STILLWATER, Okla. — Karsten Creek Golf Club can be found at the end of a surprisingly long, winding and shoulder-less road. This is not a campus course, and there’s nothing residential about it.
“You’re out in nature,” says Courtney Jones, head coach of the Oklahoma State women’s golf team. “It’s just a little oasis here.”
The 18-hole layout, massive clubhouse and team practice facilities are tucked among ancient oak trees native to this piece of land. Lake Louise runs through the middle. For all its remote feel, Karsten is still only a 10-minute drive from the Oklahoma State campus. It’s the best of both worlds.
Karsten’s pristine-yet-wild vibe is a perfect tribute to Oklahoma State golf. All you need to know about the golf culture here is that there’s a Rickie Fowler-hosted docu-series based around it. That’s unheard of in college golf. The program has been around since 1947, passed through the hands of only four coaches and boasts a streak of 65 consecutive NCAA appearances that includes 10 national titles.
Karsten Creek is a Tom Fazio design that opened in 1994 and has hosted three NCAA Championships, including this year's. The women's and men's championships are now played at the same venue in successive weeks, so while this is the women's first crack at Karsten with a national title on the line, it's the men's third appearance.
The championships are also under the spotlight of TV cameras. That’s a first for Karsten, too. A course that’s often talked about in the college circuit now will open to the public eye.
The women's championships concludes today, Wednesday, with the match play finals. The men will compete for team and individual medalist titles May 25-30.
“There’s always history here,” said Andrea Gaston, USC head women’s golf coach. "It’s a big course that gave some of the top players in the country fits in the early days of the championship. That’s the beauty of a true championship venue: it forces disciplined play. A small mistake can become a big number quickly."
Each nine at Karsten Creek ends with a tight, but reachable, par 5 – No. 9 is a gauntlet bordered by trees and No. 18 swings to the left around Lake Louise. The NCAA national championships have been decided by match play since 2009 (for the men) and 2015 (for the women). In that format, closing holes are key.
“This course, it’s a good match-play course,” said Bethany Wu, a UCLA junior, “… match play is a lot of strategy and I think this course requires a lot of strategy no matter what format you’re playing in.”
Visitors aside, Jones described an experience for the home team that sounds like the ultimate golf playground. The men’s and women’s teams eat lunch together there nearly every day. Sometimes there are short-game competitions. It’s a great place to develop shots and live the college golf experience. The place is dripping with Cowboy memorabilia from the dozens of players who have passed through Stillwater on their way to the professional tours.
Tight corridors such as at the par-3 11th hole are part of what can make Karsten Creek Golf Club a white-knuckle affair. (Photo: Oklahoma State University Department of Athletics)
“I’ve been trying to tell people for years about this place, but it’s hard to really describe it,” LPGA player Pernilla Lindberg said on Karsten media day. Lindberg, a former Cowgirl, won the ANA Inspiration in April.
Lindberg spent her first two years as a professional honing her game at Karsten Creek.
“Even though I’m playing my ninth year on the LPGA, I can say that the practice facilities and this course are still some of the best that I’ve seen anywhere in the world,” Lindberg said. “This course just gets you ready for tour life. It tests every part of your game and especially makes you mentally strong, too.”
Part of the reason Karsten is so game-shaping is because of its teeth. The very oaks that contribute to the remote feel are part of what make the course so demanding. Karsten is heavily wooded, and the fairways are tight. Miss the target, and the rough is thick enough that you can just about equate it to an extra shot. Add slick greens and a few hills to that, and this is a course that separates the great players from the average ones, which is exactly what a national championship venue should do.
Julie Williams is a former college golfer and Golfweek writer who teaches eighth-grade English and coaches a high school girls golf team in Cocoa Beach, Fla.