The Itinerant Golfer

The Itinerant Golfer's Take on Oakland Hills Country Club (South)


Oakland Hills Country Club (South)

Architect: Donald Ross / Robert Trent Jones
Year: 1918 / 1950

3951 West Maple Road , Bloomfield Hills, Michigan 48301
(248) 644-2500

driving range available
motorized golf carts and caddies available

U.S. Open - 1924, 1937, 1951, 1961, 1985, 1996
PGA Championship - 1972, 1979, 2008
Ryder Cup - 2004


Oakland Hills Country Club is a very familiar name on the landscape of American golf. With two courses, the North and the South, the club is one of the biggest and best in the midwest. There have been six U.S. Opens, three P.G.A. Championships and one Ryder Cup contested on the South Course at Oakland Hills. In addition to these 10 events there have been an additional six important and significant golf tournaments played here over the years including the Men’s and Women’s U.S. Amatuer, U.S. Senior Open, Western Open and the Carling World open.

The South Course opened for play in 1918 and was designed by one of the leading architects of the day, Donald Ross. In addition to having a big name golf course designer Oakland Hills also had a big name club pro. The outspoken and often outrageous Walter Hagen, who had already won a U.S. Open by time Oakland Hills was founded, was selected to be the club’s first golf professional. Additionally, Robert Trent Jones was hired to do the 1950 redesign of the course. With those type of affiliations the club was practically destined to be a significant piece of American golf.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
The South Course has a reputation of being a beast . . . actually, to be more precise, a monster. After the course punished the field all week at the 1951 U.S. Open and Ben Hogan claimed victory with a final round of 67 he was quoted as saying “I’m glad I brought this monster to it’s knees.” The “Monster” name stuck and ever since then the course has struck fear into the hearts of both professional and amateur players.

After our morning round at Forest Dunes we hopped in the car and made the 2 hour 45 minute drive to Bloomfield Hills where Corey had arranged for us to play the “Monster” for our afternoon round. In hindsight, it may have not been the best course choice for an afternoon round on a 36 hole day. Regardless, we excitedly took our spot on the 1st tee and prepared to make our own sort of history on the course. In order to improve our chances we elected for the friendly 6,534 yard white tees and when the coast was clear we began our efforts to bring the Monster to its knees.

Hole 1 – 410 yards – par 4
The course starts out with a healthy par 4 that features bunkers on both sides of the fairway. These bunkers are absolutely in play off the tee.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Below is a look at the 1st green. It’s a little difficult to tell from the photo, but there is a significant amount of undulation on this green.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Hole 2 – 479 yards – par 5
Our first par 5 is a fairly short one at less than 480 yards. Playing out to the right side of the fairway will leave the best angle for the next shot.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Here is a view at the approach into the green.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Hole 3 – 165 yards – par 3
This is a nice one shot hole that is almost completely surrounded by bunkers. Hole locations on the right side of the green are certainly more friendly without a bunker to be carried.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Here is another view of the green from the right side.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Hole 4 – 408 yards – par 4
This hole is a dogleg left with a downhill approach shot. Once the hole turns left the downhill begins.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Below is a photo taken from about 75 yards out from the green.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
And a look from the left side of the hole.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Hole 5 – 415 yards – par 4
This lengthy par 4 requires a little thought for the tee shot. There is a creek that crosses the fairway on the other side of the hill in the photo below. Longer hitters may roll their tee shots into the creek so a 3 wood might be a smarter play for players that hit it a long ways.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Here is a look at the approach from just short of the creek.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Again, the camera doesn’t do it justice but the photo below shows some of the undulation on this green.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Hole 6 – 339 yards – par 4
At the 6th hole we reach an nice little short par 4. This hole plays a little uphill so the actual length is a bit longer than what it would appear. Driver is not necessary, but will set up a very short approach shot for players who take their chances.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Here is a view of the short pitch onto the putting surface.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Hole 7 – 358 yards – par 4
Here we have another shortish par 4 that bends a little to the right.The water is clearly in play off the tee and favoring the left side of the fairway is the safest way to stay dry. Of course the bunkers are there to catch any balls that go too far to the left.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Below is a view of the approach shot from over near the water on the right side of the fairway.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Hole 8 – 458 yards – par 5
The 8th hole is a very short par 5 that is reachable in two by many. A good drive will leave less than 200 yards into the green. The hole does run uphill so the hole does play a little longer than on the card, but it is still a very short par 5 from the white tees. For major championships this hole plays as a long par 4.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Here is a look from just off the front of the green.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Hole 9 – 198 yards – par 3
We close out the first nine with a pretty lengthy par 3. Most players will be hitting a long iron, utility or wood into this green. The trouble here is right, left and long. Shots that come up short directly in front of the green will not be penalized.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Hole 10 – 418 yards – par 4
Here we have a long par 4 that plays uphill with bunkers on both sides of the fairway.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Below is a look at the green from about 75 yards away. The bunker on the right side of the green is pretty deep and makes for a difficult par save.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Hole 11 – 384 yards – par 4
I liked this hole a lot. The fairway rolls downhill and then the approach shot plays significantly uphill which effectively adds some distance to the hole.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Below is a look at the approach into the green. The two bunkers in the front are perfectly placed to catch the shots of players who did not calculate for the additional uphill yardage correctly.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Hole 12 – 526 yards – par 5
This hole is the only par 5 that plays more than 500 yards from the white tees. The hole doglegs to the right and a tee shot down the left side will set up the best angle for the next shot. There are bunkers on that side of the fairway that will cause problems for balls that go too far to the left.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Below is a look at the approach into the green. The bunker that sits 40 yards or so off the front of the green makes for a very difficult shot to the green.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Here is a look at the 12th green from the 16th tee. Note the rolls in the green and the tricky front hole location.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Hole 13 – 154 yards – par 3
Where the 3rd hole was nearly surrounded with bunkers, the 13th hole is completely surrounded. Any tee shot that doesn’t find the putting surface is almost sure to end up in a bunker.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Hole 14 – 451 yards – par 4
This is another hole that I really liked quite a bit. It is a very stout par 4. Note that the total yardage on this hole is only 7 yards shy of two of the par 5s. This hole moves to the right and this is a great time to show off your cut shot.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Here is a look at the approach into the green. The hole plays a little downhill so there is a good possibility of approach shots that come up short rolling onto the green.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
And another view of the green from the 15th tee.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Hole 15 – 364 yards – par 4
This is an interesting hole that I didn’t really understand on the tee. The bunkers in the middle of the fairway are able to be carried by longer hitters, but the safest play is to hit the tee shot out to the right of the bunkers. It makes for a longer approach shot, but it is the sure way to avoid the bunkers. Shots that are left of the bunkers could have a very difficult angle into the green.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Here we have another uphill approach to the green.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Hole 16 – 374 yards – par 4
This hole is a mid-length par 4 with a carry over water to reach the green. The water is in play off the tee for longer hitters. The closer a player hits his ball to the edge of the water, the shorter the approach shot will be.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Here is a view of what the approach shot looks like. This can be a very intimidating shot to make late in a match.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Hole 17 – 175 yards – par 3
Here we have an uphill one shot hole with the green surrounded by bunkers. With the uphill players will need to add some club in order to not end up in the front bunkers.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Hole 18 – 458 yards – par 5
The course closes out with one more short par 5 birdie opportunity. This is another par 5 that will be reachable in two for many players. A drive down the middle that avoids the bunkers on both sides of the fairway is a good way to start here. Like the 8th hole this one also plays as a par 4 for major championships.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
Below is a look at the approach into the green. It’s a little uphill so an extra club will likely be necessary.
 
