The Oakland Hills Country Club, South Course (ranked #25 in the world), was originally designed by Donald Ross in 1918. Walter Hagen was the first head pro at Oakland Hills. The South Course has played host to the U.S. Open six times: 1924, 1937, 1951, 1961, 1985 and 1996. It also hosted the 2004 Ryder Cup and the PGA Championship in 1972, 1979 and again this year.
Oakland Hills represents my 75th course played out of the top 100, only 25 to go!
Near the first tee of the South Course are plaques of all the players who have won championships at Oakland Hills. The most famous, of course, was Ben Hogan's victory in the 1951 U.S. Open when he famously said, "I am glad I brought this course, this monster, to its knees." He also said that it was "the greatest test of golf I have ever played and the toughest course." Oakland Hills was an early example of a real estate development linked to the building of golf course. When originally conceived in the early nineteen-teens lots were laid out for sale encircling the golf course.
Robert Trent Jones made significant changes to the course prior to the '51 Open and is credited with making the course a lot more strenuous. The sixth hole, seen below, is representative of what makes it a difficult course: its well placed bunkering, along with its length and tough greens. This hole also has a two-tiered green. As you would expect at a championship course of this calibre, the greens are very fast and have many challenging pin placements.
According to the club history, when Ross started routing the course, he started it with #10 and #11, two world-class holes. The tenth hole is a 462 yard par four where the entire fairway falls off to the right. The tee shot requires precision and all but the perfect shot will feed down the hill to the right side of the fairway, leaving a blind or semi-blind shot to the elevated green. What makes it such a tricky tee shot is that visually off the tee you have to hit it at the tree you see on the left side of the fairway. The tee box and visuals trick you into hitting it to the right side. It is very well done.
The 11th hole plays parallel to the 10th in the opposite direction. The trick on the 11th hole is to favor the left side off the tee. On this hole the fairway also slopes severely left to right off the tee, where a shot that is not struck well will leave you a blind shot to a difficult green.
There is no respite once you get to this two-tiered green. The green is highly elevated from the fairway and slopes back to front. A less-than-ideal shot will roll back perhaps fifty or sixty yards to the bottom of the fairway.
Ross used the natural contours of the land here to create two fantastic back-to-back holes that announce to the golfer that the back nine is going to beat you up if you don't bring your 'A' game.
Similar to Valderrama's 17th hole, the 16th at Oakland Hills features a shaved area near the green that feeds shots hit short into the water.
The finishing hole at Oakland Hills is a 498 yard par five that the pros play as a par four. I wouldn't describe it so much as a dogleg right as I would a semi-circle. It is an interesting shaped hole that uses the hilly terrain well.
Oakland Hills doesn't feel like a Ross design in the same way Pinehurst #2 or Seminole does, probably attributable to Jones' changes. The course has a more wide open feel to it than some of the other PGA courses I have played such as Oak Hill or Winged Foot, which I like, since I'm not a fan of tight tree-lined fairways.
As Robert Trent Jones wrote after his redesign of the course and the 1951 Open, "the field was thrown into utter confusion. Golfers of reputation staggered home with rounds high in the 70's and occasionally in the 80's." After playing the course, it is not hard to see why. Hogan aptly called it "A Monster".