Sunday, June 15, 2008

Oakland Hills Country Club

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!

The Oakland Hills Clubhouse, which was modeled after Mount Vernon

Oakland Hills is located in the affluent Detroit suburb of Bloomfield Hills. The club has two courses - the South Course which hosts the championships and also a North Course across West Maple Road. Oakland Hills is similar to several other championship venues that play host to major championships: two courses, a big clubhouse and a lot of property for tents, concession stands, etc. I found it similar in this regard to Oak Hill, Winged Foot, Medinah and Baltusrol. The memorabilia in the clubhouse attest to its esteemed place in the golf world, especially the walk down the long white corridor between the grill room and the pro shop, lined with pictures and signed competitor displays.

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.

The 6th hole

I wasn't wowed by the front nine. It is a demanding set of holes of championship quality, but nothing that jumps out at you. The best hole on the front is the difficult par four fifth hole, the #1 handicap. It plays 490 yards from the championship tees to an elevated, elongated green with bunkers very close to the green surface. In my view, the course really begins on the tenth tee.

The tenth hole as seen from the tee

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 from the tee

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.

The 11th hole with its twisting hills

If you hit it to the correct spot over the hill, the fairway then slopes severely right to left. The effective landing area you hit into is quite narrow. In our group, all four of the golfers hit into the rough on the left. You need to take the perfect angle to hit the shot correctly. I have never seen this type of hole before: a sharp hill that is used to create two very distinct landing areas that slope off in opposite directions so abruptly.

The 11th 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.

The par three 13th

You can see the beautiful bunkering at Oakland Hills as seen on the 191 yard par three 13th hole. This plays downhill and is the shortest hole on the course, which tells you a lot about what kind of golf you will play at Oakland hills. There are par fours of 446 yards (the 4th), 490 yards (the 5th), 462 yards (the 10th) and 455 yards (the 11th). They believe in long holes at Oakland Hills. The par threes play at 198 yards (the 3rd), 257 yards (the 9th), 191 yards (the 13th) and 238 yards (the 17th). To add insult to injury, the 17th plays longer than its 238 yards since the green sits well above the tee.

The 15th hole

The back nine offers no letup at Oakland Hills. The 15th hole, a dogleg left, for example, has two huge bunkers in the middle of the fairway. You can choose to hit it left of the bunkers into a 10 yard-wide fairway or right of the bunkers into a 15 yard-wide fairway. It's no wonder that many choose to play it short and leave a significant second shot to the small elevated inverted-saucer shaped green.

The 16th hole

Sixteen is the signature hole at Oakland Hills with a second shot that plays over water.

The 16th hole

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.

Shaved area near the 16th green

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." Although a man of few words he comment to Jones' wife after the 1951 Open that, "if your husband had to play the courses he designed for a living, I'm afraid you'd be in a breadline." Touche!


Anonymous said...

Have enjoyed your site, god luck on the next 25

Anonymous said...

OHCC is average..To much hype...Go play CC of Detroit. Thats good stuff. Crystal Downs is the best in the State.

Ryno said...

Mr. Top 100,

I've received an invite to play OHCC (both north and south) courses by a client of mine in Detroit.

Seems like it would be an excellent way to spend a day - but I would have to fly up to Michigan on my own dollar.

Is it worth it?

Anonymous said...

Nice review, but you underrate the front nine.

The first is a classic opening hole, straighforward but requiring two good shots.

The par-3 third has about the best set of bunkering I have ever seen on a short hole.

The sixth is a short par-4 that requires an exacting shot uphill to a small green surrounded by bunkers.

The par-5 eighth provides a birdie chance - if you hit a good drive.

Finally, the 9th is a long par-three that features a diabolical multi-tiered green that slopes severely from back to front.

OHCC may not be the most picturesque course, but it is a sturdy test of classic parkland golf.

Anonymous said...

I live in the metro Detroit area and have had the privilege to play the south course twice. I also caddied there this past summer and got to know both courses at Oakland very well. The north course is a gem too. Very subtle compared to the extremes you see on the south. They are also renovating a few holes on the north this summer in prep for the 2016 US AM they are hosting. Im excited to see those results.

The thing with Oakland Hills is that people think they have a chance to score well until they play the first hole. They dont realize the brutal difficulty until they get on the course. Ive had the same experience when I played there. This is compared to the time when I played the Ocean Course at Kiawah Island and I knew while standing on the putting green waiting to tee off that I while I am a 1 handicap, I have almost no chance at breaking 85.

Another thing that attests to how difficulty of the greens are at Oakland is if you ask any member or seasoned caddy what is in their opinion the most difficult green, you will get 9 different answers. Impossible to narrow it down.

Anonymous said...

I have a friend who is a member. Because of this, i have played it once or twice a year for about the last 10 years. Anyone who says Oakland Hills's South course is not a GREAT course and a tough place to play...has never played it! From tee to greet it is challenging and long... but the greens MAKE the place. The first time I played there, I putted off the front of the 1st green from about 12 feet... and the ball ran perhaps 45 feet before it stopped at 12 feet off. LOL... but thankfully I chipped it in. I broke 90 that day... and each time I thought I would score better, but have never broken 90 again. (I'm about a 12 handicap...) Even though I score terrible there, I LOVE the place! Best Memories? I once missed a hole-in-1 on the 13th by about 6 inches...and I will never forget seeing Phil Michelson chip the ball off the toe of his wedge RIGHT into the water on the 16th at the Ryder Cup. (I was about 25 yards away in the gallery...YIKES!) I also laughed when I saw Vijay Singh blow up in, out, back in, out, and back into bunkers on the 9th hole at the PGA Championship. (I gotfet if he got a 9 or 11... and I remember thinking that I had only ever done it half that many times!) This place is history!!!

onestogie said...

Oakland Hills South is a very tough test, not a course I'd look forward to playing every day.

It’s a perfect venue to stage the US Open.

Both nines are very good, but I agree that the back nine is tougher.

Although designed by Ross, it does not have a Ross feel to it, likely because the holes play too long.

Anonymous said...

If Oakland Hills wanted to be a great course in modern times, they would have it restored, in a modern way, with the original plans that Ross did. It would be a bold move, but one that would separate it from a myriad of courses that are long and difficult. Think Bethpage Black.
Better courses in Michigan...Franklin Hills, Crystal Downs and a must to go play, Kingsley Club (its 'bigness' reminded me of National with flashes of Crystal Downs--and a touch more enjoyable to play than Crystal. (whose greens are diabolically hard and too sloped for the size and speed)

Anonymous said...

I have been fortunate like may others that have offered up comments on this site to have played my fair share of great tracks. Oakland Hills will grow on you. My first time out, I thought it was good, but not great. Not a lot of surprise out there as everything is right in front of you standing on most tee boxes. I can now say after many rounds on the South, I have a great appreciation of this course. I believe the green complexes are some of the finest in the world and if they wanted to make the average guest and member 3 putt 15 holes a round they could easily do so. Most of the greens have 3 and 4 tiers. Find yourself on the wrong tier and you will find yourself putting off many of the greens. Beyond the greens, the bunkering is some of the most penalizing I have ever experienced. It is very easy with all the high lips to go from bunker to bunker or at best be able to hit a wedge back into play. 2019 will be a noteworthy year for Oakland Hills since they will be shutting down the South course for 20 months so Gil Hanse can work his magic restoring this great track back to it's Donald Ross roots.