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Sven Nilsen

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Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« on: December 05, 2015, 10:43:54 AM »
Oakland Hills hosted the 1937 U. S. Open, a seminal event in golf history as it was the first U. S. Open set to be played on a course measuring over 7,000 yards.

There's a gap in the record as to who did the work to extend the course from its original length, and exactly how comprehensive that work was in altering the original Donald Ross 1917 layout.  The following quote is taken from the club's website regarding preparations for the event:

"Prior to the 37 Open, noted golf architect Albert W. Tillinghast is asked to look over the South Course and offer advice for improvements.  Tillinghast reports, This course needs nothing more to prepare it for the Open.  What it needs is to be left alone.  He also observes, Oakland Hills is one of the finest golf courses, not alone in this country, but in the world."

What is left unsaid is that the course Tillinghast saw had already been altered, and the man responsible for these changes was its original designer, Donald Ross.

The following April 11, 1937 Ogden Standard-Examiner article goes into a bit of detail regarding the changes made by Ross, and lays out a hole by hole description of the course.



This step in the evolution of the course receives little mention in the historical record.  It is not noted on the club's online history page, and none of the various high-level sources for the work of Donald Ross note a remodel, focusing solely on his original design work.

There has been a bit of discussion over the years as to whether or not Oakland Hills South should be restored, and if so to what version of the course should the architects look to recapture.  The work done by RTJ prior to the 1951 U. S. Open has great historical significance, particularly in light of Ben Hogan's masterful performance "bringing the course to its knees."  This work is cited as the invention of the modern championship course, and the scores put up during the event attest to the USGA's ongoing attempts to defend par over the years.

But how much of the character of the 1951 course owes its genesis to the work done by Ross in the '30's?  During the 1937 event, officials decided not to play the course at its full length.  Imagine the scores if they had, and would we be talking about the 1937 championship in the same terms of the one in '51?  Was it this version of the course that was truly the monster, and perhaps deserving of the title later bestowed?
"As much as we have learned about the history of golf architecture in the last ten plus years, I'm convinced we have only scratched the surface."  A GCA Poster

"There's the golf hole; play it any way you please." Donald Ross

Sven Nilsen

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #1 on: December 05, 2015, 10:56:26 AM »
Perhaps it is an exercise for a later time, but a hole by hole comparison of these three versions of the course (1917, 1937 and 1951) would be a great exercise in the study of this one course, the evolution of the game from the teens to pre- and post World War II and an insight into the works of two of the most important architects of our courses.

Other than the article above, I have very little information on any of these three courses.  Routing maps and hole drawings may be out there, but I have yet to see them.

There are a couple of artifacts floating around, a few of which are posted below.

1937 Scorecard -



1951 Hogan Scorecard -



1937 Postcard and Photos -





"As much as we have learned about the history of golf architecture in the last ten plus years, I'm convinced we have only scratched the surface."  A GCA Poster

"There's the golf hole; play it any way you please." Donald Ross

BHoover

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #2 on: December 05, 2015, 11:04:27 AM »
Wasn't there some discussion here recently about a possible restoration at OH? I'll say that I absolutely loved playing the South course. A restored version of the South would be even more spectacular.

BCowan

Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #3 on: December 05, 2015, 11:09:19 AM »
Sven,

   Great work and a really good exercise i look forward to.  I would also add having not played the course, the evolution of Irrigation systems into the 3 years of study.  hand-watering and single row possibly in 51'. Maybe stretching this comparison to  96' version into the equation for irrigation impact. 

Sven Nilsen

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #4 on: December 05, 2015, 11:11:17 AM »
"As much as we have learned about the history of golf architecture in the last ten plus years, I'm convinced we have only scratched the surface."  A GCA Poster

"There's the golf hole; play it any way you please." Donald Ross

Sven Nilsen

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #5 on: December 05, 2015, 11:21:38 AM »
Adding in three aerial images of the course, from 1948, 1952 and today.





