The Front Nine

These nine superlative Arkansas holes—chosen by nine Arkansas golfers—have plenty of tales to tell

Sometimes, the holes scattered between the crescendos and lulls of fairways are just a final destination for a golfer’s ball—a 4.25-diameter dip in an overly manicured expanse of green where a lifetime of practice finally pays off. And truth is, for the casual observer, it’s hard to imagine it being anything else.

But a golf hole can be so much more than that, at least according to these nine Arkansas golfers—coaches, players and even a golf-course architect, some who still live in the state that catalyzed their careers and some who’ve taken their game elsewhere. For these folks, some holes evoke certain memories—of outings with friends, of impossibly gusty days that get gustier with every telling, of holes-in-one and marriage proposals. Some holes are revered for their difficulty, holes guarded by this many treacherous bunkers, water skirting that edge of the green, the wind blowing this way or that. (In other words, they’re holes that if they could talk would say, “Good luck.”) Others are adored because of their beautiful surroundings, like an awe-inspiring vista of a lake nestled in the greenery of a sprawling landscape. Whatever the reasons are, this much is true: These nine Arkansas links are well above par.

No. 1 | Ellen Smith

Longtime amateur golfer at the Fayetteville Country Club—about 67 years, to be precise.

“We moved out here in 1949, and I have been going to play golf at the club since at least the 1950s. You do the math. I’m 102, and I’m working on 103. If the weather is good enough, I play every week. I have lunch with ‘The Quiche Ladies’—they were all in our nine-hole group, which is where we ended up playing during the later years of our golfing. I’m just fortunate to be able to play, although I do go with an assistant who hangs close to make sure I don’t take a tumble. I have improved— well, maybe not “improved”—but perhaps I have improved my swing a little. I’ve always been kind of an over-swinger, so I have shortened my swing a little bit.

There’s a hole that I remember very distinctly…this gets to be a very long story, but I’ll start out by telling you that in the early years, we had an offer of joining a golf club that gave you prizes for holes-in-one. It was kind of an insurance policy. The year that I had a hole-in-one on the 13th hole in Fayetteville, two gentlemen also had holes-in-one, and they had also joined the insurance club. We couldn’t believe it, but they gave us a 14-day trip to Spain—with golf at every stop! When we played in Estoril, a town in Portugal, we had a caddie with us, as they do in Europe. My caddie suggested this hole that was out of sight to me from our tee, and what do you know, I had another hole-in-one. One of my companions said, Oh, I think it’s going to make it! And then she said, Oh, it did! And it went in. It was lucky.”

Red Apple Country Club

No. 2 | Brenda Alexander

Women’s head golf coach at Rogers High School. Board member of the Arkansas Women’s Golf Association.

“One of my favorites is No. 2 at Red Apple in Heber Springs. The main reason is that it has a beautiful view. There’s a big elevation change from the tee box down to the green. As you look from the tee box out, you can see Greers Ferry Lake in the background. It’s also where I golfed with my dad, so that probably would be the biggest reason.

I’m from Heber Springs, so I played that course with my family. My sister plays. I have nephews that play. It’s about a 3 1/2-hour drive from Bentonville, where I live, but I go back about a dozen times a year or something like that.

I’ve played that hole for years. The wind blows quite a bit. It’s deceiving because when you get to the women’s tee box, you can’t really feel the wind because of all the trees around it. The most important thing is to feel the wind as you’re making your way to the ladies’ tee box so you know what to do.

About 10 to 12 years ago, my dad and I played at an Arkansas State Mixed Tournament. It was fall, and the weather was horrendous. I guess I remember the fun that we had in a bad situation. It was raining, it was cold, and it was terrible. But we were one of the few teams that finished the tournament.”

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No. 3 | Wyn Norwood 

Retired University of Arkansas at Little Rock golf coach. Winner of two state amateur titles. 2013 Arkansas Sports Hall of Fame inductee.

“There’s a hole at the Chenal Country Club that I think is one of the most difficult and one of the best golf holes in the whole state of Arkansas. It’s No. 18 on the Founders Course. It’s a 471-yard par 4. You have water in play all down the right-hand side and bunkers on the left-hand side of the fairway. It takes an accurate tee shot and a very demanding second shot to the green. I’ve played it good, and I’ve played it bad. It’s just one of the hardest holes. Chenal Country Club is my home club, so that’s where I play. There’s a group of friends that I play with. I’m retired now. I’m 72 years old. I also play with my wife out at Chenal. She’s a golf coach at UALR.

