Appeared in July/August 2003 LINKS
It was the summer of 1968 and I was a wide-eyed college student whose eyes weren't quite wide enough. They couldn’t take in the panorama stretched out before them. I was at Oak Hill, thinking, “Wow.”
You will understand the bias of this tale when I explain that the first professional golf tournament I ever attended was the 1968 U.S. Open at Oak Hill Country Club in suburban Rochester, New York. I had been playing golf for about seven years at that point, on the pasture-like courses of upstate New York. My country club experience was limited to a round at two small-city clubs in the Finger Lakes region of the state. Now, I was trying to comprehend Oak Hill—its carpeted fairways, gaping bunkers, stately trees, and opulent clubhouse. It was all a bit much.
I have been back to Oak Hill since, as a golf reporter. I covered Curtis Strange’s victory in the 1989 U.S. Open and the U.S. loss to the European squad in the 1995 Ryder Cup. I was no less impressed by the place as a crusty scribe than I had been as a guileless college junior.
And who wouldn’t be impressed? In a metropolitan area of a scant million lies a club that couldn’t be any closer to the heart of the game than Old Tom Morris himself. Oak Hill has two Donald Ross courses (East and West), a grand, multifaceted club facility, and a membership dedicated to championship golf. Oak Hill is one of only three clubs to have hosted the U.S. Open, U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Amateur, Ryder Cup, and PGA Championship—and it did so in a period of less than 20 years! When it comes to majors, Oak Hill is a major player.
If you know anything about Rochester, it’s likely you know it as the home of Eastman Kodak Company. This is where George Eastman founded the biggest camera manufacturer in the world. You might also know it as the birthplace of Xerox Corporation and Bausch & Lomb.
But golf is central to this community. Rochester gave the world two men who cut large swaths through the game: Walter Hagen, the dashing and daunting golf superstar of the early 20th century, and Robert Trent Jones Sr., the architect who designed enough golf courses to circle the globe. Both men are honored at Oak Hill, on the club’s renowned “Hill of Fame,” which occupies a memorable rise to the green of the long, signature par-5 13th hole. At the base of the magnificent trees that shade the rise and define the hole, plaques are placed to honor the game's luminaries.
When the club was rebuffed in an attempt to get another major after the 1968 Open, it undertook a renovation of the East course in the mid-’70s by George and Tom Fazio. Subsequently it was awarded the 1980 PGA Championship, which Jack Nicklaus won. For the 2003 PGA, Tom Fazio was brought back in to lengthen some holes and restore peril to the fairway bunkers.
It took virtually no time for Oak Hill to sell out more than 30,000 tickets to the PGA, to rent the hospitality suites, to fill out the roster of more than 2,000 volunteers. Upstate New Yorkers love their golf. The nearby Locust Hill Country Club annually hosts the Wegmans LPGA Classic, one of the most successful events on the women’s tour. Similarly, the members of Oak Hill love their club, because it fills the senses with the spirit of the game. It is impossible not to be wide-eyed and slackjawed at the sight of the place.
Year founded: 1901
Architects: Donald Ross, George Fazio, Tom Fazio