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Dave played Oakland Hills (South) on Saturday, October 22, 2011

Oakland Hills Country Club (South)

Everything a growing (course) needs...

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#1 - Tee shot on the opening hole
#1 - The first of a few greens on the course that lay a little lower than the fairway
#2 - The second tee sits back in a cluster of pines
#2 - The uphill approach from about 100 yards
#3 - The first par 3 calls for a draw with a long iron
#4 - This low-lying green has a variety of cool pin placements
#5 - The approach at the long par 4. A long iron in to this elevated green is no easy task
#6 - One of my favorites at OHCC. This short two-shotter puts a premium on the tee shot.
#6 - An approach to the well-protected green here is no simple task
#7 - A sense of how protected a back pin can be here...
#8 - Tee shot at the short par 5 that plays as a two-shotter in major tournaments
#8 - The much-elevated green makes going for it in two a difficult task
#8 - A deep bunker protects the right side of this green (I would know, I was in it).
#9 - The (very, very, very) long par 3 ninth. 278 from the back tee...
#10 - A look back on the tenth is one of the best views on the course
#11 - Probably my favorite hole on the course
#11 - The elevation change here is the most severe on the course
#11 - You can get yourself in to some trouble here with a bad tee shot...
#11 - An idea of the severity of the green at the eleventh. It's very possible to putt it right off the front of the green.
#12 - The bunkers on this dogleg par 5 steer you away from the favorable left side of the fairway and toward the trees.
#12 - Spectacular bunkering...
#13 - More excellent bunkering and one of the more interesting greens accent the shortest hole on the course
#14 - This long two-shotter favors a cut off the tee...
#14 - ...setting up a running draw to a low green.
#14 - These run-off areas will catch any over-hit or over-shaped shots.
#15 - A tee box that forces you to make a decision - try to thread it past the bunkers or face a long approach.
#15 - An awkward approach - the green favors a draw, but the trees on the right limit the players ability to hit one.
#16 - Tee shot on the 'signature' hole at OHCC.
#16 - One of the better approach shots of the day to this very tough green.
#16 - Just a tough green... Putts from behind the hole are hard to stop, and over-spun approaches will most likely find the water after a trip down the shaved front bank
#17 - Long and uphill. Good luck.
#18 - The landing area on the final fairway gets more and more narrow as it goes.
#18 - A gorgeous end to a special round of golf.

If the history is palpable at Inverness, it's downright overt at Oakland Hills.  You could make the case that this pristine, private patch of parkland perfection enjoyed a good bit of prestige from the start.  You need only arm yourself with two facts in support of this argument: the South Course was designed by Donald Ross, and the club's first head pro was a man by the name of Walter Hagen.  Like any other living thing, however, Oakland Hills would need nurturing.  It would need a caring, loving hand to ensure that the prestige it enjoyed at birth would not only remain strong, but one day grow.  That nurturing hand just so happened to be the United States Golf Association. 

Note: Dave wrote a hole-by-hole description of Oakland Hills (South) in a blog entry.  It can be found here.

Oakland Hills Country Club has hosted its fair share of major golf tournaments.  More specifically, we're talking about six US Opens, three PGA Championships, two US Senior Opens, a US Amateur (and another to come in 2016), and a Ryder Cup.  Only Oakmont (with eight) and Baltusrol (seven) have hosted more Opens. After the final 1951 Open, the South Course earned the moniker that it enjoys to this day, when the champion Ben Hogan quipped "I'm glad I brought this course, this monster, to its knees."  Hogan's round of 67 that day was one of two under-par rounds shot on 'the Monster' the entire week

If it's good enough for Ben, it's good enough for me. 

There was something I loved about Oakland Hills from the moment I set foot on the property.  It's kind of funny, actually... I'm sitting here trying to think of the details of the course and the specific reasons I loved it so much.  I'm trying to come up with statements that can properly justify the high rating that OHCC enjoys on our scales, and I'm having a hard time coming up with anything.  All that comes to mind is "everything".  Everything about the place was special.  The clubhouse is in a class all its own in the categories of grandeur, beauty, and elegance.  The porch that looks out on to the first, ninth, tenth, and eighteenth holes is unlike anything I had ever seen before.  It's the only time I've ever stood on a putting green/first tee and almost wanted to sit down in a lounge chair and enjoy a lemonade while watching groups pass by.  Maybe when I'm 85 years old and have played the course hundreds of times...  But not this day.  This day was for play.

The first point of discussion when it comes to the South Course at Oakland Hills is, well, the hills. 

You hear it all the time in discussion of golf course designs.  "There's just great movement to the property."  If ever you are having trouble trying to further explain this somewhat ambiguous, oft-used expression, take a ride on up to Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and see if they'll let you go take a look at Oakland Hills.  I'm not sure how much change in elevation there is from one side of the property to the other (it might not be much at all), but I'll tell you one thing for sure; there's enough elevation change within the property to keep every kid in Detroit happy and on a sled all winter.  You know, if they allowed that sort of thing...

