'We bury heroes here': Maridoe fulfills Huddleston's vision
25 Jul 2020
by Brayden Conover of AmateurGolf.com

Albert Huddleston with 2020 Southern Am champ McClure Meissner
Albert Huddleston with 2020 Southern Am champ McClure Meissner

The name "Maridoe" is quickly becoming familiar to golfers across all levels of championship golf. The golf club in Carrollton, Texas, is the brainchild of its billionaire oil tycoon owner Albert Huddleston, and has quickly emerged as a go-to host of important golf tournaments at all levels.

In 2018-19, Maridoe played host to three Texas state championships. The Maridoe Intercollegiate was created in 2018 to host top college players. Then came it's first amateur major, the 2019 Trans-Mississippi Championship.

This year, as the COVID-19 pandemic all but shut down competitive golf at all levels, Maridoe was where professional golf made its return, with the Maridoe Samiraitan Fund Invitational (MSFI) and MSFI II drawing top pros and amateurs to raise money for out-of-work caddies among others.

Next came the Maridoe Junior, one of the earliest national-level junior events to be played as golf emerged from the lockdown.

Most recently, the club played host to the Southern Amateur, another amateur major and one of the four events selected by the USGA to comprise the Road to the U.S. Amateur at Bandon Dunes, with the winner and runner-up receiving exemptions into the national championship.

There is plenty more to come. The inaugural East-West Matches, a Ryder Cup style team event for American mid-amateurs and seniors, is scheduled for November. And in 2021 Maridoe will host its first USGA championship, the U.S. Women's Four-Ball.

AmateurGolf.com writer Brayden Conover got the opportunity to sit down with Huddleston to discuss what the club means to him and what its plans are for its future.

Q: How did Maridoe come about?

A: I was fortunate to be raised in a golf family in Eastern Tennessee and my father was quite a great player. So all my life I was around great play and I’d carry double staff bags at Green Meadow Country Club in Maryville, Tennessee at five dollars a bag. Everything was golf-centric for us. My father when I was 13, with two friends, built a golf course called Fox Den in Knoxville, Tennessee to have a place for his friends. I thought that was one of the greatest things I’d ever experienced.

Unfortunately, my father had cancer at a young age and died, but I always said at some point in time if I have the resources and the opportunity I would like very much to be responsible for creating a Walt Disney sandbox for golf for your friends. So I tried for 20 years to find the right place to do it and every time I tried to buy something it wasn’t for sale or I didn’t get there in time. But the good Lord had something better for me which was this property.

In January of 2014, I was able to purchase it right in the middle of Dallas, Texas. Largest private lake in Dallas County. Water is a big thing in Texas. So a good friend of mine, Steve Smyers -- I’ve always admired him for what he had done at Wolf Run in Zionsville, Indiana. I wanted an architect that would allow me to be collaborative. The idea was to create a championship golf course on which regardless of your handicap, you’d have a good time if you put your ego in the right place. So I call him up about working with me on this. I wanted to be able to share my ideas because when I was in second grade I was creating fantasy golf holes. Everyone at some point likes to act on their fantasies. That’s what Maridoe represents to me personally.

Q: What was your thought process behind the MSFI’s?

A: I was out here and Martin Flores and Jordan Spieth had just finished playing. I saw them and said ‘hey guys, how y’all doing? By the way, is this the longest you’ve ever gone without playing in a tournament?’ and one of them said ‘Well gosh, yeah since I was six years old.’ Well, I thought that was kind of silly so I came back in and told Alison Morrison (the managing member at Maridoe) ‘We need to have a tournament. It’s not right that these sharp blades aren’t out here practicing and playing.’ The COVID protocol is something that can be very very seriously adhered to and taken very seriously. Golf is one of the few sports if any in which the protocol necessary for safety can be accomplished. So we said ‘let’s just do it’.

We were just going to do it for our own people and then we decided to have the Maridoe Samaritan Fund and have people pay a little bit of an entry fee [to benefit] the caddies and some of the people that have physical problems. It spread like wildfire so all the people began talking to other people and they’re all very hungry to play. When Viktor [Hovland] was on his way back to Oklahoma, he told Alison ‘let’s do it again’.

So literally within 24-hours of finishing Samaritan 1.0, we [plan] 2.0. We again adhered to all the protocols. The first time we had spacers and you couldn’t touch the pins. The second time we got a little more lenient. Brandon Wu went 3-under on the last five holes to win that tournament.

Then the juniors say ‘Hey Mr. Huddleston, we have nowhere to play. Can you do something for us?’ and I’m a big proponent of junior golf so I said ‘Why not?’ so we created the Maridoe Junior Invitational.

We did not do it to get any notoriety. We did it because we felt it was the right thing to do and we could do it… It goes to show you that if you just do the right thing, good things come out of doing the right thing for the right reasons.

Q: What kind of player does Maridoe favor?

A: Maridoe was designed to identify a player that can fly the ball and work the ball, rather than the mono-dimensional players being created that swing it as hard as they can and launch it straight up in the air. You can’t make a course too long for them so you want to make a course that is strategically interesting and if you can’t flight the ball, if you can’t dead-hands the ball, you can’t work the ball, then you’ll come up on the short end.

I always tell people that if you take a great player that’s mono-dimensional and can only hit it hard and high and you take a great player that can flight the ball, work the ball, that individual will own the other person’s car, house, mom’s house, their shoes because every hole on purpose changes orientation. You have to reset your subconscious on how you’re strategically going to attack the golf hole. If you leave your brain in the parking lot, you have no chance whatsoever. For people that have a sharp blade in golf, I wanted to make a place that would make a sharp blade sharper. When you leave this property you’re not intimidated.

Q: What is the future of Maridoe?

A: Maridoe is created to host anything that is attractive in golf. What I didn’t want to have happen is if someone said ‘You could host a certain tournament and we’d love to have it there, but had you this…’ I did not want that to be the case so I wanted to create a golf course in which there is no reason you couldn’t host anything here, of any level of competition. The golf course in itself is so flexible. There are so many tees, and the wind changes, and you can push and pull the golf course.

My view is I like short par threes which you have here. Everyone’s going for length and you can’t out-length these guys and also you cut off three-fourths of most of the people playing by just doing that (over-lengthening the golf course). Maridoe has a mixture of short/long holes; you can push and pull it. My favorite thing about Maridoe, and it was done purposefully: I want a great player to periodically be terribly uncomfortable because there’s an awkward shot ahead of them. And also, the second shots on par fives traditionally are mindless layups, but not here. The drive is not that hard, but the second-shots are typically awkward. Awkward breeds indecision and indecision will breed mistakes.

I also consider the great young players. I want them to inadvertently use what I would call ‘excessive greed’ to bury themselves. The buffalo grass rough, although not very long, generates tremendous flier lies. You’re never comfortable and confident in how far the ball may go, again creating awkwardness, indecision, uncertainty. I think that separates the best in all categories.

It really separates the richest cream from cream, the ones who can think their way around the course. If you get out of position don’t be a hero. We bury heroes here. No headstones, but they’re out there. It’s not a mindless game at Maridoe.

My view is very simple. You’re supposed to have fun. I think Maridoe is very demanding but fair.

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