How did LIV Golf land this week’s venue? With help from a three-time PGA Tour winner
Cedar Ridge CC
Billy Lowry, the newly elected club president at Cedar Ridge Country Club, in Tulsa, Okla., was sitting in his office last November when he received a phone call from a former college golf teammate he hadn’t heard from in months — if not years.
It was three-time PGA Tour winner-turned-LIV Golf signee Charles Howell III.
“I was really surprised to hear from him,” Lowry said the other day. “We have a group text when he does something good on the golf course, but I haven’t heard from him in a long time.”
It didn’t take long for the former Oklahoma State star to get to the point.
“LIV would love to get an event in Oklahoma, and we have a lot of Oklahoma guys on the LIV Golf tour,” Howell said, as Lowry recalled it.
A half-dozen guys, to be exact. In addition to Howell, there are four other former Cowboys now playing for LIV: Talor Gooch, Peter Uihlein, Matthew Wolff and Eugenio Lopez-Chacarra, who joined LIV in 2022 during his senior year at OSU. In Abraham Ancer, LIV also has a former University of Oklahoma standout.
When he hung up with Howell, Lowry got to thinking: Why not Cedar Ridge? He floated the idea past a couple of his club’s board members, and in doing so set into motion LIV Golf’s securement of a new host venue in the Tulsa suburbs.
“Nobody has heard of Cedar Ridge except in Tulsa or Oklahoma,” Lowry said. “Only way to [change] that is to let other people see it.”
Actually, close followers of the game might well be familiar with Cedar Ridge, home to a Joe Finger design that opened in the late 1960s. In 1983, the club played host to the U.S. Women’s Open, at which Jan Stephenson overcame stifling heat to win her third and final major title. Annika Sorenstam also has had success at Cedar Ridge, winning the first two of five LPGA events that were staged at the club from 2004-08.
This week, another crop of talented pros will descend on Cedar Ridge, when Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson, Cameron Smith and the rest of the players who comprise the LIV Golf Invitational Series come to town.
“We’re bringing some of the best 48 players in the world to Cedar Ridge,” said David Bryan, the club’s director of golf. “My line and others at the club is it’s just a golf tournament.”
Of course, it’s not just a golf tournament. It’s a LIV Golf tournament, which, because of the controversial source of LIV’s funding (the Saudi Arabian government) and its legal clashes with the PGA Tour, brings with it sticky moral and political questions that most other events do not.
In December, the Tulsa World newspaper blasted Cedar Ridge’s negotiations with LIV in an unbylined editorial that carried the headline, “Turn away LIV Golf to avoid associating with a rogue league controlled by a human rights-violating regime.”
“I think everyone is pretty anxious about what is going to happen,” said Sonya Weese, a former president of the Tulsa Women’s Golf Association. But she added, “The interest is there. This is a pretty savvy golf city.”
Oklahoma is also a savvy golf state, powered by a stellar lineup of courses that have played host to both men’s and women’s majors. According to Bryan and other sources to whom GOLF.com spoke, LIV approached several of those sites, including Oak Tree in Edmond, a former PGA Championship site; Gaillardia CC in Oklahoma City, which has played host to the PGA Tour Champions; and two courses within a 30-minute drive of Cedar Ridge: Golf Club of Oklahoma and Tulsa CC.
“I know for sure it was a no and the biggest part of the no was where the [LIV] money was coming from,” said a former Tulsa CC board member who spoke to GOLF.com on condition of anonymity. “We’ve come a long way in treatment of women here, and we want to continue that.”
One notable club that LIV did not approach is the grand dame of the Tulsa golf scene, Southern Hills. Then again, given its ties to the golf establishment, the eight-time men’s major venue and site of last year’s PGA Championship would have been an unlikely LIV bedfellow.
“They never called,” said Cary Cozby, Southern Hills’ director of golf. “I think they understood our situation here.”
Shortly after Howell’s call to Lowry, LIV began scouting Cedar Ridge as a potential site, a process that included a visit from former Augusta National executive Ron Cross, who is now LIV’s chief events officer. If the tour did land at Cedar Ridge, Cross said, tournament organizers would likely flip the nines, and make the par-71 course a par-70 of about 7,200 yards.
By late November, the club’s 12-member board was ready to bring the LIV matter to a vote. But Lowry first had one more request of Howell.
“I told Charles I needed a video or something to show to the board,” Lowry said. “Less than an hour later, he sends me a video of him standing on the range at Bay Hill [in Orlando, where Howell lives] saying why the tournament would be good for Cedar Ridge and LIV Golf.”
The board voted unanimously to contract with LIV, with one caveat, Bryan said: LIV wanted a two-year deal; the club agreed only to one year.
Both Lowry and Bryan said they haven’t heard any criticism from the club’s 500 members.
“Trust me,” Lowry said, “if the size of the chocolate-cake slice in the buffet is not big enough, I hear about it. I didn’t hear any negative feedback.”
Added Bryan: “Let’s face it, LIV hasn’t been shown in the best light in the past. We didn’t have anybody quit the club; I know that for sure. We are strictly prohibited from mentioning the course rights fee, but the club will make money.”
Other course operators who have negotiated with LIV in the past told GOLF.com that site fees have been in the seven figures. Bryan did say that Cedar Ridge’s payment could help fund a potential clubhouse renovation.
“Just do the math on that,” said a course-operator executive who has interacted with LIV. “If you’re promised a profit and they [LIV] handle all the tickets and sponsors, [the site fee] has to be up there pretty high. They are some of the best we’ve dealt with.”
But if you build it, will they come? That has been the question for many LIV sites in the tour’s first two years, with some venues enjoying more fan support than others. Last month, at its lively tournament in Adelaide, Australia, LIV reported an attendance of 60,000, but LIV’s U.S. events have been noticeably less well populated.
The pack of Oklahoma State players in the field at Cedar Ridge should help draw fans, as will the likes of Mickelson, who was on a personal leave this time last year when the PGA Championship visited Southern Hills. Greg Norman, LIV’s frontman, will be on site, and Yasir al-Rumayyan, governor of the Saudi Public Investment Fund, might also make an appearance, Bryan said.
“This is a golf crazy town,” said Cozby, the Southern Hills director of golf. “This is a golf state. People will come out to watch.”