One thing that stuck out for me at OHCC was how Ross used these movements in the property to position a number of the greens below the fairway, making for downhill approach shots.  Most of Ross's greens fall in to the 'upside-down tea cup' category, so seeing holes like the first, fourth and fourteenth (and to a lesser extent the third, thirteenth, and sixteenth) definitely caught my eye.  I liked the variety in this regard, especially on the fourteenth.  In the right conditions, this 500-yard two-shotter could be combated with a low, running approach that could feed downhill to the green. 

Another excellent use of the hills is on the eleventh hole, the shortest 455-yard par four I've ever played.  The hole would be incredibly visually intimidating if it weren't so cool-looking.  The fairway doglegs left while pitching right and uphill, then doglegs right while pitching left and uphill.  Surrounded by bunkers, the wild fairway finally juts uphill to the green, which is severely pitched from back to front.  A consequence of the hill on the left side of the fairway is a HUGE speed slot that will carry your ball another 40-50 yards toward the green.  It's the only place on the course where hitting a 330 yard drive isn't completely out of the question.  This hole is no easy task, though.  It requires two very well-placed and well-controlled shots (which I did not hit... see course pictures) and quite a bit of fortitude around the green.  You would not be the first person to putt your ball clear off the green and down the hill. 

I also enjoyed the variety at Oakland Hills.  You never felt inundated with the same types of holes, or even with the same lengths of holes.  There are two par 5s under 500 yards (they play as 4s in majors).  There's a 360-yard par 4.  There's a par 3 - the thirteenth - that can play fun yet difficult from any yardage.  It may be 7,142 yards, but the South Course certainly doesn't feel that long.  Oh, and in case you're interested, there's a whole different set of tees that sit behind 7,142 that will really make you feel like (less of) a man...  I played the par 3 ninth from 278 yards.  I was lucky to make par. 

Alright, I guess it's time to talk about the greens...

The day we played the South Course at Oakland Hills, the greens were not running at "you better tiptoe around your putt or I'll embarrass you" speed.  I would say they were more toward a "why should I bring out my A game when I can blow your mind with a B+?" speed.  Aside from French Lick, these were some of the most interesting greens I've seen on a Ross course (Holston Hills is in there too).  It seems as though Ross decided to forgo subtlety on these greens, and perhaps foresaw a day when greens could be cut to a level that produced pure roll and exciting putts. 

It seems like each hole at Oakland Hills has at least two pin placements on a plateau.  Plenty of them have ridges or crowns that seem to split the green in two - namely the finishing hole.  The thirteenth features somewhat of a horseshoe ridge that runs around the green from front left to front right, leaving the middle and front sections of the green lying some 4 feet below.  After playing the hole, I dropped a ball on the front left corner of the green and played a putt along the inside of the bowl created by the horseshoe.  The 45-footer broke nearly 25 feet. 

Long story short, you better bring your short game to Oakland Hills.  Knowledge of the greens helps out a ton - knowing where to miss is a big help out here.  Nowhere is this more apparent than at the most interesting *cough cough* ridiculous *cough cough* green on the course - the par 3 ninth.  The only point of my round during which I even remotely pondered dipleasure was after feasting my eyes on this green.  On a hole that requires a fairway metal off the tee, I hardly thought the green was warranted.  The putting surface features a number of different levels and a few pin placements that are downright nasty. Now, I am not suggesting that they blow up the green - it's way too interesting.  I just think the hole is too long.  There is a good video explaining it that can be found here.

A world-class course with tons of history, excellent conditioning on a beautiful day, and three great people to play with made Oakland Hills the most enjoyable round of golf I played all year.  I played really well, to boot. 

Donald Ross gave birth to a legend in 1918.  It was midwived by Walter Hagen and raised by 140 members who paid $250 apiece for the honor.  In its sixth year, the USGA let go of the back of the bicycle, providing a push toward maturity from which it would never look back.  It grew tough skin after becoming accustomed to attacks from the best players in the world - and this was all before its first growth spurt.  What was once a promising young creation had evolved into a full fleged monster; living, and breathing down the necks of anyone who dare mount an offensive. 

Now it rises from a second spurt, ready to reveal its braun to those who wish to test their fortitude.  



Special thanks to SP and DV - what an amazing day.

The South Course at Oakland Hills Country Club has been renovated a few times over the years in preparation for major tournaments, most notably the 1951 US Open (Robert Trent Jones, Sr.) and the 2008 PGA Championship (Rees Jones).  Renovation notes for 2008 can be found here

Oakland Hills (South) Homepage