Oakland Hills Clubhouse with Trophy (Photo: Montana Pritchard)
When the South Course of Oakland Hills was formally opened on July 13, 1918, it already enjoyed a certain degree of prestige. After all, the course was designed by the foremost golf course architect of his day - Donald Ross and the Club had engaged, as its first professional - Walter Hagen who had already won the United States Open. The enjoyment of country club life in those days was pretty well restricted to the golf course. The Clubhouse was the Miller farmhouse on the North side of Maple Road and the old chicken coop served as Walter Hagen's pro shop. Memberships were sold to 140 members at $250.00 each.
The Clubhouse which is still the basic structure we recognize today was completed and formally opened in August, 1922, at a cost of $650,000.00 unfinished. The original Clubhouse had accommodations for 48 overnight guests and, in those days, it was not uncommon for members to stay at the Club for weeks at a time. Some of these guest rooms were retained until the major remodeling of the second floor which took place in 1968. Modern roads and nearby motels obviated the necessity of retaining accommodations for overnight guests and the need for additional space to meet the needs of our expanded membership meant the end of our hotel operation.
In looking through the archives, it is interesting to note that a full social program was in effect more than fifty years ago. In fact, informal dances were held every Wednesday and Saturday nights. The tradition of O.H.C.C. friendships started in the early days and has prevailed since that time among the members. Walter Hagen, who broke the barriers of social ostracism against golf professionals, attested to this when he said that the treatment he had received at Oakland Hills had spoiled him and made him accustomed to being treated as any golfer, pro or amateur, should be. Guest play was most popular in the early days. In 1923 there was more guest play on our South Course than any other course in the Midwest.
Work on the North Course began in 1922 and was completed at the end of the 1923 season ready for play in 1924. For the first several years it was operated as it is today, i.e., a second course for the members. During the depression, however, it became necessary to operate it as North Hills, a semi-private Club open for daily green fee play. It was redesigned by Robert Trent Jones and reestablished as a second private course for the members at the beginning of the 1969 season. The barrier which Maple Road presented between the two courses was effectively overcome by installation of the world's largest arched aluminum pedestrian bridge. The bridge connecting the two courses is 210 feet long, 11 feet wide, and weighs 40,000 pounds. It was delivered to the site already assembled and erected in less than 2 1/2 hours early one morning.
Oakland Hills' South Course is now world-renowned and is consistently picked among the top ten tests of golf in the United States and, indeed, the world. Its reputation is well earned.
The first major tournament hosted was the Western Open in 1922 which was won by our host pro Mike Brady, who had succeeded Walter Hagen, by ten strokes over runner-up Jock Hutchinson.
Two years later, in 1924, the club played host to the first of four United States Open Championships. This was won by Cyril Walker with a 297 total. Runner-up that year was Bobby Jones, the defending champion, at 300.
The Open returned to Oakland Hills again in 1937 when Ralph Guldahl, then a twenty-four year old, won his first of two successive Open Championships with a 281 total. Two shots back in his oft-denied quest of an Open title was the great Sam Snead.
Although many tournaments have been held throughout the years at Oakland Hills, the one which gave the course its greatest reputation as The Monster was the 1951 Open. The result was a tournament in which only two subpar rounds were shot during the entire 72 hole affair. Ben Hogan won with a total of 287 by shooting a final round 67 after which he was quoted as saying I am glad I brought this course, this monster, to its knees. He also said that it was the greatest test of golf I have ever played and the toughest course. The late Clayton Heafner who had a final round of 69, the only other sub-par of the tournament, finished second two strokes back. There was some comment after the last round of the tournament of the effect that the tee markers had been moved so far forward that last day as to take some of the fairway traps out of play. In any event, the natural result of this extremely difficult Open was that from that point on the USGA no longer permitted the host Clubs to control the layout for an Open tournament.
The Club once again hosted the U.S. Open in 1961 when Gene Littler's 281 nosed out Doug Sanders and Bob Goalby by a single stroke. But for bad luck on two holes on the back nine of the closing round, a young amateur by the name of Nicklaus might have taken home all the marbles.
The next major tournament held at Oakland Hills was the 1964 Carling World Open which was won by Bobby Nichols whose 278 total beat out Arnold Palmer by a single stroke in an exciting finish.
Next in line of major championships hosted by Oakland Hills was the 1972 P.G.A. Championship. The long range planning and unstinting efforts of volunteer members working on this tournament resulted in, what was to that time, the most successful tournament in P.G.A. history. The tournament was won by Gary Player with a 281 total highlighted by an exciting, pressure-packed birdie on our world famous 16th hole. Tommy Aaron and Jim Jamieson tied for second.
In 1979, Oakland Hills once again hosted the P.G.A. Championship. According to most golf experts, this Championship drew the largest gallery in the history of golf. Certainly, the three hole sudden-victory win by David Graham over Ben Crenshaw was one of the most exciting finishes in golf history. During this Championship, the Monster yielded a little to sub-par rounds occasioned by soft greens, low rough and some absolutely superb golf played by an extremely qualified field of top-flight golfers.
