Sometimes I feel like the luckiest guy in the world. No, I’ve never won the lottery, discovered a hidden treasure or bumped into a rebound eager Jennifer Aniston fresh off her latest breakup, but I’ve had countless times where I’ve stopped myself and thought “How did a hayseed from Nebraska wind up here?” The day I played Oak Hill Country Club’s East Course was one of those days. Here I was playing golf at one of the world’s great courses on a day with PERFECT weather and with fantastic playing companions. On top of all that I was playing pretty well! I felt so good and relaxed that I forgot all about every other thing going on in my life and in the world for those 4 hours. The day ended up being exactly the type of escape that golf is supposed to be.
My last Top 100 trip had to be canceled because of torrential rains in Cincinnati, so I was a little tentative about my 1 day trip to Rochester. When you are flying in at midnight for a 9:30 tee time the next day and then flying out at 5PM after the round there is not much margin for error. I started watching the weather reports about a week prior to the day I was playing. Things were looking good . . . real good. I checked one last final time before I left for the airport and I was off.
It was a Monday evening and my flight was leaving at 5PM. Let me tell you something . . . if you have to fly somewhere and you can do it any time you like . . . do it on a Monday evening. The airports were literally empty and my flights were empty as well. It was the most pleasant post 9-11 flying experience I have had.
The next day I woke up early and spent some time in my hotel room stretching out and taking some practice swings. Jim (my host) and I had made arrangements to meet in the hotel lobby at 8:30. One of my playing partners in Richmond is friends with Jim and had contacted him about helping me play Oak Hill. Jim most graciously agreed to assist me and the plans were set. Right on time at 8:30 we met in the lobby and embarked to the club which was about 10 minutes away.
Once you pass through the main entrance to the club you drive for what feels like quite a ways down a road with golf holes lining the left hand side. Jim informed me that these were holes on the course we would be playing, the East Course. Oak Hill also has a West Course which is not on the Top 100 list, but from what I’ve heard it is an incredibly fun and enjoyable course. Many of the members prefer to play the West Course because it usually makes for a less intense round than what you get on the more difficult East Course.
After what seemed like an eternity I finally got my first glimpse of the clubhouse. I didn’t take my own photo of the clubhouse but the one below from Oak Hill’s website really cannot be beat. The clubhouse is a grand old tudor building with a cool slate roof. Inside it is HUGE (69,000 square feet) and has everything you would expect a clubhouse to have . . . including 8 lanes of bowling!
I poked around the bag drop area while Jim parked the car and then walked through the pro shop on our way to change shoes in the locker room. I had the great fortune of meeting the Head Golf Pro as we passed through the pro shop. Normally it is nice to meet the pro, but this one was a little more meaningful. The Head Pro at Oak Hill is none other than Craig Harmon. Craig Harmon is the son of Claude Harmon who happens to be the 1948 Masters Champion and the last club pro to ever win a major title. Also of note is Craig’s brother, Butch Harmon, who coached Tiger Woods during his 34 month hot streak where he took home seven major titles. I guess you could say that golf runs in the blood of the Harmon family. There are other Harmons currently involved in golf as well. If there were golf royalty in America, they would surely have the last name Harmon.
A couple of noteworthy things about the course. Donald Ross did the original routing and layout of both the East and West Courses in 1925. The East Course is the tournament course and has hosted numerous USGA and PGA events including The Ryder Cup, US Open, Senior US Open, US Amateur, PGA Championship and Senior PGA Championship. In 2013 the PGA Championship will be returning to Oak Hill for the 3rd time. No other club has hosted this many majors.
Jim and I met up with our playing partners Karl and Mac and we were off. We played the white tees which are set up to play just over 6500 yards. The blues played 6900 and the blacks (where the pros play from) were stretched out to 7150.
The 1st hole is a fairly long par 4 at 433 yards. Below is a photo of the approach to the green. There is a creek running across the fairway about 80 yards out from the center of the green. The drive is at a tricky angle and for the second shot players need to hit a mid to long iron over the water. Not an easy starting hole. Even Ben Hogan once stated it was the hardest starting hole in golf.
Below is a photo of the 2nd green. At 361 yards this is a relatively short par 4 to an uphill green.
The photo below is the 3rd hole which is a 176 yard par 3. This the first of 4 really great one shot holes at Oak Hill. The hole sets up perfectly to play a nice draw into it. If you miss the green the rough is pretty thick and will make a tricky pitch to the green. This par 3 has been left completely unchanged since Ross originally designed it.
The picture below shows the tee shot for the 542 yard par 5 4th hole. As you can see the player needs to hit their drive straight. That chute is every bit as narrow as it looks!
