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Michael Chadwick

  • Karma: +0/-0
What do you want most out of US Open venues? Length and brute challenge? Width and angles? What about a mixture of both, where tacticians can compete alongside the bombers? 


In August I visited the South Course at Oakland Hills, and I wouldnít be surprised if the only US Open venues that can genuinely exceed it after Gil Hanseís masterful restoration are Oakmont, Shinnecock, and Merion. Though I havenít seen Winged Foot in person, Oaklandís landóand the newfound ability to see itóhas to beat WF, and the greens are likely in close competition. The ingenuity of OHís greens surpass Pebble Beach, and although Pebble benefits from its coastline location, especially world class holes 6 and 8, Iíd rather watch pros face long putts on the magnificent set of greens at Oakland Hills. Itíll be interesting over time, as the course grows in and raters flock to Detroit, to see if the course can supplant Pinehurst #2 (or Seminole, depending on whom you ask) as Rossís best. It is likely that good, and could foreseeably settle comfortably in the 10-15 range of US golf course rankings.


Although the total number of bunkers decreased, the restoration led to a dramatic increase in the amount of sand coverage. These imposingly large expanses of bone colored sand flash from fairways and rough like high beam headlights shining head-on as you squint at your options from the tee. They heavily affect strategy on nearly every shot, not only by drawing your attention away from ideal lines, but optically confusing your sense of how much landing area you really have between their befuddling placements. The brilliant result is that the bunkering presents you with multiple opportunities to think carefully about optimal carry yardages and where to try to place your ball. When (it shouldnít be if) OHCC hosts a US Open, itíll be interesting to see just how frequently pros will be approaching greens from bunkers as opposed to only rough. This feature is particularly noticeable on holes 3, 5, 6, 10, and 12.


While the rough is still penal, and I found myself intimately acquainted with it, I have to imagine the membership and returning guests find the course more playable that its previous iteration, especially after a few loops when one has gained a better sense of how much club is necessary to carry said bunkers, with the added confidence that taking them on is oftentimes the rewarding play.   


Playing Oakland Hills was also a humbling reminder that the scale of championship courses induces in me a kind of amnesia of its more finessed nuances. I marveled at 1 green, its bulges rising across the surface like bubbles in a rising dough, the slope running front to back on the right side banking like a skate ramp. But after trudging through enough rough in sweltering heat on a 36 hole day that began at Mike DeVriesís wondrous revitalization of Harry Coltís Bloomfield Hills, I realized afterwards how much more attention I still need to pay to green complexes. Immediately following my round there were a few holes Iíd almost completely forgotten, not because there are weak holes on the propertyóthere arenítóbut on account of being over stimulated for four straight hours.


I experienced something similar at Prairie Dunes, the only other course Iíve seen whose greens stunned me in the same way as Oakland Hills. Maybe itís on account of greens that are so good, so varied, that theyíre difficult to memorize in their myriad forms. Perhaps a course featuring holes or greens that are elusive in memory indicates how exceptional it is. You canít contain its subtleties because there are too many. In that case, elusiveness is a marker of design brilliance, prompting return visits to unravel its finer points. Already I canít wait to revisit Oakland Hills for those reasons.


Below are brief blurbs of holes that I managed to somewhat photograph. Yardages are from blue tees: 73.3/137/6833.


Hole 1 - Par 4, 428



A straightaway par 4 with a receptive opening to the green, especially on the left side that funnels towards the center. Iíve never been as impressed by an opening holeís green as this one, with a sunken center exerting its own gravitational force around beautiful ramped slopes falling into it.


Hole 3 - Par 3, 190



A large green with an elevated mound in the back left, but whatís visually disconcerting is your inability to truly see where the green begins and ends. A large bunker obscures the front edge, and the left bunker seemingly cuts itself into what looks like the middle of the green pad, making you think thereís far less room than whatís available. From the tee, the gap between the two greenside bunkers appears miniscule, as if you could stand with one foot in each bunkerís bordered fringe of rough. A wonderful example of the visual deception Ross and Hanse have in store for players going forward. 


