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Forrest Richardson

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Oakmont Stories
« on: January 13, 2003, 08:33:54 PM »
I've been asked, based on a mention of Emil "Dutch" Loeffler, to start a discussion on Oakmont. As some of you know, my mentor, Jack Snyder (ASGCA), was at Oakmont as greenkeeper in the early 1950s. Jack's father, Arthur A. Snyder, caddied for H.C. Fownes and worked there on the grounds crew. Among Jack Snyder's contributions was overseeing the buffering of the course during the building of the turnpike -- and also reconstruction of No. 8 green in advance of the PGA.

Jack is recovering from an operation currently. I'll do my best to set him up so he can log into this thread. Perhaps you all might throw some questions and comments his way. (Please be patient as I'm not entirely sure what his schedule will be!)
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »
Forrest Richardson, Golf Course Architect/ASGCA
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Gary Smith (Guest)

Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #1 on: January 13, 2003, 08:53:04 PM »
I've never set foot on Oakmont, but it is near the top of my list of USA courses that I would love to visit.

My question for the gentleman is this. When did the idea of raking the bunker sand into furrows originate, and about what time period did the practice end? Thanks.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

TEPaul

Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #2 on: January 13, 2003, 08:55:24 PM »
I would love to hear from Jack Snyder, particularly if he knows anything about the greenspeeds of Oakmont way back when. I know a man who's from Philly now who definitely knows a good deal about the game and Oakmont too as he's Emil's nephew. He also cut the greens at Oakmont when he was a teenager way back when and says that despite what Pete Dye said about those greenpeeds at Oakmont back then that they were the fastest in the world by a long way because of some things Emil Loeffler did at the insistence of William Fownes. Emil's nephew is not exactly oblivious to fast greens today either since he's belonged to both Merion and Pine Valley for years.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:01 PM by -1 »

Forrest Richardson

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Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #3 on: January 13, 2003, 09:09:55 PM »
Gary -- I happened to ask Jack when the practice of furrow raking bunkers (SAND TRAPS!) ended -- he said it was after he left, which was 1953 I believe. So I'm guessing the late 50s or early 60s. Interestingly, the furrowed rakes used by Jack's crew were made from sickle blades. The blades were cut into thirds and attached to metal handles.

TEPaul -- Stay tuned for Jack to chime in on your comments.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »
Forrest Richardson, Golf Course Architect/ASGCA
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Bill_McBride

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Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #4 on: January 13, 2003, 09:58:02 PM »
Forrest, I have played Oakmont several times as the guest of a member who grew up on the course -- Sam Seem.  Big guy with great touch, and a conoisseur of "ICL" (Iron City Light) and "center cut popcorn" in the men's grill.  

My question: were the "Church Pews" always configured as at present?  I'm really not aware of any other set of bunkers like that one.  Or is it really just one big bunker!?  

Looking forward to seeing you Sunday afternoon if it all works out.  We are playing Apache Stronghold Friday and Saturday, and Talking Stick North Sunday.  A GCA feast!  I'm really looking forward to both courses.

Bill McBride
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

TEPaul

Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #5 on: January 14, 2003, 04:25:59 AM »
Bill:

The church pew bunkers were always like that (under W. Fownes) except the sand used to be "furrowed".
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

Forrest Richardson

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Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #6 on: January 14, 2003, 05:24:04 AM »
See you Sunday, Bill, providing I get back early -- which I plan on accomplishing. Keep in mind Tommy N.'s claim that Talking Stick North is "a great routing" as you negotiate yourseelf there. As you may have overheard I disagree. Very good course, but I see not much in the routing. It's sort of a spiral within a spiral. Have fun.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »
Forrest Richardson, Golf Course Architect/ASGCA
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Mark_Fine

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Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #7 on: January 14, 2003, 06:52:46 AM »
Forrest,
I played Oakmont again last October and left there more impressed than ever.  I've always loved the golf course but with the trees gone it is clearly one of the most amazing golf courses I have seen anywhere in the world!!  I could not believe the difference without the trees.  When you stand at the clubhouse and look out over the golf course it takes your breath away.    

