My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
When the opportunity presents itself, playing Oak Hill's East Course is an opportunity that is not to be missed. Bring your straight driving game or you'll be sorry! You can score here, but not from the rough or bunkers.
#18, "Goin' Home," Par 4, 394 Yards
This one is 488 yards from the Black tees, but luckily, I'm not playing from there. A dogleg right with bunkers down the right side, the key here is to hit the fairway. From there, it's a an uphill shot to a green you can't see. It's all carry to the green and anything short will be faced with a lye in deep rough and a tough up-and-down. This is the home of Shaun Micheel's famous 7-iron to two inches to with the 2003 PGA.
#16, "Straightaway," Par 4, 432 Yards
I've never been a huge fan of this hole. Just a bit of a yawner in the context of all the great holes on the rest of the East Course. Straight, with a fairway that slopes hard from right to left and no fairway bunkers. The green isn't particularly well protected. This one can be a very manageable par with good execution that avoids the tree lines.
#17, "Twin Trees," Par 5, 452 Yards
This is a birdie hole when played as a par 5. The pros play it as a par 4, but not the members. A drive uphill to a blind landing zone leaves a fairly reasonable approach into a very deep green with bunkers guarding the front and what could be a potential layup zone. The main problem exists if the fairway is missed, with overhanging limbs likely impacting any approach shot. The green also has a large plateau around the center, making a putt from the wrong side of the hole a tough one. Regardless, with the nasty 18th coming up, take advantage of your last good opportunity to score.
#13, "The Hill of Fame," Par 5, 563 Yards
Here's one way to combat the growth of modern technology. Put a Creek in the landing area cross at the 300 yard point. In this case, it has created a hole that is essentially unreachable in two since few have the guts to try to carry the Creek off the tee. It's 594 from the Tips, so even a drive of 320 still leaves a strong fairway wood into a well guarded green with six bunkers, mature oaks, and an amphitheater surrounding it. For the history of the East Course, this hole had never been hit in two. That changed during the 2013 PGA Championship, though it happened on a day that the tees were played up to entice the pros to carry the Creek, so I'm not sure it really counts. This is the home of the famous "Hill of Fame" that I mentioned early, where the Club has honored notable individuals from Oak Hill history and the history of golf. Most recently, Tom Watson was honored with a tree at the 2013 PGA.
#14, "Bunker Hill," Par 4, 319 Yards
Many of the pros tried driving this one during the PGA, but I don't have that shot in my bag. The hole plays almost straight uphill and is to a VERY narrow landing area. It does get a bit wider as you get closer to the green, which is why some of the guys tried driving it. A definitely scoring opportunity if played correctly. The green is steeply sloped back to front and long is a horrible place to be. Even once you're on the green it's no picnic. Tiger Woods drove the green and then three-putted for par. A great short hole.
#15, "The Plateau," Par 3, 157 Yards
The last par 3 on the course is a tester. A pond is very tight to the edge of the green with bunkers on the opposite side. The shot is a bit downhill, and must be precise to avoid the trouble and write down what is likely to be the last three on the scorecard.
#11, "The Waterfall," Par 3, 175 Yards
Howard Clark made an ace here in the 1995 Ryder Cup. Well guarded by bunkers all around, it's a mid-iron from the white tees, but 226 yards from the Tips....yikes!
#12, "The Leaning Oak," Par 4, 367 Yards
One tree makes this hole. The namesake of the hole, one oak tree leans out over the fairway and makes this drive what it is. The club knows how critical this tree is, and has placed a steel beam against it to prevent it from falling. The tree notwithstanding, this is a short par 4 where driver is probably not the play. The approach shot is to a green up on a plateau with with steep hills around it (both up and down).
#10, "Council Grove," Par 4, 403 Yards
A drive back down the hill you just climbed. It looks pretty tight from the tee, but there's some room out there and this one plays shorter than the listed yardage. A fairway bunker stands guard on the left side an a large tree plays defense on the right side of the green. Allen's Creek shouldn't come into play on this one, but it sure looks nice!
#9, "Needle's Eye," Par 4, 400 Yards
Another very tricky driving hole which is a dogleg right. Right of the tee is jail--a punch out is probably all you'll have from there. Left is probably in the trees. So, just hit it straight! From there, it's an uphill approach to a green well guarded by bunkers in the front.
#8, "Wayside," Par 4, 423 Yards
For the average player, this is a long hole, but it's still not as intimidating as many on the East Course. The drive isn't as impacted by trees as many, but fairway bunkers are there instead, and they must be avoided. Trees overhang the right side of the green and OB is down the right side, but a drive has to be quite a ways to the right to be out of play.
#7, "The Creek's Elbow," Par 4, 414 Yards
One of Oak Hill's toughest holes, the 7th offers little room for error. The Creek borders the right side of a very tight fairway. The crosses the fairway as well, but the cross point should be well out of reach off the tee and should only come into play with a miss-hit approach shot. The approach is uphill to a very small green for a hole of this length. Par here is a victory.
#4, "The High and Mighty," Par 5, 542 Yards
The pros can get to this one in two, and I have no idea how! Two bunkers are in the landing area for most off the tee. In order to get home in two, I think you'd have to take a line over those bunkers and be far enough right to have a line at the green. Assuming you're left of the bunkers off the tee, trees will block your line into the hole, so it's a lay-up shot, and not an easy one with more bunkers in the landing area. This hole always strikes me as a really tough tee shot, but maybe I just haven't figured it out yet. The green is wide and hypothetically accessible to an approach with a fairway wood, but it's the trees (and length) that get in the way of that goal for me.