Hole 5 - Par 4, 430



Much of the hole appears to be swallowed by the first two bunkers flanking both sides of the fairway, as though they were sinkholes threatening to further widen. The flag is directly ahead in the distance, but add in that thereís a small creek blindly bisecting the fairway and suddenly the hole desperately calls for a good caddie or yardage book more than any other yet on the outward nine.


Hole 6 - Par 4, 344



A bracing amount of back to front slope on the green makes up for the shorter yardage, and again a significant right bunker occupies the ideal area from which to approach. Would like to see this hole set up as a drivable par 4 one day in a major.


Hole 7 - Par 4, 369



No longer should the 16th be referred to as the signature hole. The visual stack of 7 and 8 is second to none on the course. The sensible tee shot calls for no more than 220-250 yards. Staying short and as close to the creek on the right leaves for a straighter approach with a receptive opening to the green. The deeper you drive along the left side, the worse the angle, requiring a wedge over the hazard and a steep fronting bank of rough.



7 green as seen from hole 2, with 11 fairway in background

Hole 8 - Par 5, 460
A wonderful hole that, due to its tame length, likely gets its fair share of players going for it in two. But the rise to the green benched just below the top of the hill rejects any shot left short.   


Hole 9 - Par 3, 219



As if its length, scale, and the imposing clubhouse looming directly behind wasnít formidable enough, I had the pleasure of experiencing this green with a back left pin. 


Hole 10 - Par 4, 446



Possibly the best fairway on property. Muscular with its contoured humps and rolls. The ridgeline possessing both 10 green and 17 green further left affords a magnificent view. Note how 10ís left fairway bunker appears to be touching (!) the greenside right bunker of 17. Golf clap, Mr. Hanse.


Hole 11 - Par 4, 415



My favorite hole. Ross mustíve held some kind of superstition with the number 11, because the 11th hole lays claim to the most dramatic green complex not only at Oakland Hills South, but arguably Plainfield and Essex County as well. Though I havenít seen the other two in person yet, each green curves over the crest of a rounded hillside with a severe front slope. The green reminds me of an ocean waveís heavy barrel of water after it has just tumbled forward, its surface entirely smooth the moment before erupting into a thunderclap of whitewater. You donít want to be staring at it from belowówhether youíre a golfer or surfer! Fortunately I got up and down for a memorable par.



The place from which pars become memorable

Hole 12 - Par 5, 520



If this photo of the third shot can reiterate it at all, there are countless sight-lines on property where all you can see and think about is sand.


Hole 13 - Par 3, 158



A semblance of respite after 8-12. Or maybe it was the drink after walking off the green. Reminiscent of Aroniminkís par 3 5th, although I found the green at Aronimink more riveting.


Hole 14 - Par 4, 472
No photos of 14, which is a shame, because while itís the longest par 4 on the scorecard, the green is set below the approaching fairway and is a rare instance where the ball can trundle along the ground and onto the putting surface. The green was one of my favorites, sloping from front to back, with a centering bowl similar to 1 green. 


Hole 15 - Par 4, 362



Another hole where, from the blue tees, a drive over 250 is imprudent unless youíre shaping it right to left along the dogleg, but the bunkering leaves the impression of a minefield on approach towards an elevated green site. The conservative tee ball up the right hand side lends itself to the safest approach angle. Another one that could be highly entertaining were it set up for pros to go for it from the tee.   


Hole 16 - Par 4, 406



The once signature hole that I found to be among the most underwhelming on the course. Nevertheless it is picturesque, especially when your tee ball finds the left rough and you get a view lined up with 8 green elevated behind.   


Hole 17 - Par 3, 192



Compelling, intimidating, visual subterfuge. The green appears wide but shallow, the left greenside bunker concealing any view of the putting surface, leaving you to wonder just how impossible of a pin location is that? Answer: quite.


