Some of you might think I’ve lost my marbles. Oak Hill is as storied a championship golf course as we have in this country. It’s the only course to have hosted six of the men’s major golf championships. Nicklaus declared it one of the top 12 championship courses after he won the 1980 PGA Championship there. In 2003, again at the PGA Championship, where Ernie Els tied for 5th, he declared it the ‘toughest and fairest’ course he had ever played. So who am I to register a complaint?
Oak Hill started as a classic Donald Ross design in 1926. It was modified by his protege, Robert Trent Jones Sr. during the 50’s and 60’s. Then in 1975-76, George and Tom Fazio were called in to do the dirty work. The course had been snubbed for Majors after Lee Trevino won the US Open in 1968. The members wanted the juice from majors so they unleashed the Fazios to make it really difficult – which all seem to agree they did. Finally, Tom Fazio was brought in once again to make a few changes prior to this week’s championship.
Oak Hill is a grand, historic, extremely difficult tournament course and this lowly writer chooses to take a shot at it. Here’s why; I’m a great fan of Donald Ross, one of the greatest golf architects ever. I currently belong to a 1916 Donald Ross course that was just put on the National Registry of Historic Places. As a youngster I was blessed to play a number of rounds at Oak Hill in the mid 1960’s. Most of Ross’s beautiful subtleties were still very much in place, just as they are at my current course. Ross learned his classic course design from non other than Old Tom Morris while he was greenskeeper at Royal Dornach. It’s these elements that can keep you playing the same course for a lifetime and never get tired of it.
What I remember fondly about Oak Hill in the 60’s is Allen Creek which meanders casually through the course on its way to Lake Ontario. A creek doesn’t represent a lot of water, but when an artist like Ross designs a course around it the results are dramatic. Allen Creek still follows the same basic path and comes into play on 6 holes.
So it was with relish that I turned into the Golf Channel to watch ‘Live at the PGA Championship’ last night anxious to get a look at the course I hadn’t seen for so many years. That’s when I recoiled in horror! What had they done to Allen Creek? Somehow they converted it from a beautiful natural creek, with natural grass banks so pleasing to the eye into something that looks like an industrial drainage ditch, the grass gone and the banks lined with large rocks. Are they expecting a tidal wave?
Now I may be the only one to see this as an ugly scar inflicted on such a beautiful face. Oak Hill is famous for its trees, not only the thousands of oaks, but the numerous other species, not native to Rochester, that Dr. John Williams acclimated so they could withstand Rochester’s harsh winters. The course is beautiful and tough, but who in their right mind would destroy the creek by lining it with 2-5 feet of rock. Instead of a creek we now have a drainage ditch. Such a shame for such a beautiful place. Mr. Ross, we should have honored your vision better than that!