"As much as we have learned about the history of golf architecture in the last ten plus years, I'm convinced we have only scratched the surface."  A GCA Poster

"There's the golf hole; play it any way you please." Donald Ross

Sven Nilsen

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #6 on: December 05, 2015, 11:26:30 AM »
Here is the Golf Course Histories page comparing the 1949 and 2012 versions of the course, as well as a comparison of a 1929 plan of the course with the 1949 version.


http://golfcoursehistories.com/OaklandHills.html
« Last Edit: December 05, 2015, 11:33:39 AM by Sven Nilsen »
"As much as we have learned about the history of golf architecture in the last ten plus years, I'm convinced we have only scratched the surface."  A GCA Poster

"There's the golf hole; play it any way you please." Donald Ross

BCrosby

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #7 on: December 05, 2015, 02:29:42 PM »
Sven -

Great find, great topic. A couple of observations:

- Hogan's scorecard from the '51 Open is about 100 yards shorter  than the OH after the Ross changes in '37.
- Which suggests that RTJ' 'monster' course in '51 was mostly about his narrowing fw's and adding bunkers? (IIRC, Hansen's bio of RTJ talks about RTJ lengthening several holes at OH. I now wonder if his account is accurate.)
- Looking at Mark's slider of the '49 course, there are many fewer bunkers than in 2012. How many of the post '49 bunkers are RTJ's adds in '51?

As an aside, I continue to be amazed at the important discoveries still being made about even our most famous courses, like OH.

Well done.

Bob


MCirba

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #8 on: December 05, 2015, 03:15:32 PM »
Nice work, Sven!!
"Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent" - Calvin Coolidge

https://cobbscreek.org/

Phil Young

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #9 on: December 06, 2015, 09:58:51 AM »
Sven,

I have a bit of a problem with the article. Its dated 4/11/1937 and states, "The new course was viewed recently by A.W. Tillinghast..." He then quotes Tilly in a way that sounds as if he interviewed him personally. I don't think that actually happened.

In fact, what he wrote would have been news to Tilly as he wasn't anywhere near that part of the country. From March 1, 1937 to April 9, 1937, he was in California, Arizona, Texas, Tennessee and Kentucky. He then travelled to St. Louis where he stayed until the 17th. The writer may have been referring to Tilly's visit to the course the year before on 9/30/1936. Yet in his letter to the PGA about this visit one can't find the ebullient praise that he supposedly lavished on the course that he is quoted as stating in the article. Nor does he heap praise of this sort on it in his November 1936 article found in the PGA of America magazine titled, "Intimate Survey of Oakland Hills." This article was reproduced in the book, "Gleanings From the Wayside." I am very curious then as to the source of the quotes, especially as this was an article published in the Ogden Standard-Examiner, a newspaper in UTAH... Quite aways from Detroit. So this was most likely a version of a wire story from elsewhere. I believe that the author may have been quoting Watrous who was quoting what Tilly personally told him as he toured the course with Watrous.

By that I'm not saying that Tilly didn't view it as one of the great courses of the world, rather, I think that the article's author took some liberties in the article and that some of what was at least inaccurate. That is why I am wondering as to the veracity of his statement that, "Redesigning was in charge of Donald Ross, expert on golf course layouts."

What actual proof is there that Ross did oversee these? I ask because during Tilly's visit (see his letter below) he makes mention that five holes had been lengthened in anticipation of the event yet he doesn't mention Ross' involvement in this, just that it had been done by "the committee."

Again, I'm not disputing that Ross was responsible but am simply asking for far more proof than a statement in an article that is quite in accurate in what it stated about Tillinghast. A mistake of that nature makes me wonder if the author simply took the information that Ross originally designed it and then ascribed the changes to him as well.

Anyway, here's the Tillinghast letter:

Sven Nilsen

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #10 on: December 06, 2015, 10:55:34 AM »
Phil:

The same story was reported in a number of other papers in April, 1937.  If you like, I can post those articles as well.

In addition, prior to the start of the U.S. Open the article below was printed (see the byline from the Newspaper Enterprise Association) containing a similar Tillinghast quote. 

I have no reason to doubt that Tillie said the words contained in these two nationally distributed articles, words that echo the phrase "this is a great course" written by him in the letter you posted.

As to when he said those words, as far as I know they did have telephones in 1937.  He didn't need to be on site to contribute a quote.  But thanks to the letter, we do know that he had seen the course "recently."

Sven


"As much as we have learned about the history of golf architecture in the last ten plus years, I'm convinced we have only scratched the surface."  A GCA Poster

"There's the golf hole; play it any way you please." Donald Ross

Sven Nilsen

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #11 on: December 06, 2015, 11:04:48 AM »
Edited this post as I don't have anything that affirmatively puts Ross in Detroit in 1936. 


In addition, the possibility does exist, as Phil suggested, that the first article mistakenly attributed the remodel to Ross.  I'm leaning towards him having been responsible for the work, as it make sense that the club would have gone back to him at that time.


There are additional articles from later on in 1937 that continue to note Ross as being responsible for the new work, but it is possible they are just continuing the information relayed in the April series of articles.


There's an interesting back story here, with Tillie on his PGA Tour, and the Ross history of improving US Open courses prior to the events.

