My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
#16, Par 4, 374 Yards
Commonly thought to be the signature hole at Oakland Hills, this hole is gorgeous when framed by grandstands, but without them, there's something about it that I just find awkward looking. Maybe it needs more trees or some slope, I'm not sure what it is. Regardless, still a good hole, with another critical drive to avoid the water on the right and the trees on the left that will get in the way of a wayward drive. Driver isn't necessary, and the fairway pinches more than you can see off the tee where a driver would land, so it's probably not advised. If the pin is on the right of the green, stay away, as anything short runs the risk of spinning back into the water. Hitting the bunkers long presents a nerve-wracking recovery shot as well.
#17, Par 3, 175 Yards
A long iron to a green that you can barely see from the tee, this one rivals #9 for the hardest par 3 on the course. Bring at least one extra club to get it onto the surface. A large swale divides the right and left half of the green. Being on the wrong side presents a tough recovery.
#18, Par 5, 458 Yards
Like #8, the finishing hole at Oakland Hills plays as a par 4 for the pros, but a par 5 for the members and their guests. And, as a par 5, it presents an opportunity to finish strong, assuming you can avoid the ubiquitous sand and master the devilish green. Finishing right in front of the gorgeous clubhouse makes you appreciate your day at this beautiful American gem.
Always such a treat to play, Oakland Hills is a course that everyone should have the privilege of playing at least once. The golf course is a great test, but can be scoreable once you start to understand it. Avoid the sand and be careful around the greens and a good score isn't impossible. It's really a good example of the Robert Trent Jones mantra where each hole should present a difficult par but an easy bogey. While higher numbers are possible, I think this mantra is fairly appropriate at "The Monster."
#12, Par 5, 526 Yards
#12 is a par five of average difficulty. The fairway is tight, with ample trouble on either side....bunkers on the left, dense trees on the right. Hitting the fairway puts you in good scoring position, with a likely layup as your second shot. The green is flanked by the usual....trees and bunkers. I watched Tiger Woods make eagle here on Sunday of the Ryder Cup with Michael Jordan watching with cigar in mouth. Those guys play a different game!
#13, Par 3, 154 Yards
Short and a bit downhill, the 13th can be a breather, especially if they put the pin on the front center which is a semi-bowl with backstops all around. Any other pin isn't easy, and hitting the bunkers can make a birdie opportunity into a challenge for bogey.
#14, Par 4, 451 Yards
The longest par 4 on the golf course, this one is a par four and a half and plays nearly as long as the par 5 8th and 18th. No fairway bunkers on this one...a Donald Ross staple. A few bunkers around the green, but the length is the main hazard of this one.
#15, Par 4, 364 Yards
Someday I'll figure out how to play this hole, but as of today, I'm still perplexed. It's a hard dogleg left with two steep-faced bunkers right in the intended landing area. Driver probably isn't the play unless you can hit a dependable high draw off the bunkers and around the trees. If you have that shot, you'll have under 100 yards left into the green. Otherwise, a play to avoid the bunkers is the way to go, and another uphill shot into the green awaits. A tricky hole.
#11, Par 4, 384 Yards
This is my favorite hole at Oakland Hills. The hole is straight in front of you from the tee, but again, the tee aims you in the wrong direction, and the hole is actually a bit of a dogleg right. The line off the tee is at the trees, well left of the bunkers. The second shot shows the penalty that is faced if you hit the fairway bunkers. Subsequent to this picture being taken, the club has added a bunker left of the fairway. It shouldn't come into play, but aiming right over it or just to the right is a good line. Finding the fairway leaves you with an uphill shot to a slender green that seems to funnel from either side to the middle of the green. Two greenside bunkers and a steep hill await a shot that isn't hit hard enough into the green. Similar to on #8, a shot not hit hard enough has a fair chance of rolling back down to your feet.
#10, Par 4, 418 Yards
The first hole of the back nine is one I've always seemed to struggle with. The fairway slopes left to right and is tough to hit. If you can avoid the trouble, the approach is to a very accessible green, but uphill and seems to demand an extra club. A par is a very good start to the inward nine.
#8, Par 5, 458 Yards
A par 4 when the pros come to down, the 8th is a major scoring opportunity for the average Joe. Avoiding the bunkers leaves a steeply uphill shot into the green and a realistic chance to get home in two for many. However, don't get too aggressive and forget about the greenside bunkers, especially the ones on the left....they're deep and can be penal. Keep the ball safely in front of you, and you can walk off with a nice birdie or par here. At Oakland Hills, these don't come easy!
#9, Par 3, 198 Yards
After a breather at #8, it's back to work at the opening nine's finishing hole, and this one is a brute. A long iron or fairway wood to a devilish green, and all with folks in the clubhouse watching! The green slopes pretty hard from back to front and left to right. A par here is like stealing.
#7, Par 4, 358 Yards
This hole has been made tougher recently by an expansion of the pond to the right. The entire fairway slopes left to right, making a hard fade a dangerous shot. A controlled fade off the bunkers is the play to this short dogleg right. The farther to the left you go, the farther into the green you have a left, and a tree and fairway bunker guard the left side of the green and can block an approach line if your drive veers too far to the left.
#6, Par 4, 339 Yards
Drive is definitely not required on this short uphill par 4. Only the Bubba Watson's of the world need to worry about going for the green and with the depth of the bunkers around it, they might not even bother to try. Just get the ball on the short grass. Bunkers left are a one-shot penalty and the trees right are jail for the approach shot since it would need to carry uphill and over a bunker. Just get the ball in play and then hit a wedge or short iron onto the surface and a par or better is attainable.
