Oakland Hills Country Club is located on Michigan’s rolling Bloomfield Hills. The club has two courses, the famous South course and the less famous North course.
Donald Ross laid out the South course in 1917 and Robert Trent Jones toughened the layout up ahead of the 1951 US Open, which was won emphatically by Ben Hogan. After his win, Hogan commented that he had “brought this monster to its knees” and since then the course is affectionately known as “The Monster”.
”The most pungent remark made during the controversial 1951 Open Championship at Oakland Hills Country Club,” wrote Robert Trent Jones in The Complete Golfer, “came from that patriarch of professional golf, Walter Hagen: ‘The course is playing the players instead of the players playing the course.’ In this comment, Hagen summed up the psychological shock suffered by the world’s ranking golfers when they encountered the remodelled course, for these modern players had been getting away with murder for years, and didn’t know it. They had been playing over course that, with a few exceptions, had been laid out in the 1920s, or earlier, and which had been tailored for the equipment and the ball and the playing conditions of that era.”
Rees Jones – son of Robert Trent Jones – undertook a series of renovations (mainly bunkering) to the South course ahead of the 2008 PGA Championships and the layout was stretched out in excess of 7,300 yards. Oakland Hills once again became a fearsome test with only three players beating par. Padraig Harrington followed in the footsteps of Gary Player and David Graham who were former Oakland Hills PGA winners (1974 and 1979 respectively). Harrington’s two closing rounds of 66 were enough to give him a two shot victory over Sergio Garcia. But Harrington was perhaps even more pleased to become the first European to win consecutive majors as he followed up his 2008 Open Championship win at Royal Birkdale by triumphing in the 2008 USPGA at Oakland Hills. Click here for more details.
Gil Hanse has been advising Oakland Hills Country Club on course restoration since 2015. There may now be fewer trees, but with six US Opens and one Ryder Cup under its belt, the South should still be treated with respect. We think that you’ll certainly appreciate the challenge and therefore we recommend that you befriend a member immediately. We also think that Oakland Hills is one of the fairest tests of golf in the land. Do you agree?
It was a privilege to play this great course last weekend. Our host was a distinguished member of the club, a recent past President (in UK parlance club Captain), and someone also very closely involved with the proposed course refurbishment plan – and therefore a great guide.
We played on a bright afternoon, in lush early summer conditions, after a wet spring, but in a distinctly British Isles two club wind. Even having wisely decided to play off the members tees, which are 6550 yds, this was still an exceptionally tough, if fair test. Our visiting threesome had an average handicap of 10, and we were tested to our limits. One is reminded of the notice at Bethpage Black, “this course is for skilled golfers only”.
I believe it was Jack Nicklaus who described Oakland Hills as having the best set of green complexes of any course he had played, and it is hard to disagree. Many of them are raised, they are all slopey, and if you find your ball on the wrong part of the green, a two putt is an achievement. If you miss, any recovery from typical US Open school rough collars, is going to be challenging. The biggest problem as a first time visitor is that you cannot fully understand the greens, where to try to land it, where not to miss. They would repay significant study. Worth noting though that Ross left a run on entrance for all of them (although some of these entrances are very slender), and the size of the green surfaces is varied to suit the length of the expected approach shot. It’s a great design.
It seems almost superfluous to pick out the best holes, 10 and 11 are rightly praised as a great but contrasting pair of par four, but my favourite was the 15th - a shortish par 4 with a central fairway bunker, and a lovely uphill skyline green. You have a variety of choices off the tee, but if you succeed in playing your tee shot up to the bunker area, but finding the narrow fairway either side, your reward is a pitch to tough green, rather than a mid iron from a lay up. Still a difficult 4, even with a 9 iron in your hand for the approach.
I have been lucky enough to play at five classic US Open venues, and in the conditions we played under last week, this was the toughest. I hope the refurbishment proceeds as planned, it would be great to see the US Open return here.
Amazing course and as long as you want it. The rough is a 1/2 shot penalty and the Rees Jones fairways bunkers can be a full shot penalty. The subtle breaks on the greens are confounding, especially when they roll them to 12 feet. It is surprising how difficult the course is when it is all right in front of you. You really feel the history of the club with the giant clubhouse in view on many holes, especially on 9 and 18. Looking forward to the renovation which should make the fairway bunkers more playable create new pin positions on the new greens. Downside - the greens will likely not hold for a few years. Lately, I prefer the underrated North Course which underwent a modest renovation a few years back. For me, plenty challenging and quicker rounds.
In all of American golf, Oakland Hills and its rightly revered South Course deserve a special place of recognition. The history has been previously mentioned so I will not repeat it. The collective quality of the putting surfaces is among the 2-3 best I have ever played among the Donald Ross courses I have personally experienced. In order to putt well one needs to be totally precise with your approaches. Failure to be in the proper areas -- means a quick three-putt and often more for those with a faulty stroke.
My main issue with the South is the overkill and redundant fairway bunkering that Robert Trent Jones, Sr. did for the '51 US Open Championship. Jones simply bracketed many of the holes and the need for shotmaking becomes a test of hitting archer-like drives with little variety. Those holes which don't feature this dimension are among the best with such examples being the 10th, 11th and 14th holes.
The par-4 16th is a good hole but gets plenty of mileage from the approach made by Gary Player in winning the '72 PGA Championship. The par-3 17th shows what a superior green can mean. The putting surface is brilliantly separated by a spine that features a left and right side. Land on the wrong side and it's highly unlikely a two putt will take place.
The ending hole on the South has issues of fairness. The dog-leg right holes features a reverse camber landing area and with bunkers prominently in play the wherewithal to find the fairway becomes a monumental task. The green is especially well done but it's the nature in how difficulty has been ramped up to extreme levels.
I'd love to see a quality architect revamp the fairway bunkers so that the role they play would be in closer alignment to what Ross originally intended. There's little doubt the South is a quality venue worthy of even more acclaim with just a bit more attention to compelling architecture and not just sheer difficulty.
by M. James Ward
Quite generous off the tees but the greens are absolute hell for a first timer. 3 putts will be the order of the day. Good variety of holes with 6 and 11 standing out as memorable. The facilities are incredible except for the range which is too short to hit driver on. The food and service are top notch and then some.
I sure loved this golf course. It was in fantastic condition, and the holes were as beautiful as those on a parkland course could be. Number 16, for example, is a 400-yard par 4 with a pond at the front right of the green. It’s a shallow green with a ridge running from front left to back right. An approach shot hit long to avoid the water will risk catching the back of that ridge and finding one of the four bunkers behind the green. I shot an 88 that day and felt like I had brought the Monster to at least one knee. My 88 was the best of the foursome… This course is definitely in my Top 10. Larry Berle.