July of last year was a tough month for those who love golf. Two successful professional golfers with ties to East Texas and The Cascades Golf & Country Club, where the 49th Tanos Energy II/Patterson-UTI Drilling Texas State Open will be played later this month, passed away.
Overshadowed by the death of Bruce Lietzke, who lived on a farm near Athens and represented The Cascades while playing the Tour, was Mark Hayes losing his battle with Alzheimer’s just 11 days earlier in Oklahoma. Hayes was the course architect for The Cascades in 2003 when Briarwood Country Club was reshaped, reinvented and renamed.
A quiet man of impeccable character, it is no surprise that Hayes’ death went somewhat unnoticed by many in the world of golf.
And while Lietzke had a more prominent playing career with 13 PGA Tour wins and a major title at the 2003 U.S. Senior Open, Hayes had triumphant moments with three wins on tour that included the 1977 Players Championship, an event with all of the trappings of a major championship because of its 10-year exemption for the Tour and later an annual invitation to the Legends of Golf event on the PGA Tour Champions.
It was near the practice green at the 2012 Legends in Savannah, Georgia, that I had an opportunity to talk with Hayes. He smiled when I told him I remembered his winning the 1969 Briarwood Invitational.
“Those were great days,” Hayes said. “I remember a college professor getting on me early one fall semester because I had missed classes playing in one of those invitationals over Labor Day.”
Of his work at The Cascades, Hayes was almost deferential in regards to how it had been received by the members.
“I hope people like the course,” Hayes said to me that day. “We really didn’t have a whole lot of land to work with but I was pleased at how it turned out.”
It was a curious set of circumstances that led to Hayes redesigning a course where he won a big invitational tournament many years before. The former All-American from Oklahoma State was in Tyler working on a renovation project of the greens at Willow Brook Country Club when the new owners of Briarwood approached him to use his talents to redesign their course. They wanted room for more residential lots now fully occupied at one of the largest residential developments in Tyler.
Harry Leatherwood, a former member of Briarwood, had moved to Willow Brook and at the time was actively involved in the greens renovation project and saw Hayes’ work firsthand.
“Initially we approached Ben Crenshaw to work with us but he was not available,” Leatherwood said. “Mark was recommended to us so we hired him and he did a good job. He was a hard worker.
“At that time, our greens were all sloped from back to front and Mark came in and shaped them so that we had more variety. We liked his work and later had him back to help us with some changes to our ninth hole.”
Willow Brook has since redesigned its course again with the help of Tripp Davis but Hayes’ work on shaping the greens led to his doing the same at The Cascades.
“I think if there is one thing that really stands out about Mark’s work, it would be the subtle breaks in the greens,” Cascades greens superintendent Dallas Litzenberger said. “I knew Mark from my first job at Oklahoma City Golf and Country Club where he redid those greens to restore them to the original designs of Perry Maxwell.”
Maxwell, it should be noted, is revered as perhaps the greatest American golf course architect with signature works at Prairie Dunes Country Club just outside of Hutchinson, Kansas and Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He also tweaked Colonial in Fort Worth and Augusta National to cement his lofty reputation.
On location at The Cascades from its beginning in 2003, Litzenberger just received a prestigious award for his work from the Northern Texas Section of the PGA of America, the host organization for the state open.
“Mark Hayes was a great friend who really helped me with my career from the very start,” Litzenberger said. “He died way too soon because he was only 69. I really miss him.”
When Hayes and Litzenberger began their work with The Cascades, the course had a good reputation among golfers and was known for its loose sand in the rough and under the trees which line almost every fairway. Four new holes were added and others changed while a superior watering system allowed grass to thrive in the rough, thus replacing the loose sand.
“The loose sand was cool but now we have wall to wall irrigation and plenty of grass under the trees,” Litzenberger said. “We are proud of our course. This is the eighth time for us to host the state open and I have been here for all of them.”
Litzenberger cited the new holes created by Hayes, those being the par 4 first hole with its magnificent view of Bellwood Lake and three well designed par 3s — the second, fifth and 11th holes. The 11th is especially noteworthy because it is fitted into a small area but cunning with its drop in elevation and water to the left.
For the most part, The Cascades is a course that is fun to play and puts an emphasis on driving the ball well.
“It is a great members golf course because there isn’t a hole where the average player cannot reach the green in regulation,” Litzenberger said.
Because it measures less than 7,000 yards from the back tees in today’s era of booming drives, the course sometimes yields low scores such as the 59 shot by senior tour player Clark Dennis more than a decade ago and a ho-hum 60 fired by PGA Tour player Shawn Stefani en route to his win in 2011.
And Mark Hayes knew a little something about record low scores, being the first golfer to shoot a 63 in the British Open in 1977 at Turnberry in Scotland.
“I bogeyed the final hole,” Hayes said with a shrug that day in Georgia. “They had shaved the grass near the pot bunkers and sure enough I found one on the last hole. So I had to blast out and then try to make a hard par for a 62.”
With that, Hayes grinned and made his way onto the practice green to smoothly roll some putts. Quiet, unassuming and a wonderful ambassador for golf, Hayes indeed will be missed.
But his work at The Cascades lives on.