Occasionally, it’s nice to get away from it all.
But what is a golfer to do when time spent away from home is limited by life’s other obligations?
A refreshing retreat away from our daily routines, even if the retreat is only for a weekend, can recharge our biological batteries. At least that’s the excuse I use to justify a trip to the wilderness where I can rough-it for a couple of days.
Obviously, it must be a wilderness with a golf course – and a lodge. And, it must be a pleasant drive of only a few hours from Denton, Texas. Add crossing into another state to this formula and you have a perfect getaway.
Oklahoma is a state with many intriguing features, one of which is a state park system that maintains ten state-owned golf courses. Some of them are located in northern areas of the state and will require at least an extended weekend trip. Watch for those reviews in the future. I’m not sure I can resist such a trip for long.
The courses in the central and southern part of Oklahoma are great candidates for a weekend golf mini-vacation. From this group I chose a park with a course that is sometimes referred to, by those that have had the good fortune to play it, as Oklahoma’s “Little Augusta.”
Cedar Creek Golf Course at Beavers Bend Resort Park north of Broken Bow is carved with such perfection into the pine forest covering the Kiamichi Mountains that it reminds me of the coral and turquoise inlays in Native American silver jewelry.
Scott Rickey, Manager and Head Professional at Cedar Creek, explained why the course was tagged with the “Little Augusta” nickname.
“Because of the course design and layout with pine tree-lined fairways, and the water, it has the look and feel of a little Augusta National”, Rickey said, referring to Augusta National Golf Club, Augusta, Ga., where the PGA Tour Masters tournament is held.
The only time I have seen Augusta is when the Masters is televised and without a doubt it is a fabulous course. Having played Cedar Creek, I have to admit, that in appearance anyway, there is a similarity. If you miss a fairway here and your ball bounces beyond the first cut of rough you will most often be facing the dense forest, or looking into the clear, blue water of Broken Bow Lake.
One major difference that I considered to be in my favor is that there are no bunkers on Cedar Creek.
“Some white sand bunkers would really look nice,” Rickey said, “but the course is enough of a challenge for all levels of golfers without them.”
Ken Farley designed the original nine holes of the course that opened for play in the late 1970’s. The second nine holes, designed by Art Proctor, were added in the early 1990’s and Cedar Creek opened as an 18-hole course.
The par-72 course has four sets of tees. From the tips it measures 6,582 yards and from the front tees 4,922 yards.
A few alterations have been made since Proctor’s nine were added. After a few seasons of extreme weather conditions severely stressed the Bent grass greens, they were replaced with Bermuda grass. Now, Bermuda is well established from tee to green.
“We chose a type of TifDwarf Bermuda for the greens a few years ago because of its hardiness, level of maintenance, and exceptional performance.” Rickey said. “We do overseed the tee boxes with rye for the winter. It reduces the stress on the dormant Bermuda.”
My comment about how green the entire course looked for a hot August day prompted Rickey to add, “One of the reasons is the mild summer weather we’re having and we have a good water source. We get our water directly from the lake.”
Broken Bow Lake is on the Mountain Fork River and extends several miles north of Beavers Bend Resort Park. It’s as beautiful as it is big.
“My favorite thing in our area is the lake - it’s beautiful,” Jessica Caudle, pro shop attendant, said. “Its great for scuba diving because the water is so clear. And the trout fishing is great all year”.
The state periodically releases Rainbow trout below the lake dam. Golfers can schedule their rounds to coincide with the release dates.
Treated water for drinking is not available on the course.
Be sure to get bottled water in the pro shop before you begin your round.
Another significant modification was made to the course a few years ago. The green on hole #16 was rebuilt. Just mumbling about this hole within earshot of any of the course staff and regular golfers sparks an immediate, spontaneous conversation about its creation.
It is no surprise that it is the signature hole.
“Our golf association built that green about 7 years ago,” Rickey said. “For about three years afterward, the association conducted several fund raisers to repay the loan for construction expenses borrowed from a local bank.”
Hole #16 is a par-4, 434 yards from the back tee and 287 yards from the front tee, designated on the scorecard as handicap 1 - the most difficult hole on the course.
The first thing Rickey asked after my wife Kathy and I had finished our round was, “How did you do on sixteen?”
After telling him about the ball I left in the lake near the green, he laughed and said, “It’s a killer-hole. Either you kill it, or it kills you. There’s never an in between.”