The best strategy I have is to hit your tee shot as far in the fairway as you can. But the second shot is the most important shot. I always make sure that no matter where the flag is located, I play it to the center of the green. My wife plays it as a par 5. Sometimes she plays it better. Sometimes I do. I don’t remember how we did the last time we played it.”

No. 4 | Julie Oxendine

Winner of six ASGA Women’s Match Play Championships. Winner of three AWGA Stroke Play Championships. 2016 Arkansas Golf Hall of Fame inductee.

“It was in the summer of 1993 or 1994. I hadn’t been playing golf for that long, and I had the opportunity to play at the Country Club of Little Rock with a friend and her grandmother who golfed there. This friend of mine—she was actually my student. She played on my golf team and my volleyball team. Her parents lived next door to my parents. Her grandmother invited us to play golf, and it was the first time I played at a golf course of that caliber. It’s just a beautiful golf course all around. Some people are going to say it’s the nicest course in Arkansas, and others will say it’s in the top five. It’s just immaculately kept—the grounds, the clubhouse, everything.

So I don’t know if I have a favorite hole, but I have a favorite memory of one. It was the second hole. We were out on the green, and it felt like we were out in the middle of nowhere. But as we looked out, we could see the top of the state Capitol. It’s not particularly difficult—there are a lot of holes out there that are more difficult than that one. But just that view! It was pretty cool to stand there and see the skyline of Little Rock, and that gold-bronze dome of the state Capitol. That was pretty. When I think back at the hole and the view, it was probably one of the most impressive things to me. I go back there about yearly.”

No. 5 | Brannon Watson

Founder and head golf instructor at the Arkansas Golf Center. Golf Digest’s No. 1 Golf Teacher in Arkansas 2013 and 2014.

“There are so many. No. 18 at Pleasant Valley Country Club in Little Rock. That whole finishing stretch of 16, 17 and 18 is very reminiscent of The Players Championship at Sawgrass because the last three holes go around a huge body of water that’s all visible from the clubhouse with the 18th being a par 5 finishing hole—and I always love a golf course with a par 5 finishing hole.

Even though that hole has been redesigned, it maintained a par 5 finishing hole forever. Thinking all the way back to 1997, when I played my first High School Overall—a showcase of the top 12 golfers of the state—and finishing at that hole. I was a 16-year-old sophomore, and I was leading the tournament, which to my knowledge, no sophomore has ever won. I actually kind of stubbed my toe coming in and finished second. I made a double bogey on 16 coming in, and I finished par 5, losing by one or two to Russell Wrentz.

My mom, my dad, both of my grandparents were there. My now-deceased grandmother and grandfather were there. I actually still have an article picture of me hitting a shot, and they’re all in the background behind me. So yeah, I remember that. I have memories of playing it with my father and friends. When I was a kid, I took lessons and got to practice a lot there at Pleasant Valley.”

No. 6 | David Whelchel

Golf-course architect and founder of Whelchel Golf Course Design and Consulting. Member of the American Society of Golf Course Architects. 

“A lot of players probably—and as a player, I do that, too—won’t look at it critically. They’ll pick a hole that’s one that they play well or is very pretty. To me, I look for something that sets you up and makes you play a certain shot off the tee or gives you the option to play a shot. A well-designed hole is one that has a specific way to play it, ideally. But golf is subjective. I look at it from the way the hole lays out, the way it fits the ground.

I have to say that one of my favorite holes is No. 12 at the Hot Springs Country Club on the Arlington Course. Anytime I get a chance, I go play down there. It’s a downhill par 4 off the tee and then back up the hill up to the green. That’s a classic old style of golf-course design. Golf-course architects, many years ago, would build holes where the tee would be high, the fairway would be low, and you’d build the green back up on little hills, and the 12th hole at the Arlington Course is very much like that. It requires two good shots. It’s about 410 yards, I guess, or something like that.

