Review for Oak Hill (East)

Reviewer Score:


So much of the conversation the Empire State involves discussion of courses hailing from either Long Island or Westchester. That's understandable. The two areas are littered with the best depth of private clubs in all of America in my mind. To its credit, Oak Hill in Rochester has steadfastly maintained a presence through the hosting of key national events and in '95 when hosting the Ryder Cup Matches where Team Europe vanquished the American side.

The initial qualities Donald Ross provided should have been sufficient for the club. Yes, it's fine to engage another architect to restore old time elements, but not to the point where the newest hire indelibly places his/her fingerprints on the layout.

After the 1968 US Open in which an unknown -- at that time -- named Lee Trevino tied the 72-hole championship record set a year earlier by Jack Nicklaus at Baltusrol. The club believed certain fundamental changes were needed in order to strengthen the course for future hosting of major championships. Tom Fazio was brought into the picture in the 1970's and the changes created provided a clear split between the core Ross elements and the new ones inserted.

Sad to say, but often when clubs hire an architect there's an attempt -- whether consciously or unconsciously -- for the new architect to feel compelled to alter the landscape.

A great example of this comes with the dynamic short uphill par-4 14th which Ross created. The hole is simple in its presentation but devilish in terms of securing the lowest number. When you get the par-3 15th you encounter a clear example of a hole that provides your basic Fazio inclusion. The holes don't match and the course experience suffers because of it.

Restoration is neither a small task nor fully appreciated by many architects. The original intent should be studied rigorously before as much as the first tablespoon of turf is moved about. Club leaders intent on chasing major events can be seduced by the siren's call and sacrifice so much in the process.

The East is a demanding layout and much of that is tied to the added tee boxes included over the years. Once can see this clearly with the ultra-demanding long par-4's at the 17th and 18th holes.

The club has seen fit to eliminate way too many trees that previously existed but more on this front can happen too.

A winding creek so much a part of a number of holes on the outward half shows the brilliance of Ross. The opening hole is rightly touted by Ben Hogan as one of the strongest openers in American golf.

The PGA Championship will return to the East Course again in '23 -- but in the month of May. The timing will clearly push the facility to be ready so early in the season. Personally, I'd like to see the club restore the Ross features but it's doubtful given the significant investment the club has already spent to get the layout it has now.

The lesson learned is a simple one -- when making changes to a highly acclaimed course be forewarned the "improvements" may actually result in a significant setback than one was actually hoping to happen.

by M. James Ward

Date: May 29, 2018

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