Hole 18 - Par 5, 487



The fairwayís rumpled ground demands a straight tee ball so that, by the time youíre hitting your second shot, youíll have a view to the green and the grand clubhouse. Bunkers obstruct the preferred area for placing a layup, and the front of the green is now bunkerless, prioritizing its false front that, if paired with a Sunday front flag, and played as a par 4 for the pros, would be a spectacle.



A stately finisher 
Instagram: mj_c_golf

Brent Carlson

  • Karma: +0/-0
Michael,


Excellent write up and photos.  This is the best summation I've seen yet of Hanse's restoration on GCA.  It certainly isn't your father's Oakland Hills, but maybe your grandfather's!  I have to wonder if OH is the USGA's choice when they return to the Midwest.  It's been a long, long time.
« Last Edit: November 05, 2021, 01:33:01 AM by Brent Carlson »

Tom Bacsanyi

  • Karma: +0/-0
Looks absolutely amazing, thanks for the photos.


Is it just me or does the course not look all that "Rossy"? I'm just used to seeing smaller, more concise, grass-faced bunkers in his parkland layouts vs. massive but shallower bunkers for example.  Franklin Hills just down the road would be an example of the difference. What would be the comparables within the Ross portfolio to this renovated course?


This is not intended to be critical, as the place looks literally so good.
Don't play too much golf. Two rounds a day are plenty.

--Harry Vardon

Brett Meyer

  • Karma: +0/-0
Even though I'm a Michigander, I've only been around the South Course once and it was back in 2008 after the last round of Rees Jones alterations. Even though there was a lot to complain about with the ponds and some of the bunkering, it still left a strong impression. The greens are eye-opening...and eye watering. You got a good picture of the 1st, which is one of them. But I'm wondering if you have close-ups of 5,9,13, or 14. They just seemed to be almost in a different world from anything else that I've seen. There are also a few beautiful, but more subtle greens like 2 and 15.




Brent Carlson

  • Karma: +0/-0
Looks absolutely amazing, thanks for the photos.


Is it just me or does the course not look all that "Rossy"? I'm just used to seeing smaller, more concise, grass-faced bunkers in his parkland layouts vs. massive but shallower bunkers for example.  Franklin Hills just down the road would be an example of the difference. What would be the comparables within the Ross portfolio to this renovated course?


This is not intended to be critical, as the place looks literally so good.


Tom,


When Ross talked about OH in his book he used the words roomy, open and extensive area to describe the course; in other words, scale.  Gil also mentioned scale quite a bit during the restoration.  The big bunkers match up pretty closely with the original, with the exception of some moved further downrange.  Ross used the terms "sunken pits" and "scooped out pits" in describing them.  They match up well with the rolling nature of the property.


Your question of a comparable is a good one.  What championship Ross course has the bunkering scale, greens and roominess of OH?  I don't know of one.  There are some Ross experts on this board and would like to hear their opinion.

Tom Bacsanyi

  • Karma: +0/-0
Maybe Pinehurst #2 before the greens got built up? Totally different soil and climate but that's all I can think of. Big bunkers and waste areas after the restoration but not terribly deep.
Don't play too much golf. Two rounds a day are plenty.

--Harry Vardon

Michael Chadwick

  • Karma: +0/-0
The greens are eye-opening...and eye watering. You got a good picture of the 1st, which is one of them. But I'm wondering if you have close-ups of 5,9,13, or 14. They just seemed to be almost in a different world from anything else that I've seen. There are also a few beautiful, but more subtle greens like 2 and 15.


Brett, afraid not, hence my comment about needing to pay better attention the closer I get to greens. If I get back to OHCC next summer I might force myself to take photos only from 100 yards and in on holes.


