Oak Hill Country Club will host its seventh major championship this week as the PGA Championship returns for the first time since Jason Dufner beat Jim Furyk back in 2013. In addition to three other PGAs and three U.S. Opens, the East Course at Oak Hill also played host to the 1995 Ryder Cup, which Europe won over the United States 14.5 to 13.5.
It will be a new look Oak Hill from those previous events, though. The club underwent a restoration back in 2019-20 when course architect Andrew Green worked to reimplement some of the concepts Donald Ross intended when he first designed the golf course back in the 1920s. It's a different (and probably better) golf course than it has been over the past several decades.
We're getting ahead of ourselves, though, because Oak Hill's history is as storied as it is lengthy. Let's go all the way back to the beginning of the story of this golf course, how it came to be and how it has evolved into the form it will take this week. Let's take a look at six things to know about Oak Hill Country Club ahead of the 105th PGA Championship.
1. The land was cheap (and back in the day, it was free): The entire Oak Hill creation story is wild. The club initially purchased 85 acres next to the Genesee River for $34,000 in 1905. This is the equivalent of nearly $1.2 million in 2023. Then, in the early 1920s, the University of Rochester traded the club 355 acres of land for the 85 acres it was currently on. Oh, and they threw in $360,000 -- the equivalent of $6.1 million today. So, the club ultimately gained 270 acres and $5 million in 2023 dollars beyond what it already had acquired. They went on to have Ross architect both the East Course and the West Course, though only the former has been used for big-time events.
2. Winners are a mixed bag: On one hand, you have Lee Trevino shooting all four rounds in the 60s and beating Jack Nicklaus in the 1968 U.S. Open. On the other, you have Shaun Micheel outdueling Chad Campbell at the 2003 PGA Championship, which had one of the strangest final leaderboards in recent major championship history.
Most of the winners here are plenty good (Nicklaus, Trevino, Cary Middlecoff, Curtis Strange), but some of the others (Dufner, Micheel) make you wonder what we're going to get this time around. Notable is that the years in which Dufner and Micheel won were not the strongest overall for professional golf nor major champions. You didn't have the class of player at the top of golf playing at the clip Jon Rahm, Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy are currently playing today. It doesn't mean we'll get a big-name champion, but it's more likely going in than it was in 2003 or 2013.
3. Open field? The board above would suggest that anybody is capable of winning this golf tournament, and the length of the course (under 7,400 yards, the shortest of the last three PGAs) would seem to imply the same thing.
However, CBS Sport analyst Rick Gehman believes that we're going to have 2019 PGA Championship all over again. That event, played at Bethpage Black and won by Brooks Koepka, played into the hands of bombers and gougers only. Gehman believes -- given the length of rough here -- that this one will as well. I actually mostly agree with this take.
The rough allows you to wallop away and not worry about the repercussions of not controlling where it goes and the straightaway nature of most of the holes at Oak Hill -- not to mention how many trees have been cleared -- seems to encourage the exact same thing.
Here's how Derek Duncan of Golf Digest states it: "The driving accuracy and shaping of shots around the boughs of trees so requisite to previous scoring will not be critical this time, though avoiding fairway bunkers and their tall vertical edges will be."
4. Tree removal helps big boppers: As the story goes, Dr. John Williams planted over 75,000 seedlings back in the 1920s so that Oak Hill could have, you know, oak trees. Over the years, as Green points out in the video below, those small trees became big trees and really crowded out a classic golf course design. Many of those big trees were removed in the restoration, which should lead to a less claustrophobic style of play this year than perhaps in the past few instances of majors at Oak Hill.
"I think Oak Hill is an all-time driver's golf course, where the fairways are typically 26 to 28 yards wide, and you're seriously out of position if you're in the rough," Jeff Sluman, who consulted on the redesign, told Golf Digest. "You really have to drive the ball straight, even though off the tee there's more room now to swing a ball left to right or right to left."
This reminds me a bit of Winged Foot where the conventional wisdom was that you needed to drive the ball straight to win, but it turns out, because of the length of most of the top players and the ability to run shots from the rough up on the green, you did not.
5. The green shapes are fascinating: In his restoration, Green attempted to amend the greens -- which had become very circular over the years -- back to their original shapes. What this does is allow for a variety of pin positions that change the entire feel and structure of the golf course during tournament play.
"I felt strongly that the greens needed to be recaptured. As much as we could do to get the original shapes back on the ground," said Green. "These unique corners and edges, there are some pretty wild green shapes that we reconnected to. It allowed the golf course to start to have more variety of setup options."
He went on to note that most of the usable space previously had been in the center of the greens because over years the greens had flipped up on the edges. It's a good thing when you can change the feel of the course at major events.
6. Weird weather but nothing crazy: One of the big talking points since the PGA Championship moved to May has been how the weather would hold up in upstate New York in May. Though it's slated to be a bit cool throughout the tournament, there hasn't been (and shouldn't be) anything crazy. That's good news for a golf course ready to show off its restoration as the second major of the year gets underway.