Tulsa is Ready for a Major Week
The 2022 PGA Championship is a homecoming of sorts for Championship Director Bryan Karns.
Karns was in Tulsa in 2019 to help prepare for the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship and stayed when the 2022 PGA Championship was moved to Southern Hills Country Club, too.
And with this year’s PGA Championship around the corner, Karns says the community’s support – and its excitement level – has never been higher.
“It’s been a bit chaotic,” Karns says with a smile, “but we got there. In large part due to the support of the community.”
Karns has been with the PGA for nearly 12 years now (he was an intern in 2007 when the PGA Championship was last at Southern Hills), and this is his first time at the helm of a PGA Championship after four runs as the Championship Director of the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship. Most of he and his wife’s families live in Tulsa.
Given Karns’ Oklahoma roots and the extra year he’s spent leading the PGA’s efforts in Tulsa, he couldn’t be prouder to see how much support has been lent by the community.
Four years ago, the team arrived when there was just the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship on the schedule. While that event is special in its own right, the PGA Championship itself has its own kind of legacy. Still, he says the enthusiasm and high level of excitement from the club and town – for just the KitchenAid Senior PGA, at the time – was “remarkable.”
The first thing the PGA’s team did was connect with the business community. Building out corporate hospitality and engaging with local vendors is no small feat. There’s a financial commitment involved, and the team wanted to give everyone as long a runway as possible.
But at every turn, Karns says, whether it was for recruiting volunteers, selling tickets, or hearing from businesses, things have been positive.
“We started engaging with the policy and the mayor’s office and the health department and it was just like, ‘What can we do to help? We’re so excited. We’re so happy the PGA is back,’” says Karns. “We really want Tulsa to shine.
“That’s the hallmark of communities like Tulsa and other mid-size markets that host these major championships. A lot of times if you go to New York City or Chicago and other major metropolitan areas you’re just one thing in a big pod. But in Tulsa, for this city, (the PGA Championship) validates basically the designation of being a professional sports town.”
Scott Mabrey is the President of Southern Hills Country Club. He was born and raised in a small town about 30 miles south of Tulsa but has lived in Tulsa proper since 1998. He says the feedback from the guys who played the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship was “extremely positive,” which makes him believe those who tee it up at the PGA Championship will feel the same.
Southern Hills underwent a restoration by Gil Hanse – “The best in the business,” says Mabrey – in 2019. The 1936 Perry Maxwell design re- opened for member play that summer after a 10-month dirt-digging effort.
This year will mark the fifth PGA Championship at the club – to go along with three U.S. Open’s and last year’s KitchenAid Senior PGA, won by Alex Cejka.
Mabrey says the return of the PGA Championship will be “extremely impactful” to the city of Tulsa, and the membership is just as keen as the government officials to see its success.
“Being involved in the highest level of the tournament executive committee your eyes are really open to how it impacts so many people in our community,” he says. “The economic impact is going to be around $140 million for that week, and it’ll showcase Tulsa on a national and worldwide stage.”
While folks at Southern Hills are gearing up for what should be a special week, Karns says the PGA of America is well on its way to leaving behind a lasting impact for Tulsa’s public golfing community.
In late April the City of Tulsa announced a “renewed commitment” to municipal golf, as it approved a $1-million injection of budget monies for capital improvements of the City’s courses. The PGA of America will contribute $250,000 towards that initiative.
Karns says the courses were suffering from even basic pieces of agronomy, like not being able to grow grass. But from not growing grass comes a thrilling opportunity to grow the game. The people of Tulsa can’t wait for this year’s PGA Championship, while the PGA’s team is excited to leave Tulsa better than they found it.
“That’s what the PGA of America wants to do at our core – grow the game. And so often the game is grown at municipal courses,” says Karns. “In addition to bringing championships in about once a decade, there’s something tangible we’re leaving behind.”