Oakland Hills Country Club - South Course
 
As we holed out the last of our putts and wrote the final numbers down on the scorecard we quickly realized that we had not brought the Monster to its knees . . . in fact, if anyone was on their knees it was us. Regardless of the scores, we all had a great time and really enjoyed the course. To me the real standout on the course were the greens. Unfortunately I didn’t capture many of the greens in photos, but many of them had a remarkable amount of internal contouring to them. I’m not sure if Donald Ross ever visited Oakland Hills as he designed the course, but there is no doubt that he was very effective in his use of the terrain to create a variety of holes with interesting shots. It is a fun course with great greens that leaves me wanting to visit again to check out the North Course.

  • Wonderful account of Oakland Hills– It has some other pieces of interesting history that are worth mention. The Open that Hogan won there was set up with such great difficulty, that it caused a change in USGA policy. It no longer allowed the host club to control the layout for an Open championship

    The 1985 Open had a couple very interesting events. On #8 Denis Watson’s putt hung on the lip of the cup.
    He waited, too long according to rules officials, to see if it would fall in and was assessed a 2 stroke penalty (he finished the tournament one stroke out of the lead) Shortly thereafter the USGA changed the rule to 10 seconds and changed the penalty to 1 stroke.

    Also in the 1985 Open T.C. Chen lead the tournament all three days. He scored the first double eagle in Open history. On Sunday at #5 he held a 4 shot lead. but he double hit a 30 yard chip shot. It not only brought a penalty and a double bogey but he completely lost his composure and he fell out of contention for the tournament. Members of the media began to refer to him as “Two-chip Chen”

  • JB

    Did you miss the plaques on the 1st tee.

    Just a note, 8 and 18 play as par 4s for major championships.

    • The Itinerant Golfer

      I saw the plaques on the first tee, but didn’t get a chance to shoot a photo of them. Thanks for pointing out that 8 and 18 play as par 4s. I forgot to mention that. I’ll revise those parts of my post. Thanks!

  • Pingback: Ryder Cup Golf Courses « The Itinerant Golfer()

  • Pingback: Top 100 Golf Odyssey E-Newsletter Vol. 17 « The Itinerant Golfer()

  • MRP

    Looks like a change in the mowing patterns could benefit the course improve the bunkering schemes. Thoughts?

    • The Itinerant Golfer

      MRP, if you are referring to the rough around the bunkers, I agree. I am generally of the opinion that the less rough there is the better. I like to see closely mowed grass run right up to the edge of the bunkers to bring them into play. I think a different mowing strategy here would create a golf course that plays considerably different . . . some might say more difficult and some might say more fun.

  • Orthogolfer

    Playing Oakland Hills next Week. I was wondering
    If you are allowed to take a cart. We always walk
    But my buddy has a back issue going on. I also
    Assume that caddies are required.

    Did you play the north course?

    Thanks. Always enjoy your reviews.

    • The Itinerant Golfer

      I’m not sure what the EXACT rules are as far as exactly when carts are allowable, but I definitely did see carts out there when we played on a late weekday afternoon. Have fun and enjoy “The Monster”!!!