Below is the 2nd shot on the par 5 4th hole. This one plays long so us mere mortals are not likely to reach it in two. Note the trees lining the fairway. John Williams, a past member of Oak Hill, planted more than 75,000 oak trees on the golf course. That is a ton of trees!
The 5th hole pictured below is a 367 yard par 4 slight dogleg right and the water is very much in play on the tee shot.
The 6th hole below is a beautiful 140 yard par 3. At the US Open in 1989 there were four holes in one recorded here within the first 90 minutes of play in the first round. The hole was playing about 170 yards that day. This hole is particularly good looking with the stone around the green and the bridge behind it.
The photo below taken from the 7th fairway is what Oak Hill is all about . . . beautiful trees. This picture really exemplifies Oak Hill’s East Course to me. The 7th hole is a 414 yard par 4.
Below is a photo of the approach on the 7th hole. Notice that creek is running across the fairway again. Depending on the tees being played and how long a player drives the ball, the hazard could come into play off the tee.
The 8th hole pictured below is a 423 yard par 4 and gives yet another view of the tree lined fairways at Oak Hill.
The 9th hole comes back to the clubhouse and is a 400 yard par 4 dogleg right. A good tee shot is crucial to have a manageable approach shot. Below is a photo of the green taken from about 120 yards out.
The 10th hole plays downhill and is a 403 yard par 4. A drive that catches the left hand side of the fairway will roll down nicely and leave a very reasonable 2nd shot. Note the creek is crossing the fairway again!
Below is the 11th hole which is yet another nice par 3 at Oak Hill. This one was 175 yards from the white tees. The pros play this one from 225 yards. Yikes!
The 12th hole, pictured below, is a 367 yard par 4 to an uphill green. The rough around the green on this one is again pretty thick making it crucial to hit the green to avoid a nasty pitch out of long grass uphill.
The 13th hole is a fantastic par 5 and one of the best I’ve played. Its plays 563 yards from the white tees and the pros play it from 594. Only recently has anyone made the green in 2 during tournament play. The creek crosses the fairway again so the pros have to be careful on their drives. Some can clear it but not many as the carry is 300 yards which makes it a pretty risky shot. The photo below is taken from where I hit my 3rd shot after playing a nice hook out of trees and back to the fairway for my 2nd shot. Up on the right hand side where the flag pole stands is the “Hill of Fame”. The trees up on the hill have been dedicated to various people important to the club and to golf. There is a past club president as well as numerous professional golfers. The area around the green forms a natural amphitheater and is a popular place for spectators during tournaments.
The 14th is a short par 4 playing only 323 yards from the tips. When the pros play this hole they either hit driver to try to get on the green in 1 or a mid iron to put them out on the fairway with a wedge to the green. Surely a spot of great theater during the professional events hosted here.
The 15th hole is a 157 yeard par 3 with a small pond on the right hand side (see below). There is no reason at all for this hole to be difficult. The four par 3s at Oak Hills East Course are all great holes and offering a great balance of fun and challenge.
Here is a shot taken from the . . . ahem . . . drop area. As small as the pond may have been I still managed to find it.
The 16th hole is a very straight forward par 4. Its pretty long at 432 yards, but it plays downhill. Jim, my host said that the pros just destroy this hole. Because there is not much trouble on the hole they swing for the hills so that they can have an easy wedge into the hole. The old “Bomb and Gouge” technique.
The 17th hole plays as a short par 5 from the white tees (452 yards), but the pros play it as a 495 yard par 4. The drive plays uphill and then it doglegs right. From the white tees a good drive will leave you just a little over 200 to the center of the green, so it is absolutely reachable in 2. The photo below was taken from where I hit my 2nd shot, about 210 from the center of the green.
The 18th hole is a 396 yard par 4 that twists a little bit to the right. If you miss the green short here you may have some trouble. The fairway dips down to a valley just below the green and the grass on the hill up to the green is all rough. The pitch onto the green for players who land short is straight uphill and not very easy. The photo below is from the fairway where the 2nd shot would be taken.
As I mentioned at the beginning of my post we had a perfect day at Oak Hill. The weather was glorious, the company couldn’t be beat, the course was pristine with the greens rolling as smooth as can be and to top it all off I was happy with the way I played. I really do get lucky sometimes.
From start to finish visiting Oak Hill Country Club is a fantastic experience that should never be passed up if the opportunity is presented. I’m not really in to ranking courses that I have played but I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that this is one of the best courses that I have ever played. the course itself is one of those great old classic courses that I love. The vintage feel is everywhere and playing the course is like slipping on a comfortable well broken in pair of pants. I could not find anything about the course that I considered unfair in any way. Simply put, it is a masterpiece.