#5, Double Trouble, Par 4, 367 Yards
Love this hole, but play it from the right tees. This one plays 406 from the Blues and 436 from the Blacks, and you probably don't want any part of that. The deeper you play this hole, the more you must navigate a chute from the tee. Allen's Creek runs down the right side and you can't bail out too far from it, lest you land in the fairway bunkers. The approach must carry the Creek as the hole bends a bit to the right with the green on the opposite side.
#6, "Little Poison," Par 3, 139 Yards
A lot of history in this one, primarily from the 1989 US Open, when four people made a hole-in-one on #6 within a two-hour period. In addition, Constantino Rocca aced this one on Friday of the 1995 Ryder Cup. The hole location was front right, where a bowl funnels balls toward the hole. This is only a short wedge shot for most, but precision is still a must with Allen's Creek winding around the front and left of the hole. Long right would be the bailout zone.
#3, "The Pines," Par 3, 176 Yards
This is a really tough par 3. A large tree frames the left side of the hole, and the green is partly hidden due to the uphill nature of the hole. It's only a low-to-mid iron, but measure carefully because long is pretty much dead. My friends and I have good memories of this hole. Now that the statute of limitations has probably expired, the tee box of this one was a bit of a social gathering place for many back in the day.
#2, "The Breather," Par 4, 361 Yards
A soft dogleg right with somewhat of a bit of a stadium golf feel, with the fairway at the low point and higher ground on either side. Nasty fairway bunkers await on both sides of the fairway. The narrow green is a bit above your feet from the fairway. There are no bunkers long of the green, but a big falloff instead, which presents a tricky up-and-down. Overall, this is a hole with a decent chance to score if you can hit the fairway and judge the distance on your approach correctly.
#1, "The Challenge." Par 4, 433 Yards
Ben Hogan called this one of the hardest opening holes in championship golf and he was probably right. The hole is relatively long for an opening par 4 and the dogleg left plays for a draw as your first tee ball. Anything right risks getting caught in Oak Hills gnarly rough, or OB if it's too far right. The approach carries Allen's Creek for the first time to a green with three bunkers around it.
Oak Hill Country Club has a lot of sentimental value for me, in that it's about 2.3 miles from where I grew up. With that said, having lived for 18 years a short jog from the East Course, I never played it in its entirety until I was 31 years old! And what a special day that was to finally get to tee it up where I attended the 1989 US Open, 1995 Ryder Cup, 1998 US Amateur, and 2003 PGA Championship. On this day, it was my turn to try my hand at the course I had grown up admiring and dreaming about playing. Since I checked it off the bucket list, I've played the East Course one other time, and now know what it's like at Oak Hill "inside the ropes."
This club is the best Western New York has to offer. In fact, this is probably the best club in New York if you ignore Westchester County and Long Island. Oak Hill has two golf courses. The East Course is the big brother, and the championship track, but the West Course is no slouch. It was plenty good enough to serve as the complimentary course for stroke play qualifying at the 1998 US Amateur. The clubhouse is a gorgeous Tudor-style palace, complete with a bowling alley in the basement. Outside stand numerous nods to golf history, most famously at the Hill of Fame, a collection of majestic oak trees that surround the 13th hole, each many of which have been dedicated to individuals (or teams in the case of the 1995 European Ryder Cup team) who have had a meaningful impact on Oak Hill, or golf in general.
Like Oakland Hills, the driving range at Oak Hill is one of its weaknesses. It's small and fairly short with long drives being stopped by a net. For tournaments, the club needs to build a make-shift range across one of the holes of the West Course to handle the needs of a big (and long-hitting) field. With a large membership, and weekend tee times on two golf courses, I imagine this range is often filled beyond capacity.
Holding court on the range for decades has been Craig Harmon, of the famed Harmon family. Craig has been Oak Hill's head golf professional since 1972. He will be retiring at the end of 2013, but has served Oak Hill and its members of an incredible 41 years. Craig is the brother of Billy and Butch Harmon (and Dick Harmon, now deceased) and the son of Masters champion Claude Harmon.
The course itself is a brute. Long, tight, and well defended. The rough is long and thick. The trees are tall and mature. The greens are relatively small and fast. This is a classic American golf course, and a classic Donald Ross design. Missing the fairways is no picnic, as overhanging limbs will often impact a shot even slightly off the short grass. In addition, Allen's Creek winds throughout many of the holes on the East Course, and deep bunkers exist on many holes where Allen's Creek doesn't.
The plaque pictured above sits at the first tee of the East Course. Unfortunately, it will now have to be changed. With all due respect to Jason Dufner, there was a really cool feeling standing on the first tee and knowing that the course record is held by Ben Hogan. Dufner broke this record in the 2013 PGA Championship with a second round score of 63, en route to the his first major title.
From all the way back, the course plays to a little less than 7,200 yards, but I didn't have the guts to play it longer than the traditional White tees, which play to 6,519 and a rating slope of 73.3 / 139. The course is a par 71 for the members, with the 17th playing as a par 4 in major championships reducing the course to a par of 70.
#60, Top 100 Courses in the World (2013)
#32, Top 100 Courses in the U.S.(2013)
#16, America's 100 Greatest Courses (2015-2016)
#5, Best in the State of New York(2013-2014)