My question to you or Jack would be about the Turnpike and its impact on the golf course.  Sad to say, I really don't know much about how the course changed as a result of the highway.  It might be the only flaw I could find!  
Mark
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

Forrest Richardson

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Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #8 on: January 14, 2003, 09:40:17 PM »
Update: I have explained to Jack how to log on, etc. Watch for him soon.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »
Forrest Richardson, Golf Course Architect/ASGCA
    www.golfgroupltd.com
    www.golframes.com

TEPaul

Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #9 on: January 14, 2003, 09:55:07 PM »
"My question to you or Jack would be about the Turnpike and its impact on the golf course.  Sad to say, I really don't know much about how the course changed as a result of the highway.  It might be the only flaw I could find!"  
Mark

Mark:

That was a question of mine about a year ago after having played Oakmont for years--what did the turnpike do to the course?

Mark Studer answered that on here when I asked it--the turnpike did nothing to the course--as that's the way it's always been. Before the turnpike the cut through which the turnpike runs was a railroad bed and the railroad always ran through there dividing the golf course from the beginning!

Golf and railroads went hand in hand in the old days. Some of the great courses in the world have railroad or tracks very closely juxtaposed to them. I hardly ever think about it but my own course has that!
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

Mark_Fine

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Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #10 on: January 15, 2003, 06:50:53 AM »
Interesting.  Thanks Tom.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

Boo (Guest)

Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #11 on: January 15, 2003, 07:10:35 AM »
I believe that the Church Pews between 3 and 4 used to be several bunkers that were later made into the big Church Pew bunker.  

At one time, Oakmont had something like 300+ bunkers but due to some combining and filling in of bunkers the number has been reduced by a half.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

mark studer

Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #12 on: January 15, 2003, 02:16:13 PM »
TPaul-the other railroad that "came into play" was the one that runs from downtown out the 12 miles along the allegheny river to the town of oakmont. The club had a horse and carriage that would go up and down the steep hill (hulton road) to pick up and drop off golfers....there are some photos in the clubhouse that show the wagon pulling up between the clubhouse and the ninth green.Mark
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

Michael Dugger

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Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #13 on: January 15, 2003, 02:22:16 PM »
I have a question.  Provided enough land and a large enough budget to craft 200+ bunkers and quick greens.....what separates Oakmont from any other course built on a nice piece of parkland??

I'm not stupid.  I know that there is something different and special about Oakmont....but what is it?  Is it simply the grandiose scale of everything?  Bunkers?  Greens?

Thanks is advance
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »
What does it matter if the poor player can putt all the way from tee to green, provided that he has to zigzag so frequently that he takes six or seven putts to reach it?     --Alistair Mackenzie--

mark studer

Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #14 on: January 15, 2003, 02:25:20 PM »
Forrest- I would love to hear what Jack has to say about the moving of the 8th green when the turnpke was added to the existing railroad bed. A long time caddie(JP celebrated his 90th 2 years ago) tells the story that the old 8th green was elevated about 3 feet above its present height and it played as a short par 4 that balls would not run up on and stay put.Please ask about the eighth green complex because aerial photos are difficult to interpret.Thank you for checking out this matter . Mark
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

Bill_McBride

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Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #15 on: January 15, 2003, 02:42:53 PM »
mdugger, I'm not an Oakmont expert but love playing it.  I think some of what separates it (beyond a bunch of really good golf holes and a couple of great ones!) is the history. Mr. Fownes built the course, which I think has a lot of modern feeling to it, in 1903 I think!  And every time somebody hit a ball where he didn't think they were supposed to be able to, he had a bunker built overnight!  And big mean rakes to keep the bunkers furrowed so no easy extractions!  He sounds like he must have been an incredible tyrant, just the thing to keep a famous old course showing its teeth forever.  I have no idea what the green speeds were in the old days, but there is so much slope that they must have been quick at all times.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

TEPaul

Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #16 on: January 15, 2003, 03:11:58 PM »
mdugger:

Your question about what separates Oakmont from any other large and good piece of land with 200 bunkers and quick greens is actually a very fine question.

The answer, in detail anyway, would be a long one but in a nutshell what separates it is basically just extremely good architecture in almost everyway through and through.

