If the members sound madcap, the touring pros who play out of Oak Tree are anything but. The typical Oak Tree Boy is a former Oklahoma State All-America who has weathered a professional or personal crisis and made a dramatic comeback. Verplank, a three-time Tour winner, struggled with diabetes and elbow surgeries. Tway, the 1986 PGA champion, fell out of the top 100 on the money list between '92 and '94. Wood, a brilliant junior golfer and medalist at the 1983 PGA Tour qualifying school, lost his first wife to cancer. The most colorful of the bunch is the always affable Morgan, and he's not exactly a run-naked-in-the-fairway guy.
What they are is loyal. Most of the Oak Tree Boys built their homes in the subdivision before Landmark sold its holdings to satisfy federal banking regulators. They stuck with the club for the four years it was run by the Resolution Trust Corporation, a government agency, and now they're on board while Mathis, a founding member of Oak Tree, tries to restore the course to its former glory.
"The course suffered when the government had it," says Mathis, who could only watch as Oak Tree, once ranked 19th by a national golf publication, dropped out of the top 100. "Nothing against the government. The club was in limbo, like anything that's gone bankrupt." In recent months Mathis has changed greenkeepers, brought back Dye to lengthen holes and rebuild bunkers, and committed the club to a complete overhaul of the greens in the summer of 2002. "There's nothing that Don won't do to make this course as good as it was," says Floyd Gilreath, another club member. "He wants it to be world-class, period."
For that to happen, the contours of the greens will have to be softened. "We have a lot of touring pros here," says Mathis, "and they all say the greens are too severe for the speeds they play in the majors." Dye agrees and plans to regrade the slopes. "We won't have pancake greens," Mathis promises. "No one wants that."
What Oak Tree has to have is patience. The PGA of America has already selected venues for its championship until 2010, the year 2007 excepted, and a number of clubs are seeking the open date, Southern Hills among them. "That puts us in a pool of great golf courses," says Mathis. "We understand it's a big challenge."
Fortunately, the members of Oak Tree get to enjoy their nasty treasure while they wait. "It's a fabulous place, a golfing mecca," says Darrel James, business manager for Tewell and PGA Tour veteran Bill Glasson. Adds Stacy, putting his feet on a table in the club's card room, "There ain't nothin' like it in the country."
If you don't believe those guys, you can take the word of the two guests who practically crawled off the 12th tee one day last week. Asked how they liked the course, one of them grinned and said, "We're ready for a sharp knife or some strychnine."
They were still four holes from the noose.