Here's one that I have of 5 taken from the front left side:
Instagram: mj_c_golf

Tommy Williamsen

  • Karma: +0/-0
Thank you Michael. I played OH this September and found it much more playable and fun than it was on my last visit in the early 2000s. The fairways seemed wider, the bunkering was still excellent, and the greens had a bunch of movement that if I didn't have a caddie they would have made me look silly.
« Last Edit: November 07, 2021, 08:27:52 PM by Tommy Williamsen »
Tom Williamsen
Where there is no love, put love; there you will find love.
St. John of the Cross

Brad Tufts

  • Karma: +0/-0
Great summation Michael!!


So many picture posters fail to zoom in properly, and you did a great job!


I agree with the others that is the most descriptive overview iíve seen yet!  Gotta get back here in the upcoming years.
So I jump ship in Hong Kong....

V_Halyard

  • Karma: +0/-0
Maybe Pinehurst #2 before the greens got built up? Totally different soil and climate but that's all I can think of. Big bunkers and waste areas after the restoration but not terribly deep.


Hi Tom. First outstanding summation Michael. I was involved in a history focused documentary chronicling the restoration for Oakland Hills membership. We spent over a year capturing imagery and made multiple before and after visits.


We interviewed Gil, Dir if Agronamy, Phil Cuffare, Historian Andrew Mutch and long time members and board members. We worked with 100s of photos which proved to be the most interesting part was chronicling the teams forensic and detail based recapture of original features. Others have documented that Gil and his team used a Tournament Program from the US Womenís National Championship as a roadmap and Rosetta Stone as it contained detailed hole by hole descriptions of the course at that time.

The older membership and champions detailed how the features and corridors were shrunk over the various decades and the photographic history confirmed. The features are massive and the shapes are true to the original based on fairly graphic evidence.

It is a significant piece of geology. We know Ross was not template driven and he originally delivered the appropriate features and shapes for the massive features. They were occluded by the desire to stymie the pros.

The spirit of the original shapes, scale and strategies of Ross are now back on the ground at Oakland Hills.
« Last Edit: November 09, 2021, 08:16:41 AM by V_Halyard »
"It's a tiny little ball that doesn't even move... how hard could it be?"  I will walk and carry 'til I can't... or look (really) stupid.

Tom Birkert

  • Karma: +0/-0
This looks absolutely fantastic. The greens look to have almost a glass like quality to them.

Jason Topp

  • Karma: +0/-0
From the photos it appears that many of the holes feature similar fairway bunker configurations (5, 6, 11, 12, 15).  Not sure whether they really are similar or not.

Anthony Gholz

  • Karma: +0/-0
Jason: [size=78%]I think if you were on property and saw the elevation and directional changes the "similarity" would go away.[/size]

[/size][size=78%]Michael:  Great summary and photos.  As mentioned by others the best I've seen to date from the ground/playing view.  The pic of the "new" #3 is superb.[/size]
[/size]
[/size][size=78%]To All:  I just got back from [/size]playing[size=78%] the Mid-Pines, Pine Needles, Southern Pines Ross trilogy, post Franz.  If Ross had only done those three plus [/size]Oakland[size=78%] Hills and Franklin Hills in Detroit he would have cemented his [/size]position as[size=78%] one of the greats.  The [/size]playing[size=78%] of the SP [/size]trilogy just confirmed for me how totally different the Oakland Hills property and design, especially bunkering, is from most of Ross's work.  The scale is immense.  It's a considerable change from my years of seeing and occasionally playing the course since 1964. It is a trip back in time and kudos to the Hanse/Wagner/Goalby team.  The "new" number 7 is exactly as we played it as kids in the Jr District events and the "new" number 3 has never been played by any of us, though Ross would recognize it as his original.[size=78%]

[/size]When will the USGA announce OH is their midwest hub!!??  Or do they need a test event first?[size=78%]

[/size]Anthony[size=78%]

Jason Topp

  • Karma: +0/-0
Thanks Anthony.  Photos can often mislead so I have no doubt you are correct.

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