Oakmont continues long history of giving golfers headaches
Restored Oakmont Country Club drew almost unanimous praise from the leading contestants in last week’s U.S. Amateur.
“Oakmont is the single hardest golf course I’ve ever played in my entire life,” 31-year-old Amateur match-play qualifier Trip Kuehne of Dallas said. “Every single hole is demanding.”
Mark it down as the ultimate compliment for the Henry C. Fownes design.
Fownes, a successful steel businessman, set out in 1903 to build the toughest golf course in the world.
The Amateur, Oakmont’s 16th major championship, not only enhanced the course’s tough reputation, it provided an opportunity to show off one of the country’s model restoration projects.
The verdict: Oakmont’s classical design remains relevant and challenging to contemporary players.
Oakmont withstood the test of time again, which is good news considering the world’s best players such as Tiger Woods will challenge the historic layout in the 2007 U.S. Open.
Nobody did a number on the course during the U.S. Amateur stroke play Aug. 18 and 19.
“You’ve got 312 of the finest amateurs in the world playing this golf course and one person broke par, and three people shot even par,” Kuehne said. “That’s a pretty good indication of where this golf course is.”
The average score during stroke play at Oakmont was 79, nine strokes over par.
“The beauty of this course is that it tests every facet of your game,” Kuehne said. “It tests your patience. It tests your driving ability. It tests your long iron ability, it tests mid irons, wedges, short irons, chipping, putting, bunker play.
“It’s the ultimate test of golf, and it’s going to be an incredible venue for the 2007 U.S. Open,” he said. “It’s an incredible golf course.”
Oakmont’s new look was accomplished with the removal of 3,500 trees since the mid 1990’s. The Amateur also put on display the aggressive topdressing and firming of the fairways and a return to Oakmont’s indigenous native roughs waving in the breeze.
For the first time in decades, golf fans could see the golf course which was recently ranked fourth-best in the country by Golf Digest.
The tree-removal project brought Oakmont closer to its original look, which was a links-style layout. Fownes built an inland links course even though Oakmont is 360 miles from the nearest ocean.
Some of the pines, pin oaks, conifers and blue spruce trees were removed from mounds Fownes intended to be in play.
However, some things never change. Golf balls still tumble down the slopes on the greens just like Fownes intended when he build them on pushed-up mounds of clay in 1903. Oakmont is the least-changed among the venues for U.S. Golf Association major championships.
“If you miss a putt here, you can’t blame in on anything but yourself,” quarterfinalist Lee Williams of Alexander City, Ala., said. “The greens are perfect. But I don’t think anyone can become an expert reading these greens. There’s so much imagination involved.”
Several hundred yards have been added to Oakmont since the 1994 U.S. Open.
Oakmont was set up at 7,171 yards for the Amateur, with many markers located in the middle of the back tees. The course can be stretched to 7,229 yards without adding any new tees, with a 76.1 course raing and 144 slope rating.
Match play qualifiers opened on Oakmont’s 482-yard first hole, which has been called “The Initiation.”
Most called the initiation memorable.
“Number one is about the hardest starting hole I’ve ever had to play before,” Williams said. “If you make par on that hole, more than likely you’re going to win that hole. I haven’t been in a match yet where both of us made par there.”
What amateurs said about Oakmont
Golf is fun at most golf courses but not at Oakmont Country Club, according to a sampling of the 312 amateurs who competed in last week’s U.S. Amateur.
‘I don’t think there’s a hole on the course that you could stand up on and think, oh, you can make birdie here pretty easy. You’ve got to hit a good drive, a good second shot and you’ve got to leave it in a good place on those greens to have any chance. It’s one of the best golf courses in the world.’ — Nick Flanagan, champion
‘It’s was an extremely hard golf course. Your average shots turn out to be bad. This is a U.S. Open golf course, no matter what people might think or say. I really don’t imagine the U.S. Open here in 2007 is going to be playing much more difficult than this course played for us.’ — Casey Wittenberg, runner-up
‘This golf course is unbelievable. I’ve never really played a golf course this good, except for Oakland Hills last year in the previous U.S. Amateur. This is amazing. The greens are so fast. I’m used to putting on greens that are like the fairways out here.’ — David Oh, semifinalist
‘There’s only a certain firmness that the greens and fairways can get to. There’s only so hard they can get before they’re dead.’ — Lee Williams, semifinalist
‘On this course, no lead is ever safe. You can make bogey or worse on every hole out there.’ — Jerry Courville, quarterfinalist
‘Ever since I knew that the 2003 U.S. Amateur was going to be at Oakmont, I dedicated myself to golf. I left it all out there. There’s no doubt about it — this is the single most challenging, most difficult, most feared golf course I’ve ever played in my entire life. Pebble Beach is more beautiful so it’s always rated the No. 1 golf course in the world every year, but as far as a fair test of golf, this is it. There is not a single hole that you cannot make a bogey on. There is not a single hole you cannot make birdie … My heart and soul was left on the back nine at Oakmont.’ — Trip Kuehne, Walker Cup team member and match play qualifier
‘You’re going to hit it in some spots on those greens where you’re just not going to have a chance to leave your first putt within 10 feet of the cup.’ — Gregg Jones, match play qualifier
‘I was happy on the 12th hole, the par-5, to hit a sand wedge to 20 feet from the hole. There aren’t many golf courses where if you hit sand wedge 20 feet you’re happy.’ — Bill Haas, match play qualifier