Best, Fairest and Toughest Championship CourseArticle by: Billy Satterfield
"This course is certainly one of the finest I have ever seen, fit for either an Open or PGA." This was the legendary Sam Snead's quote about Oak Hill after winning a tournament there in 1941. Little did Slammin' Sammy know how prophetic his statement would be. The Donald Ross designed 36 hole complex has since hosted the U.S. Open three times (1956, 1968, and 1989), the PGA Championship twice (1980, 2003, and then again in 2013), the U.S. Amateur twice, as well as a Senior U.S. Open, Senior PGA Championship, and the 1995 Ryder Cup.
The rolling terrain at Oak Hill offers some great uphill and downhill holes as well as some lightly sloping fairways. The East course, which hosts the major championships, features a creek that meanders through the routing and bisects some fairways half way through the hole, some 50 yards from the green, and some right next to the green. It is a very classic feeling course with gentle doglegs and great strategy. After the 2003 PGA Championship, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els had some memorable quotes about Oak Hill,
"It's the hardest, fairest golf course we've ever played." An impressive quote from the world's #1 player. But it is Els' quote that makes the opening page on the club's website, "It is the best, fairest and toughest championship golf course I've ever played in all my years as a tour professional."
How hard is Oak Hill's East course? In the five U.S. Opens and PGA Championships held at the club only ten players have managed to finish with scores under par. During the Senior U.S. Open and Senior PGA Championship, winners finished with scores of +6 and +7 respectively. In 2003, Tiger Woods' best round during the PGA was a mild +2 and finished 12 over for the championship; 16 strokes behind eventual winner Shaun Micheel.
Oak Hill's head professional is Craig Harmon, the son of the legendary Claude Harmon and brother to the famous teaching professional Butch Harmon. 2013 represents Harmon's 40th anniversary at Oak Hill as the head professional and he has pretty much seen it all. When asked how Oak Hill will hold up in 2013, Harmon had this to say,
"That's the curiosity now. We're 10 years removed from the PGA Championship, a few years removed from the Senior PGA Championship (in 2008), where 7-over par won, so there's a curiosity to see just how many people break par. Over the test of time, the course has held up."
The East course's signature hole is the 598 yard 13th hole which has never been reached in two and will certainly be a topic of conversation among players and commentators during the tournament. This lengthy hole plays past the "Hill of Fame" found on the right side of the fairway and hosts a flag pole and several trees dedicated people that Oak Hill holds in high esteem. During the 2003 PGA Championship, Craig Harmon became the 35th inductee into the club's prestigious Hill of Fame.
Look for players to take advantage of the 570 yard 4th hole which has yielded 50% more birdies than any other hole during championships. When I played the course in 2009 I was able to card a birdie which was setup by bombing a tee shot over the fairway bunkers protecting the right side of the dogleg and shortened up the hole significantly. The other hole I expect to cough up some birdies is the short 14th which measures at a tame 323 yards. Some players will take a rip at it with a driver, but I chose hit 5-iron off the tee and then wedged it close to record my final birdie on the day.
Where things could get dicey on Sunday is on #17 and #18 which both play as par 4s but average over 500 yards in length. This bruising length challenging green side bunkering will certainly see more bogeys than pars in this year's championship.
The final hole to note is #15, Oak Hill's final par three. For the first time in major championship history, the fans get to vote on the pin location for the final round on Sunday. Go to http://picktheholechallenge.pga.com/ and decide whether you'd like to see the flag tucked next to the water on the right side or whether you'd like it to flirt with the trio of bunkers on the left. You may not get to hit the shot yourself, but you can decide how the big boys will play it!
The course isn't as long as many other major championship hosts, but during the U.S. Open at Merion two months ago we saw how little that really mattered. Once again, look for Old Man Par to be near the top of the leaderboard by the end of the tournament. Traditionally, straight hitters have fared better than long bombers at Oak Hill so look for guys like Jim Furyk, Steve Stricker, Graeme McDowell, Jason Dufner, Lee Westwood, and Hunter Mahan to be in the mix on Sunday. But don't eliminate Tiger and Phil from your watch list, their creativity will certainly come in handy when maneuvering around the trees and out of bunkers. It should be an engaging tournament to watch on one of America's most stories courses.