Established in 1916, Oakland Hills Country Club is the proud possessor of two fabulous Donald Ross designs: the South course, unveiled two years after the club was formed and host to more than a dozen major championships down the years, and the North course, which made its debut six years after its older sibling.
In the mid-1960s, the North underwent a major redesign and renovation by Robert Trent Jones Snr, resulting in the reversal of the 1st, 9th, 15th and 16th holes. The length was increased from 6,300 yards to 6,668 yards and the number of bunkers rose from around twenty to more than ninety.
In addition to all the on course modifications, the infrastructure at Oakland Hills was greatly improved with the installation of an aluminium bridge, 11 feet wide by 210 feet long, across Maple Road to connect the North with the South course.
When the US Amateur Championships were held at the club in 2002 and 2016, both the North and the South courses were used for these competitions.
In order to test the then-new renovations Rees Jones and his team had made to the South Course at Oakland Hills in preparation for the 2008 PGA Championship, the club hosted the International Final Qualifier for the Open Championship on both its North and South courses in the beginning of July in 2007.
One interesting statistic from that weekend is that the scoring record on the South course ("The Monster") was actually lower than that of its younger, often overshadowed brother to the North. Matt Kuchar was the low player on the South with an outstanding 64 while several players tied with a low of 66 on the North.
Both courses have undergone extensive renovations since that weekend, most notably the total transformation Gil Hans has conjured on the South, but I think this is an interesting way to illustrate just how difficult the North Course at Oakland Hills can play when it gets the chance to shine.
In those days, before the South course's greens were protected by sub-air systems, it was said that the North Course green's could get rolling even faster than the South. Whether or not that was true back then (It certainly isn't any longer) it can definitely feel that way when you're above the hole in early August on the North Course and the course is dry.
In 2021 and beyond it really isn't fair to compare the North and South courses any longer. The Gil Hans transformation has re-established the South course in a way that almost re-categorizes it beyond legend. Still, the North has more quality golf to offer than basically any other course in the area.
To level some criticism of the course, it lacks much creative decision making on the only two par 5 hole it features. The par five fifth hole is essentially unreachable in two unless you play into the adjacent eleventh fairway and although I have seen folks successfully hit the par five twelfth hole in two, it is much more difficult to do so from the blue tees or tips and the water surrounding the green makes the penalty for missing so severe that most simply choose to lay up to wedge distance short of the water.
I wouldn't say the North course is worth playing because you can feel it's connections to the roots of the game like you can feel in it's older and more famous brother, or other courses on significant, impactful pieces of land like Crystal Downs, but I would say it is worth playing if you want to see a fine example of an excellent golf course with few weaknesses. If you're lucky, the course will be dry and a few of the pins will be tucked, and you'll get an introduction to the fact that the North Course can be a real "monster" too.
Since the renovation a few years back, I would put the OHCC North course up against any other MI country club's main course. The greens are even faster than the South's, and with the new tees added, the par 70 layout is quite challenging. It is more like a traditional country club course, and a little shorter but much tighter than the South. I prefer it to the South the last several years.