The course uses it's available land very well and the individual holes use their particular topogrophy excellently in how the bunkers are arranged in relation to each holes topography, roll, kick, filter etc, how the greens are designed and built flowing near perfectly with their individual hole's topography and on an on. Approaches where the green may be below you using green formations that are probably natural grade often running away from you and vice versa going the other way.

Oakmont is basically a real study in how to use land well architecturally and how to use the natural landforms of the holes apparently almost perfectly.

It's a very good question you ask. Another large site with as many interesting natural characteristics as Oakmont has could probably produce as good a course but the architect would have to do a great job in identifying it all and arranging it all as well.

But afterall, that's what great architecture is all about!
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

Michael Dugger

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Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #17 on: January 15, 2003, 03:47:36 PM »
TEPaul

Thank you.   That's a fine analysis.  I can't help but feel that this issue of 'good architecture' must have something to do with the length of time spent 'extracting' the strategy and charm out of what appears to be a fairly 'plain' piece of parkland.  

Which leads me to believe that there have been thousands of courses built since Oakmont that have had the same amount of potential but have failed to find themselves in Oakmont's league.  All history aside....special rakes and quick greens.  

Every course built since, that fails to live up to Oakmont's billing, ought to be ashamed of themselves.  I mean, this course has a lot NOT going for it.  Parkland...turnpike...yet it is one of the ten best in the U.S. year after year.  Simple, straightforward....seems like the potential is there for others to emulate it.  

One last question, Mr. Paul.....would you say that Oakmont is a well bunkered course.  I'm not so much looking for thoughts along the lines of  bunker placement, but aesthetics.  I always thought they looked FANTASTIC.  Yet, rarely do I see another course that quite captures their look.  Church Pews aside.  Thoughts?

Thanks
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »
What does it matter if the poor player can putt all the way from tee to green, provided that he has to zigzag so frequently that he takes six or seven putts to reach it?     --Alistair Mackenzie--

Joel_Stewart

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Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #18 on: January 15, 2003, 05:08:34 PM »
My question what was the club reaction to Johnny Miller shooting 63 in the 1973 Open and if that has influenced the club in its setup?
Hope Jack is feeling better.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

Forrest Richardson

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Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #19 on: January 15, 2003, 05:25:40 PM »
Jack is very weak, but doing OK. Imagine a chap in his 80s having to endure a whole two weeks in a hospital! Awful! Anyway, I am hopeful he will be up to answering all your fine questions in the enxt day or so. Thanks for your patience.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »
Forrest Richardson, Golf Course Architect/ASGCA
    www.golfgroupltd.com
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GRAMPA (Guest)

Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #20 on: January 16, 2003, 07:44:23 AM »
Forrest

I was wondering if Jack was involved in the bunker renovations back in the mid 80,s. I understand that all the sand in the bunkers was removed and "washed" on site and reapplied. Was there any "shaping" or placement modifications? And did they do any of this crazy restoring to a certain year etc.? Basically wanting to know his involvement and the magnitude of the project? Thanks.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

Forrest Richardson

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Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #21 on: January 16, 2003, 07:52:33 AM »
GRAMPA -- Jack was only there in the early 1950s.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »
Forrest Richardson, Golf Course Architect/ASGCA
    www.golfgroupltd.com
    www.golframes.com

Grampa (Guest)

Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #22 on: January 16, 2003, 08:21:15 AM »
Forrest

Sorry for the mix up, but I thought it would be logical to call in Jack to consult considering his father and he had been part of the club for many years. Maybe he had some inside knowledge in some old daily logs from the early construction process. Since we know at the time many ideas were developed and implemented in the field during construction. This may have been beneficial to the club and members involved.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

Chris Hervochon

Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #23 on: January 16, 2003, 01:38:43 PM »
TEPAUL-
IF you wouldn't mind, would you please offer some thoughts on the bunker placement at Oakmont as well and how they relate to the natural contours of the land and the contours of the green?  IF you wouldn't mind could somebody cite some examples.  I am rather curious as I have never even been within 100 miles of the place and you don't really see much about the architecture outside of GCA.
« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »

Forrest Richardson

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Re: Oakmont Stories
« Reply #24 on: January 22, 2003, 09:38:00 PM »
Here are some answers from Jack Snyder. He is at home, but not much energy to even get on the computer -- so these have been dictated to me for all your enjoyment:

- - -

When did the idea of raking the bunker sand into furrows originate, and about what time period did the practice end?

