‘Monster’ becomes ‘beast’ for PGA
BLOOMFIELD TOWNSHIP, Mich. -- Oakland Hills might have a new nickname by this time next week.
The famed golf course, known as a “monster” for more than a half-century, was tweaked to make it even tougher for the 90th PGA Championship.
“It’s a beast,” said Rocco Mediate, the U.S. Open runner-up, who played the new-look course last year in a British Open qualifier. “It will be one of the hardest courses of all time.”
Rees Jones wouldn’t mind if the best players in the world end up agreeing with Mediate.
“I don’t want them to like it,” Jones said. “I want them to think it’s a fair test.”
Donald Ross created the original design that turned a rolling pasture into a course in 1918.
“The Lord intended this for a golf course,” Ross said when he saw the land.
Robert Trent Jones reshaped it for the U.S. Open in 1951 -- leading to Ben Hogan’s quote about bringing “this monster, to its knees” -- and Jones’ son followed with changes two years ago to help the course maintain its challenging reputation.
“When I interviewed for the job, I said, ‘I’ve been waiting for this call my whole life,’” Rees Jones recalled recently. “The changes my father made at Oakland Hills, which was the first course strengthen after World War II, catapulted his career.
“It’s a real honor for my family to bring Oakland Hills into the 21st century.”
Jones lengthened 15 holes, combining to add 346 yards to the setup from the 1996 U.S. Open, made many fairways narrower and altered the placement, depth and size of bunkers.
Australian Adam Scott, No. 4 in the world ranking, said the course was in perfect condition after practicing on it a week before the PGA Championship.
Scott said navigating the famous greens and tricky fairways will be of paramount importance.
“There are a couple of tee shots, because of quite undulated fairways, that you have to make a decision where you’re going to hit it off the tee,” Scott said. “But really with the greens being so severe, if you get a good picture in your mind of what the greens are like, you can leave your shots into the greens in good position.”
Oakland Hill’s signature hole -- the 406-yard, par-4 16th -- now has water curling around the right side of the green instead of the relatively safe haven of sand or a hill.
The tee was pushed back 37 yards at the par-3 17 -- making it 238 yards -- the fairway was made skinnier and a bunker on the right side of the green was made larger and moved closer to the front.
Making a difficult hole harder, bunkers were added on both sides of the fairway at the 498-yard, par-5 18th that forces players to hit an accurate drive about 320 yards to clear all the traps.
“We’ve made the finish significantly more challenging so that anything can happen on those three holes,” Jones said. “But what makes Oakland Hills special is the ebb and flow of holes that players should birdie to ones that par is a challenge to swing holes that could go either way.”
Jones said players should take advantage of birdie opportunities at Nos. 1, 2, 6, 15, 16 and be happy with pars on Nos. 18, 17, 14, 8 and 5.
Dick Geraghty, a 76-year-old member from nearby West Bloomfield, was just happy to survive a round recently.
“I’m going to stop playing until September,” he said with a sigh after walking into the pro shop.
Other members have jokingly asked for ladders to be put in the bunkers that are 10-feet deep in some spots.
Even for the world’s top players, severely contoured greens pose daunting challenges on every hole.
Jack Nicklaus, who won the 1991 U.S. Senior Open at Oakland Hills, once said the greens were more difficult than any other because of their speed and contour.
“The only greens that compare are at Augusta and Congressional,” Jones said.
In terms of tradition, Oakland Hills is included in any discussion involving the top golf courses in the world.
Walter Hagen was its first club professional nine decades ago and Arnold Palmer played in his first tournament outside of western Pennsylvania at Oakland Hills in the 1946.
It is about to the host the PGA Championship for a third time and has been the site of six U.S. Opens, the 2004 Ryder Cup and several other significant events. Oak Hill, Pinehurst and Scioto are the only other courses that have held a PGA Championship, U.S. Open and Ryder Cup.
Tiger Woods said playing as an amateur at Oakland Hills in the 1996 U.S. Open was a turning point in his career.
The private country club about 15 miles northwest of Detroit has explored the possibility of hosting a seventh U.S. Open or a fourth PGA Championship with the USGA and PGA of America, respectively.