Sven
« Last Edit: December 06, 2015, 11:40:06 AM by Sven Nilsen »
"As much as we have learned about the history of golf architecture in the last ten plus years, I'm convinced we have only scratched the surface."  A GCA Poster

"There's the golf hole; play it any way you please." Donald Ross

Phil Young

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #12 on: December 06, 2015, 12:49:48 PM »
Sven,

In May, 1936, Bloomfield Hills, which is nearby Oakland Hills, asked Ross to help them redesign their final 8 holes. He never came. I'd find it difficult to imagine that he'd go to Oakland Hills and not to BHCC if he was in the area at that time.

Then again, Tilly mentioned that 5 holes had been lengthened when he visited them in 1936. Who's to say that means that Ross had to have been there that year. It could have been the year or two before that when he was there. That is why I'm not writing Ross off but that I'm simply questioning the veracity of the article. I've seen far too many well-meant articles being accepted as gospel when the actual events referred to in them was quite different.

Anthony Gholz

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #13 on: December 07, 2015, 09:41:46 AM »
Sven/Phil/Ben:


Two things in the Tillie letter:


"new green site at the fourteenth" the "only week hole"  Wow.  this is one of the tough holes today and has one of the best greens on the course.  Did Tillinghast's new green site get carried through or did he just make an observation and the green we see today was there from the beginning?


also the letter refers to fairway irrigation "applied with intelligence"  doesn't say single row double row, but it certainly implies full irrigation prior to the '37 Open.


Tony

Sven Nilsen

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #14 on: December 07, 2015, 10:09:48 AM »
Sven/Phil/Ben:


Two things in the Tillie letter:


"new green site at the fourteenth" the "only week hole"  Wow.  this is one of the tough holes today and has one of the best greens on the course.  Did Tillinghast's new green site get carried through or did he just make an observation and the green we see today was there from the beginning?


also the letter refers to fairway irrigation "applied with intelligence"  doesn't say single row double row, but it certainly implies full irrigation prior to the '37 Open.


Tony


Anthony:


My guess as to why Tillie thought it was a weak hole is because it had been played as a par 5.  For 1937, it was changed to a par 4 and played 10 yards shorter than previously.


I can't find any mention of the green being reworked or moved, and if you look at the comparison linked to above of the 1929 course plan to the late 1940's aerial, the green appears to be in the same location.


Sven
"As much as we have learned about the history of golf architecture in the last ten plus years, I'm convinced we have only scratched the surface."  A GCA Poster

"There's the golf hole; play it any way you please." Donald Ross

Dan Ackerberg

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #15 on: December 07, 2015, 07:29:07 PM »
No kidding, I love the 14th and couldn't believe it when I saw that quote.


Thanks for the link to the 1929 layout sketch Sven - I think I've seen an aerial pre 1949 somewhere, but can't seem to figure out where so maybe I was dreaming :).   


Anyway, who do you think removed so many fairway bunkers between 1929 and 1949?


Thanks,
Dan




Dan Ackerberg

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #16 on: December 12, 2015, 09:16:29 AM »

I found the older aerial I remembered, from 1940.  I dunno, it looks to me that RTJ did a pretty good job restoring the course back to the spirit of Ross's course after whatever happened to it between 1940 and 1949.








Sven Nilsen

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #17 on: December 12, 2015, 10:10:29 AM »
Dan:


My guess is that what we see in the 1948 aerial is the result of preparations for RTJ's work (which would take place shortly thereafter).  Many of the Ross bunkers look like they've been filled in and/or grassed over.


Just focusing on the bunkering schemes alone in the 1940, 1948 and 1952 aerials, I don't see any "restoration" by RTJ.


Sven



"As much as we have learned about the history of golf architecture in the last ten plus years, I'm convinced we have only scratched the surface."  A GCA Poster

"There's the golf hole; play it any way you please." Donald Ross

Dan Ackerberg

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #18 on: December 12, 2015, 10:30:44 AM »


Dan:


My guess is that what we see in the 1948 aerial is the result of preparations for RTJ's work (which would take place shortly thereafter).  Many of the Ross bunkers look like they've been filled in and/or grassed over.





Interesting point.   Do you know if there is documentation that the renovation started 3 years before the Open?  I couldn't find much - this article implies that renovations were being completed in Fall 1950, but doesn't say anything about when they started.


http://www.si.com/vault/1996/06/10/213796/making-the-monster-in-1951-two-strong-willed-men-joined-forces-to-turn-oakland-hills-into-the-toughest-open-venue-ever


Sven Nilsen

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #19 on: December 12, 2015, 11:03:39 AM »
Dan:


I haven't looked into the exact timing of the RTJ work that much.


