Championship Support No Surprise to Oak Tree Owner July 9, 2014 By Scott Lipsky, USGA

Oak Tree National general partner Ed Evans served as the starter on the first tee during Monday's U.S. Senior Open practice round. (USGA/Chris Keane)

EDMOND, Okla. – When Ed Evans is asked to provide evidence that greater Oklahoma City is a prime spot for an event such as the U.S. Senior Open, Oak Tree National’s general partner doesn’t need to look too far down the road.

They’re putting 19,000 people in the arena every night, and NBA tickets aren’t cheap, said Evans of the Oklahoma City Thunder, a team that he helped to bring to the area as part of the ownership  group that relocated the franchise from Seattle in 2008. It’s just amazing how the city will rally around things like that, and that’s why these championships are successful [here].

The Thunder have sold out 165 consecutive home games, including the playoffs, and if that is any indication of the community’s support, there should be enthusiastic galleries at the club that Evans purchased in 2008. In fact, the community and its people are the reason why the Tampa native still considers the Sooner State home.

Evans first arrived here to take over as president of Dobson Communications in 1996, and despite leaving there five years later and acquiring a company in his hometown, he stayed in Oklahoma City and commuted to Tampa. He is currently the CEO of Inteliquent, a communications firm in Chicago, but spends as much time in Oklahoma as he can.

I thought that this was going to be a fairly temporary stop and I was going to be back in Florida at some point in time, but it has far exceeded my expectations, said Evans, who has three children, all of whom attend school in Oklahoma. It’s not about anything particular that they have, it’s who they are and how they embrace anybody who comes in. It is a great state and the values of the people here are incredible.

Evans’ passion for the area extends to Oak Tree, where he was a member for close to a decade before becoming the majority owner – former business partner Everett Dobson is the co-owner. Evans changed the club’s name from Oak Tree Golf Club to Oak Tree National, and one of his priorities was to put the course, long considered one of the most challenging in the country, back in the national spotlight. In order to once again host major golf championships, Evans decided the Pete Dye course needed to be restored to its original design. Changes to the course over the years that were intended to make it more playable for amateurs had made it less desirable for championship competition, and Evans was eager to turn back the clock.

When we acquired the course, it had reached a point in its age where it needed to be updated, said Evans. It had gone through a couple of renovations prior to our group acquiring it. Our vision was really to take it back to what Mr. Dye had originally intended, to make it a difficult challenge and a difficult test of golf.

With the help of the legendary architect as well as respected course designer Tripp Davis, the course underwent a comprehensive renovation in 2008. In addition to major work on the greens, every blade of grass on the course was replaced and a new irrigation system installed. Every hole was modified in some way. Figuring out how exactly how to tweak each hole was the challenging part.

We spent a lot of time trying to dig up old photos of what the course used to look like. You could sit down with the tour pros who were here from the beginning and ask what hole 10 looked like, and you’d get 10 different answers, he recalled. Everyone had their own memories of what it looked like, but until you saw the photos, nobody really had it right. It was a lot of fun to really take it back to what it used to be.

Being a part of the Thunder’s arrival in Oklahoma City gave Evans an up-close look at the city’s capacity to be a destination for major sporting events. Though he divested from the team shortly after its move, it was no surprise to him to see the community support he has received in preparation for the Senior Open.

The support has been off the charts, from corporate to patrons, to everybody, to the government support from the city of Edmond, from Oklahoma City to Oklahoma County, said Evans, who estimates that the championship will have an economic impact of $20 to $35 million on the region. Everything from widening roads, to supplying financial support, to law enforcement, to emergency medical services, to utilities and supplying electricity, nobody understands the amount of work that goes into one of these championships. All of the local support has been phenomenal.

Scott Lipsky is the manager of websites and digital platforms for the USGA. Email him at slipsky@usga.org.