Nine contestants finished the regulation 72 holes under par, with David Graham and Ben Crenshaw both finishing at 272 - eight under par. In the suspenseful three-hole playoff, David Graham sunk phenomenal putts on the first and second holes to stay alive and clenched his victory with a birdie on the third hole.
In 1981, the Club hosted the second Annual U.S. Seniors Open Championship sponsored by the U.S.G.A. Many of the legends of golfing lore participated. The Championship was eventually won by Arnold Palmer in an 18 hole playoff with Billy Casper and Bob Stone.
In 1985, Oakland Hills became one of only three courses in the country to have hosted the U.S. Open five times. With many of the big names missing the cut, a relative unknown from Taiwan, T.C. Chen, found himself leading the field into the final round with the help of a rare double eagle on the second hole during the first round of play. While millions watched on television, T.C. blew a four stroke lead with a quadruple bogey on the fifth hole primarily by hitting his ball twice on one approach shot. Despite a valiant effort on his part in a head to head duel with Andy North, the eventual winner, he was never able to recover from his disastrous experience on the fifth hole.
In winning his second U.S. Open, Andy North's 279 was the only sub-par total score for the Championship. Three foreigners tied for second one stroke back at even par. Once again, The Monster, had triumphed.
During the past few years, the Club has spent several million dollars in improvements, renovations, and additions to the Clubhouse and Club property. Very extensive renovations to the main Clubhouse were made in 1968 which resulted in the removal of the sleeping rooms and the building of a new ladies locker room on the North end of the second floor of the Club. Rooms for private parties were also added on the second floor, a new Mixed Grille was built on the second floor, a new pro-shop was built, and the Men's Grille was expanded and refurbished. A new pool and pool house opened in 1971. Additional tennis courts were added so that there are now six courts available to play. Paddle tennis courts were also added to accommodate the growing popularity of this sport. Before the opening of the 1974 season, the first floor of the Clubhouse was redecorated and a new half-way house was built on the South Course.
In 1976, both the downstairs and upstairs kitchens were completely remodeled and equipped to meet the demands of increased utilization by members of the Club's dining facilities.
In 1982, the Galleria was installed along the walls of the second floor hallway from the Mixed Grille to the Ladies Lounge and Locker area. Over 200 pictures of past tournaments as well as views of the early Clubhouse and grounds were hung.
Remodeling and expansion of the Men's Grille was completed in 1986. At this time major remodeling and decorating brought complete new looks in the Great Room, South Dining Room, Casino Bar as well as the Mixed Grille and Director's Room.
The 1991 U.S.G.A. Senior Open Championship started with 37 amateurs and 119 professionals. Michigan's Mike Hill enjoyed the first day lead of 68. Gary Player second with 69, and tied for third at 70 Lee Trevino, Dick Siderowf and our own 17-winner of OHCC club championship, amateur Hunter McDonald. The second day of play showed the MONSTER'S difficult greens and J.C. Snead took the lead with a 69. One shot behind we find Chi Chi Rodriquez and Jack Nicklaus. On Sunday when the troops fell behind, Chi Chi and Jack tied on the 18th green with 282. With the play-off on Monday, and a 2-hour rain delay, there was no way Chi Chi could stop a determined Jack Nicklaus remembering his not making the cut in the 1985 Open here at OHCC, finished with 69 to Jack's 65.
Oakland Hills celebrated its 75th anniversary in 1991. With this Diamond Jubilee, a coffee-table book of its history was printed. The members enjoyed a celebrity auction, fireworks after a candle-lit dinner and dancing to the music of Lester Lanin's New York Orchestra.
Members and guests were introduced to the WALK OF CHAMPIONS in 1993. Huge boulders, each 8-10 tons, containing commemorative plaques honoring twelve golfing greats, were installed along the first tee. Extra variegated stones will carry on future winners.
In 1996 the first extra Stone was used after the U.S.G.A. Championship. This Open will long be remembered for Steve Jones winning with a par on the 18th green. Tom Lehman and Davis Love, III, tying for second. The Open will also be remembered for the storm, which washed out the 18th hole bunker. The Grounds Crew worked throughout the night draining water from many holes and reconstructed the damaged bunker in time for play on Thursday morning.
In January 1999 the club began a $16.25 million dollar renovation project that included the Pro Shop, Bag Room, and remodeling and restoration of the clubhouse. The club reopened to the membership in May 2000 with a gala event more grand than the tremendous scope of the renovation. The club's effort furthers the long standing commitment the membership has to be effective stewards to what many feel is a national treasure.
The lore and world-wide renown of Oakland Hills cannot be captured in such a brief description as this. It is hoped however, this review will give all the members a sense of pride in the role this great Club has played in the history of golf and Club life in America. Oakland Hills Country Club hosted the 2002 United States Amateur Champoinship won by Ricky Barnes. It was considered to be the most successful U.S. Amateur ever conducted at the time. The club is also scheduled to host the 2004 Ryder Cup Matches and the 2008 PGA Championship.
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