The real interest to me in all of this is how RTJ's name has become so associated with the course Hogan called "The Monster."


The more I read about the course, and looking at the distances it was played at in the different major tournaments, the more I start to think that Ross deserves almost all of the credit for its reputation. 


The course was lengthened a bit in the 30's (by Ross, if the article a is correct), but I don't think it was lengthened as much as described above (it was reported as being around 6,850 yards in the late 20's).  From what I can tell, it was not lengthened at all by RTJ, and seemingly even played shorter than they did or could have played it in 1937.  It was made more difficult by changing par on a few holes, but that is not an architectural change. 


RTJ did pinch the landing zones with his bunkering scheme, and by the looks of it created many more aerial approach shots than were required before (in many ways the greenside work here looks a lot like what Rees Jones would do years later at Cog Hill).  Those two adjustments seemed to eliminate much of the strategic nature of the Ross course, dictating where drives should be placed as opposed to giving the player the option to play away from trouble or to take it on to give a better angle into greens.  I imagine the course was more Augusta-like prior to RTJ, with real risk/reward opportunities.  The RTJ version almost looks boring in comparison.


It would be interesting to find write-ups of exactly why Hogan and others thought the course was such a bear. 


Sven
"As much as we have learned about the history of golf architecture in the last ten plus years, I'm convinced we have only scratched the surface."  A GCA Poster

"There's the golf hole; play it any way you please." Donald Ross

Dan Ackerberg

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #20 on: December 12, 2015, 01:58:13 PM »
Thanks Sven. 

It seems to me that the essence of the course is clearly Ross.  The biggest RTJ changes seem to have been:

1) The pinched two sided fairway bunkering (particularly 1, 2, 4, 8, 10, 18, though from the 1940 photo and 1929 sketch it appears that there was already some of this on 1 and 4 on the Ross course)

2) The very thick rough that RTJ put in - from what I've read, it sounds like this was much thicker that ever before in the US Open.

These two changes clearly impacted the nature of driving the ball in a major way for the Pros (hence the Monster reputation, and the RTJ "accolades" since essentially this RTJ setup became the setup for driving the ball in the US Open for the next 50 years).  However, at least to me these don't seem like major changes to the fundamental nature of the course.   It's more about course setup for a tournament (and again, a course setup that became very influential, whether we like it or not).

What approach shots do you think were fundamentally changed by RTJ?  It's hard for me to come up with many.  Alot of the added 1951 front bunkers are on holes with raised greens (e.g. 2, 5, 18) where one is probably not going to be running the ball up anyway.  Hence, they don't seem like hugely fundamental changes to me.   Maybe 4 is one approach that significantly changed?

Dan

Anthony Gholz

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #21 on: December 12, 2015, 09:01:21 PM »
Sven/Dan:


What strikes me on the 1940 aerial is the massive scale of the Ross bunkers.  Take a look at 2, 6, and 12.  The bunkers short right of 12 green have disappeared. The Ross design looks like an Oakmont cousin!  Nothing small scale about this course from the get go.


Tough to make out the pond on 13 and especially on the pond and creek on 7.


Thanks for posting the '40 aerial Dan.


Tony

BCrosby

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #22 on: December 13, 2015, 11:14:35 AM »
Sven -


Fascinating. Are you saying that RTJ milked a publicity home run for himself out of what was architecturally a bunt single?  ;)


Bob

Anthony Gholz

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #23 on: December 16, 2015, 03:51:01 PM »
Sven/Dan:


While going thru some Oakland Hills programs from years past I found this layout from the 1964 Carling World Open.  This was going to be a "world tour" event with qualifying from all over.  Bobby Nichols won with Arnold finishing second and Ben Hogan 4th.  Might have been Hogan's last top five in a Tour event.  The layout is pretty precise regarding the bunkering location and shapes.  #7 played as a more straightaway short par-4.  See the pond size. 


Since RTJ SR eventually changed the seventh to a longer dogleg right this course is still "his" design and not the next generation of the Jones family.



Anthony Gholz

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Re: Oakland Hills South - The Ross Remodel
« Reply #24 on: December 16, 2015, 03:55:48 PM »
BTW I'd like to hear a clear commentary from anyone as to why seven green had to be moved right.  I understand the reason was crowd movement around eight tee and seven green.  The walk between 7 green and the 8th tee is now certainly the longest on the course.  Maybe 8 tee today (since 1964) was moved back and right making it closer to 7.  And especially if typical club slicers hit 7 green more often than the 8th fairway.




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