#4, Par 4, 408 Yards
Another hole that I missed with my camera--next time! Similar to most holes at Oakland Hills, the drive is key to set yourself up for a manageable approach. Anything in the bunkers will take a tricky hole and make it a near-sure bogey. In this case, a good drive leave you with a downhill shot with a mid iron into a green with five bunkers around it.
#5, Par 4, 415 Yards
T.C. Chen made this hole famous with a two-chip just off the green during the 1985 US Open. Even without the infamous two-chip, this hole is strong enough to stand on its own. A creek cannot be sign from the tee but runs through the fairway at about 270 yards or so, and the fairway runs downhill to the creek. The water is furthest away from the tee on the left side of the fairway and nearest on the right side of the fairway. Compounding that, three fairway bunkers guard the right side of the fairway, so a drive down the left side is clearly preferred. I'd probably recommend a fairway wood as anything landing on the far side of the hill runs the risk of rolling into the creek. However, the length of the hole makes it a bit questionable, as I'm sure many mid-high handicappers will want to hit driver to leave a closer approach into another nasty green
#1, Par 4, 410 Yards
There's no hiding on the first tee of the South Course. You tee off right outside the pro shop, and if you play the tips, nearly right on the veranda of the clubhouse. Fairway bunkers flank the fairway, which is downhill off the tee. The green is a good precursor to what you'll face--severely sloping, and if you're on the wrong side of the hole, a three-putt waiting to happen. This is my no means an easy starting hole, and a par is a great score to get off on the right foot.
#2, Par 5, 479 Yards
The first real scoring opportunity at Oakland Hills. The drive is a bit deceptive as the tee is aimed a bit off center and make the left fairway bunkers seem right in front of you. They must be avoided if you want any chance to score here. Even though the hole is a very slight dogleg left, don't try to cut any corners...to my knowledge the bunkers cannot be carried. A good drive in the fairway will leave an uphill shot into a hole that has seemed to play shorter than the yardage on the scorecard. The green is of ample size to handle a par 5 approach shot, but again, being on the wrong side of the hole can turn an eagle putt into a par in a hurry. This one is only 523 yards even from the tips, so don't miss your chance to get a good score here.
#3, Par 3, 165 Yards
The first par 3 is surrounded by sand and makes the green seem smaller than it really is. It's only about a 7 Iron shot, but it's seemed to play longer than that for me in the past. #3 and #13 are the par 3's on the South Course that present a decent scoring opportunity with a good tee ball. The other two, #9 and #17 are bears!
There's no mistaking it. Oakland Hills is one of America's most majestic country clubs. The clubhouse is massive and gorgeous inside and out. The golf course is fantastic (that's just the South--the north course is across the street, and is very strong as well). The membership is well healed and includes many of Detroit's "who's who." History slaps you in the face from the moment you enter the clubhouse to the moment you step to the first tee. Old pictures are throughout the clubhouse, marking the history of Oakland Hills. From the early days with neck-high trees, so the more recent days of the 2004 Ryder Cup and 2008 PGA Championship, the photographs put you in the golfing mood. Then there's the rock cropping around the first tee, paying homage to the major champions throughout Oakland Hills' history. The faces of Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, and Jack Nicklaus, among others, are all watching you as you tee off the first hole. Ben Hogan famously referred to the South Course as "The Monster" when describing the course he had tamed during the 1951 US Open. That Open was one of six hosted by the South Course, along with three PGA's and one Ryder Cup. The club has hosted 16 Major Championships in all. While it's length isn't as intimidating as it would have been in Hogan's days (7,142 from the tips), the course still intimidates, with large deep bunkers, thick lush rough, and greens that are lightning fast and severely sloped. While the course conditions can be tamed for members, it is clear that they could make this track into a brute on a couple days notice.
I've been fortunate enough to play the South Course a handful of times since 2011, and each experience has been equally fun and memorable. A bit about Oakland Hills. When you drive into the club, you're greeted at the guard stand by bag attendants who will collect your bag and have it ready for you on the range. The range at Oakland Hills is small and often irons only, as homes are waiting for a drive through the back of the range. For this reason, the club needs to build a temporary range across the street on its North Course when major championships come to town. Guests are asked to change shoes in the locker rooms, not the parking lot....very standard for private clubs. In this case, I'd recommend checking out the men's locker room even if it isn't to change shoes. It's two floors, and it's pure class. The men's grill, attached to the locker room on the second floor offers a commanding view of the golf course, and provides delicious food and drink. If you're into IPA's, I heartily recommend "The Haig," a beer on draught in the grill, and brewed exclusively for Oakland Hills. You can't be a guest at Oakland Hills without taking some time to tour the clubhouse. The wooden structure was inspired by Mt. Vernon, and though built in 1922, the white wooden columns that front the golf course are still jaw dropping to this day.
Before, or after drinking The Haig, take into account that you're not only walking in the footsteps of Tiger Woods, Bobby Jones, and others, but also in the footsteps of the beer's namesake, Walter Hagen, the club's first head professional. The South Course itself was built in 1918, and the original work of Donald Ross. Since the original Ross design, the course has been tweaked by Robert Trent Jones prior to the 1951 Open, and again by his son Rees Jones prior to the 2008 PGA.
So, time to tee off. I've played the South Course from both the White tees (6,534 / 73.2 / 135) and the Blue tees (6,819 / 74.5 / 137). I guess it all depends on how much club you want to have coming into these greens. My only advice, is stay out of the bunkers at all costs, and if that means you're better off from the whites, or even the Silvers at 6,095 yards, then do that. It'll be a bunch more fun, because the bunkers can be nasty. I'll quote the White tees in my review. Sorry that I slacked a little on pictures on a few holes!
#22, Top 100 Courses in the U.S. (2013)
#35, Top 100 Courses in the World (2013)
#17, America's Greatest Golf Courses (2015-2016)
#2, Best in the State of Michigan (2013-2014)