The golf course was originally designed by a guy named William Diddel, based out of Indianapolis. You know, the Arlington Course is a great golf course because they had the U.S. open qualifiers there for many years. It’s a good golf course. It’s a fun golf course. I started playing it—oh, my goodness—probably 42 years ago. I’ve been playing there off and on ever since—either at tournaments or just going down to play for the fun of it.”

No. 7 | Jack O’Keefe

ASGA Player of the Year 1990, 1991 and 1992. Four-time All-American at the University of Arkansas. Now coaching at Augusta State.

“One of my favorite holes would be No. 8 at the Hot Springs Country Club on the Arlington Course. It’s a par 3. It looks good, and it’s very appealing to the eye. It’s not the hardest hole, and it’s not the easiest hole. It’s just a good, solid straightforward golf hole with a challenging green and a good bunkering.

I’ve played a lot of tournaments out there, and I’ve always seemed to do well on that hole. I just think the entire hole looks and sets up well in my eye. It’s somewhat picturesque. You hit over a pond, and that comes into play. You have the bunkers on the right and left, a sloping green. It’s just a very nice, normal-looking hole, but it has a lot of character to it because of how it fits into the golf course. It’s the 8th hole, so you’re pretty warmed up by then. It’s between a par 4 and a par 5, so sometimes you’re looking forward to that hole, and sometimes you’re looking forward to, maybe, No. 9, which is a par 5. So I think it flows in the golf course very well, as far as layout goes.

The last time I was there was last year. It was a nice, warm summer day. I was there with my 10-year-old son. There are two courses at the country club. My son played the other course that day, so he didn’t play that hole in particular, but he had a good time playing the other course.”

No. 8 | Patrick Hansson

Owner of The Golf Nut Driving Range and Pro Shop in Fort Smith.

“The best hole that I’ve played in Arkansas was No. 14 at Hardscrabble Country Club in Fort Smith. It’s a dogleg left par 4. It’s somewhat long. The tee shot is very demanding. The second shot that you have into the green—the green is situated where there’s water to the left and bunkers to the right, and the green’s very narrow, and you’re hitting a midiron into it. It’s a very demanding hole.

I’ve played it many times. I don’t play as much now because I’m not a member anymore. But I played out there again on Memorial Day, with three of my friends who are still members there. It was nice weather, about 80 degrees. The sun was out. We played early in the morning because we had family obligations in the afternoon. And I think we all played it pretty well. I think we had one bad score, and everyone else parred it.

The first time I played that hole was probably in the early ’90s, back when it was in its old original layout. It’s changed quite a bit since then. They made the hole about 40 yards longer, and again, the tee shot is a lot more demanding because of the way they situated the green, changed the angle so that you’re hitting your second shot into the green.

And again, it’s just such a great hole—one of the best holes I’ve ever seen as far as difficulty and layout. When Nationwide was there, that was a very hard hole for the professionals who played it. You saw a lot of high scores on that hole. It’s always set up for me because I’ve always played it draw. So it’s a very comfortable hole for me.”

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No. 9 | Christina Lecuyer

Golf professional. Two-time Golf Channel Big Break contestant and co-host of Fox Sports Swing Clinic.

“It’s kind of random why it’s my favorite hole, but I would say hole No. 8 at the Maumelle Country Club. I’m not sure if I think it’s the most beautiful hole, but it is Maumelle’s signature par 3. I’ve had three holes-in-one on that specific hole. I’ve actually also had two holes-in-one in three swings on that hole.

It was six years ago. I was doing a corporate golf event for Ben E. Keith, a food distribution company. They have their corporate golf tournament there each year during the first week of May. The Ben E. Keith tournament is a pretty fun one. On that 8th hole, they set up a poker table, a margarita machine and live music. It’s kind of like a big party hole. I remember I got the first one, and everybody was, like, losing their minds. They were so excited. I screamed. The next group came out, and I hit a really good shot to about 10 feet. Everybody was happy. Then the next group came out, and I did it again. I think I just fell to the ground. I probably said a cuss word. It was a pretty crazy thing, really.

The two in three swings was pretty incredible. Two different news stations came out and covered it that afternoon. They actually brought out a mathematician from UALR, and they said that the odds of doing that was one in 260 million or something like that.”