Turner lived big. He bought a house and yacht in Florida. He caught a blue marlin off Key Largo that hangs on the wall of his Oklahoma lodge. He went to the golf tournaments at Pinehurst and White Sulphur Springs and the other posh places of the South. He brought in another oil field in Velma-Alma in southwestern Oklahoma. He built up what has been estimated as a bankroll of $40 million. In those days Turner called a million dollars a "barrel," and he scattered his money through dozens of banks. When he needed cash for something or other, he would tell his friends, "I'll just go bung another barrel."
By 1952 Turner had decided to have his own golf tournament. He chose a date that conflicted with the Sam Snead Festival in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. The Snead tournament was by invitation, and Turner wanted to do something for the left-outs. An official of the Snead Festival phoned Turner and said, in the softest of southern accents, "Mistuh Tunah, doan yew ree-lize yew woan have Mistuh Snead at yoah tuh-namit?"
"That's all right," came the answer. "You won't have Waco Turner at yours."
It was at Dornick Hills in 1952 that Turner instituted his bonus system. That year he paid the money in cash out of potato sacks, the bills wadded and crumpled like the loot from a crap game. But he decided more money was being stolen than paid in bonuses, and the procedure now is to pay by check. In 1960 Turner sold all his oil holdings, retired to his father's old farm at Burneyville, and began to build his $2 million lodge and golf course. In 1961 he held the first Poor Boy Open there, thus providing himself with all the golf he can watch through the windows of his Cadillac.
The pros are grateful. " Waco Turner has done more for golf in this section than any 10 men," says Labron Harris Sr., coach of the NCAA championship golf team at Oklahoma State and father of the 1962 National Amateur champion, Labron Jr. "Nobody knows all the nice things Waco does for people. If you ask him about them, he'll tell you it's a damn lie."
That, in the last analysis, is the feeling you get about Waco Turner's golf club: this place, you think, must be a damn lie. To the northeast, the land falls off into a vast green pasture of fairways broken by oaks and pecan trees and splashed by lakes and marshes where wild ducks swim among the reeds. In the lakes are channel catfish, bluegills, Texas perch and the turtles Turner blasts with his rifle and shotgun. In 12 hours last week a tournament official caught 100 pounds of catfish for a Friday night fish fry from one of the course's water hazards. From the lake banks, bullfrogs make their peculiar deep thunking sound. The bullfrogs grow to a monstrous size. Some, the natives assure you, swallow golf balls and drown.
The main road goes along a crest above the lakes and the front nine of the golf course. Strung out on the crest are the golf shop, five cottages and the lodge, which has 35 hotel rooms in all. These are rented to golfers or fishermen approved by Waco Turner. The back nine of the golf course lies to the northwest, hilly country where the greens and fairways are tucked among the woods and an occasional pond glints through the trees.
Waco Turner is master over this domain. He presides like a feudal lord. He has an organist drive out from Ardmore to play Red River Valley for evening sings. Anyone he does not like is ordered off the property. His only concession is to tornadoes, for this is their country even more than his. Burneyville is in an area known as Tornado Alley, and a tornado alert was in force during the second day of the tournament last week. The lodge has been constructed with so much steel that radios will hardly work inside its walls, and the guest rooms have trap doors that lead down to a storm cellar.
The golf course itself is good enough, tough enough and interesting enough to be a championship one if Turner cared to make it that. But he prefers that this land—where he still raises grain and maize for the quail and pheasants—be played purely for his own amusement, and for the profit of the losers who do not get to go to the Tournament of Champions. "We can't let them big shots in Las Vegas have all the money," he said last week as he cruised the course in his Cadillac. "Now can we?" The poor boys hope not.