OWASSO, Okla. – Maj. Dan Rooney makes for a good story. His golf course might make for a better one.
The 37-year-old Oklahoma native is the only PGA golf professional who’s also a certified Air Force fighter jet pilot. Rooney has served three tours of duty in Iraq. For two years, he has been making the rounds of board rooms, media outlets and veterans groups, raising awareness and $6.5 million for the Folds of Honor Foundation scholarship program to benefit the families of U.S. troops disabled or killed in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Rooney’s patriotic commitments now have a fitting home, 19 miles northeast of downtown Tulsa in the burgeoning suburb of Owasso. What makes The Patriot Golf Club isn’t just the charitable spirit behind it but the fact that it’s a stunning technical and aesthetic achievement. The course sits on very tough ground. In the hands of lesser talents, golf here could have been a disaster. But the design team of Robert Trent Jones Jr. and his associates, Bruce Charlton and Jay Blasi, has routed compelling holes that weave through limestone canyons and incorporate lowland meadows, traditional Midwest uplands prairie and densely wooded ground.
It’s no easy maneuver to make holes work through such diverse landscapes, least of all across a site that has 250 feet of elevation change. The enduring genius of golf at The Patriot is that golfers don’t march from one ecology to the next, as if the holes were simply slotted into isolated compartments. Instead, the transitions are more elegant and subtle and come within the hole, as the journey from tee to green often transitions across two landscape “rooms.”
The course starts from a launchpad tee 140 feet above the fairway floor of a par 5 routed through a canyon. Heading to the second tee, the land opens up so that the fairway spills out into a vast meadow. The course ascends gradually, weaves back through rugged canyon, and at the eighth hole again transitions into open prairie. The par-4 12th takes golfers from woodlands at the tee and fairway back to limestone outcrops at the green. And so it goes, with nothing heavy-handed.
Note should be made of the generous site model developed by the Tulsa-based Planning Design Group for the Owasso Land Trust LLC, owners/developers of the 3,300-acre Stone Canyon property. In addition to the 250-acre parcel for The Patriot, there’s room for a 1,500-home community, a 750-acre nature preserve, 26 acres donated to the town of Owasso for an elementary school, and a 25-acre practice field that includes a hybrid four-hole course for use by the University of Tulsa golf team.
1. Ease and intimacy of routing: 8
Two returning clockwise loops, close connections from green to tee and readily walkable on a site with 250 feet of elevation change. There’s one steep hike, from the 16th green to 17th tee, where a cart is provided. With so many of the longer holes routed downhill, the course tends to play shorter than its listed yardages.
2. Quality of feature shaping: 8
Features are melted beautifully onto the native landforms. Credit goes to golf-course contractor Landscapes Unlimited and to Robert Trent Jones’ lead shaper, Ed Taano, for a superlative job on a site with what could have been awkward transitions.
3. Natural setting and overall land plan: 10
The layout seamlessly transitions through four distinct landforms: limestone canyon, lowlands meadow, uplands prairie and woodlands. The course sits at the south end of the Stone Canyon real-estate development, with home sites set back, above golf corridors and out of sight from play.
4. Interest of greens and surrounding chipping contours: 9
A1/A4 bentgrass greens are on the large side, averaging 7,000 square feet and with diverse shapes and contours that are exposed to the wind. In allowing for ground-game approaches, the design team has devoted meticulous attention to the area around and behind the putting surfaces so that short-game options abound on a 360-degree basis.
5. Variety and memorability of par 3s: 7
The five par 3s cover the compass and the golf bag. (I played gap wedge, 3-hybrid, two 6-irons and an 8-iron from the 6,721-yard tees.) Alternative, short sixth holes (6A and 6B) work, and the 13th is outfitted with teeing options set 90 degrees apart to provide different angles past a steep ravine to the largest green on the course.
6. Variety and memorability of par 4s: 7
A rare course without a fairway bunker in the landing area of any par 4. Lots of width and minimum rough make for generous landing areas, though the second hole and the short, nearly drivable fifth have a creek running down the middle. Fairway contours create slightly uneven stances throughout, fostering uncertainty on approaches.
7. Variety and memorability of par 5s: 7
Amazing variety, with three of them within risk/reward reach in two. The 603-yard 10th, which plays into a prevailing southerly headwind, is a solid three-shotter across rolling prairie land. Wonderful touch at the 15th and 16th holes, back-to-back par 5s that share a well-bunkered fairway through an open meadow.
8. Basic conditioning: 9
Geared for firm, fast play, with Meyer zoysiagrass fairways and a tighter, faster surface of Cavalier zoysiagrass for greens approaches and surrounds. Fairways are generous – 50-60 yards wide, on average – with little rough. Many of the 45 bunkers are offset on diagonals.
9. Landscape and tree management: 9
Generous setbacks of tree corridors, with the occasional strategic tree for driving but always with plenty of room on one side. A rocky stream bisects three holes and laps around a number of greens, including the delicate par-3 sixth (6A).
10. “Walk in the park” test: 9
Gyroscopic views, often behind the tees, not just ahead. The Tulsa skyline looms in the background, and the golf path through and across the creek and canyons is serene.
Overall rating: 8.0 (not cumulative)
Each hole is memorable yet integrated compositionally. It all makes for a moving experience symbolically as well as a fine test of golf. A strong contender for top-100 status on Golfweek’s Best Modern list.
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• 5900 North Patriot Drive, Owasso, Okla. 74055
• www.thepatriotgolfclub.com, 918-272-1260
• Par 72; 7,158 yards
• Private club, limited public access
• Local membership: $25,000 initiation plus $595 monthly; national membership: $15,000 initiation plus $300 monthly; $2,500 from each membership goes to Folds of Honor scholarship fund
• Three tee times daily set aside for one-time public access at $150 per player, with 10 percent donated to Folds of Honor
• Caddies available; walking always allowed