From the tee boxes the fairway looks straight, picturesque and harmless. The real excitement begins after a successful tee shot - while you are standing over your ball in the fairway - looking toward the slightly elevated, dome-shaped, island green that is practically 90 degrees left of the end of the fairway.
Considering my approach strategy, it occurred to me that this hole requires scratch golfers to use a little prayer and a lot of skill. For me, it was the other way around.
“We built that green in the winter when the lake was low about 7 yrs ago,” said Jimmy Vaughn, Cedar Creek grounds keeper of twelve years. “We were able to get the heavy equipment in there to build up the green. Before we did that the area was lower than the fairway. It was really cold that winter, too.”
I hit the ball high enough with my pitching wedge from about 110 yards out, but it landed on the right front of the green with too much spin and rolled off to the right. From there, I managed to flop the ball up and on the green using my lob wedge.
Cedar Creek is not a long course, according to the scorecard, but the elevation changes and course layout make it a real trek to walk.
“I don’t think there are many golfers that will want to walk the course,” Rickey said. “We have golfers start walking the course and by the time they finish the fourth hole, they’re back at the clubhouse to rent a cart!”
Shirts must be worn and only soft spikes are allowed on the course. The dress code is otherwise relaxed.
“You should be here during our rifle deer season,” Rickey said. “There are guys that will spend the morning hunting, come to the course and play a round of golf, then head back to the woods to hunt. Some of them show up and play in their camo hunting outfits. It’s a little different to see golfers out there on the course dressed in camo.”
Tee times are preferred, but not required, except on weekends and holidays. You can call the state’s golf switchboard at 1-866-602-GOLF. From the menu of all the state courses, select Cedar Creek and make your tee time. You can also call the clubhouse at 1-580-494-6456.
Consider staying at the Lakeview Lodge at Beavers Bend. It is only a few minutes drive from the course and the view of the lake from the lodge is great. Call for reservations at 1-800-435-5514 well in advance of your planned weekend getaway.
There are also campsites and cabins available in the park that is located approximately 12 miles north of Broken Bow, Okla., on Highway 259.
To whet your appetite for the trip, visit the state’s golf Web site at http://www.oklahomagolf.com.
There are many activities in the area and inside the park. Most are opened seasonally, so when you call the lodge, be certain to check the schedule of activities that will be available. Some of the activities and concessions in, or near the park, are fishing, canoeing, paddle and bumper boats, horseback riding, and miniature golf, among others. My favorite is the miniature train ride inside the park.
The residents in the area are very friendly and you probably won’t be the only tourist there, regardless of the time of year.
“A lot of our golfers are from Dallas and the north Texas area. We have some from Arkansas and other states, too,” Winton Ross, pro shop attendant, said. “Some of them come back regularly.”
Rickey added, “About 75% of our golfers are tourists.”
Prices for rooms at Lakeview Lodge depend on the size of the room and other variables. You can treat yourself to a suite at a very reasonable price. Our suite had an air conditioner in the front and another in the back. We had a king-size bed, two televisions with cable programming, and a hide-a-bed couch among other amenities.
The approximate cost of this weekend golf mini-vacation for gas, lodging, and golf fees for two, will be about $250. It will be more, or less, depending on the time of year and size of the room you choose, and if you play golf an additional day. Of course, other activities and meals will be an extra expense.
Our casual drive time from Denton, including two rest stops, was approximately 4 ½ hours each way. To get to Broken Bow, you can drive north out of Denton on I35 to Gainesville. Take Highway 82 East to Sherman. Take Highway 75 north to Durant, Oklahoma. Go east on Highway 70 to Idabel. Go north on Highway 259 through Broken Bow. Beavers Bend Resort Park is approximately 12 miles north of Broken Bow.
Walking out of the clubhouse, Kathy and I were mentally preparing our selves to start the drive home, Jimmy Vaughn stopped us and asked if we had seen number 16 from the black tee box. We told him we hadn’t.
“You’ve got to see it from the black tee box,” he said, handing us a cart key.
We drove out to the hole and walked up on the elevated tee box. I was playing from the white tees and hadn’t noticed how high up the black tee box is.
The three of us stood there, taking in the view. Jimmy, with a stance you would have expected from General Patton, with his hands on his hips, and surveying a battlefield, said, “We would like to have more golfers from your area come play our course. Once they do, and they see just how beautiful it is here, and they see this hole,” he paused, and then finished his thought by saying, “they’ll see for themselves. They will come back every chance they get.”
Jimmy is right. We will be back every chance we get.
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