mess.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Understated and utilitarian, with a patio overlooking the Ninth. Well stocked and friendly staff. My tee time came with a free lunch, which I thought was a great addition.
Practice area: Full range with a ton of different targets, short game area and putting green. Did I mention the University of Oklahoma golf team were national champs in 2017?