Jack recalls that his father noted that the practice began early on after the course was built. Jack's father, Arthur A. Snyder, began caddying in 1907. Eventually caddying for W.C. Fownes, Jr., before getting promoted to the greenkeeping crew. It was after jack left as greenkeeper (1952) that the powers that be (perhaps the USGA?) felt the practice of furrowed rakes unfair. Exact dates unknown.

Jack and his family always felt the practice was fine -- after all, sand is supposed to be a hazard! Interestingly, almost all courses in Western PA also raked traps with furrowed rakes at that time. The practice was widespread -- after all, if Oakmont did it, it was the thing to do!

- - -

About the greenspeeds of Oakmont way back when?

Jack says they rolled the greens heavily -- and often. Especially before tournaments. They also shaved the knives on the greens mowers so the cuts would be very clean and close. Jack recalls mowing at 3/16-inch -- but with the shaved knives it made it seem a cleaner cut -- and it made for faster surfaces. Jack says they were the fastest he'd ever seen in that day.

Jack came to Oakmont when all green mowing was by hand mowers -- and they were not gas powered! He had to argue to give power mowers a try and they (green committee) agreed. they tested the Toro "Pony", about a 20" wide gas mower. It worked excellently and the club purchased several, at least three. That was in 1951 -- first power mowers at Oakmont greens!

- - -

Were the "Church Pews" always configured as at present?

They are as Jack recalls them since he can remember. He first set foot on Oakmont in about 1933 or thereabouts. The bunker is one bunker with grass ridges spaced within. Jack recalls cutting the ridges with scythes, not mowers. He doubts that the bunker was originally several long traps which were made into one large with the ridges -- but he will defer to you historians on this question.

- - -

My question to Jack would be about the Turnpike and its impact on the golf course. Sad to say, I really don't know much about how the course changed as a result of the highway?

The course really didn't change as there was quite a right-of-way already there for the railroad, as TEPaul said. Jack recalls that the turnpike commission may have facilitated the addition of a pedestrian bridge. The noise was a factor, especially the part of the highway where trucks had to shift gears to make the grade. Jack planted conifers along that area to assist in buffering the course. Jack staked all of the trees along Nos. 7 and 8, and behind Nos. 1 green, 9 tee, and 10 green and 11 tee -- adjacent to the turnpike.

All-in-all the turnpike really didn't have much negative impact to the the course.

- - -

Regarding No. 8 Green?

The Green Committee authorized Jack to re-do No.8 green after Jack asked pro Lew Worsham how many times he might be able to hold the green -- "Only one in four" was Worsham's answer. Jack created the plan for the green and used in-house labor to get the work done. The sand came from local river sources. The Saraha trap stayed along the left, the change was in contouring and a raise on the right portion so a ball could be held more often by a well executed shot. The intent was not to change, just improve the playability.

"When a pro of Worsham's caliber could only be on 1 out of 4, something needed to be done", Jack said.

- - -

I would love to hear what Jack has to say about the moving of the 8th green when the turnpke was added to the existing railroad bed?

The re-done No. 8 green had nothing to do with the turnpike, it was simply Jack's suggestion because the green was too difficult to hold. And, it didn't move, it just was just re-contoured. Jack also enhanced the sand on the right, making it work with the newly contoured green. Jack also recalls building a new forward tee at No. 8 hole at the same time.

- - -

Regarding the No. 8 green being 3 feet above its present height and playing as a short par 4 that balls would not run up on and stay put?

Jack doesn't recall this at all -- No. 8 was raised only on the right and it was always a par-3 as he can recall. He kept the green in the same spot and shape.

- - -




« Last Edit: December 31, 1969, 07:00:00 PM by 1056376800 »
Forrest Richardson, Golf Course Architect/ASGCA
    www.golfgroupltd.com
    www.golframes.com

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