Fast forward 12 months to the 2023 PGA Championship and these themes will be relevant again when the PGA of America heads to Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York. If the springtime weather in Oklahoma was unpredictable, even wilder climate swings are possible in upstate New York in mid-May. And like Southern Hills, Oak Hill’s historic East course, host of three previous US Opens and three PGA Championships, plus a Ryder Cup and two US Amateurs, has undergone a major renovation that will leave viewers wondering what happened to the old, tree-cloistered Oak Hill they used to know.
Here’s a first look at the 2023 PGA Championship venue.
PLAYING WITH FIRE – AND ICE?
During a visit to Oak Hill the week of the PGA Championship at Southern Hills, the weather was volatile. It rained early in the week, and on Tuesday morning temperatures were in the single digits with blustery winds between 30 and 45 kilometres per hour. That’s not uncommon, nor is it particularly severe. Caddies wore gloves and beanies, but at least there wasn’t snow – locals know that’s a possibility, even in May.
The good news is the northern latitude allows for more daylight, so rounds can go deeper into the evening if play is slow.
A DENUDED LANDSCAPE
The club began an aggressive tree-removal program in the mid-2010s that continued through the recent Andrew Green renovation and remains an ongoing project. The deletion of dozens of the specimens that provided Oak Hill both its name and reputation gives the course more elasticity, healthier turf and better sight lines, at least if one values the visibility of horizons, target areas and other architectural elements.
It’s also produced a stunning transformation of the landscape, even more extreme (and more needed) than Southern Hills. That’s allowed for significant fairway expansion – not out to the original Donald Ross dimensions of the 1920s, but well beyond the recent 25-yard-wide landing strips of yesteryear. To a degree greater than at any point in Oak Hill’s tournament past, players will be able to attack holes off the tee and driving distances should be similar to what they were at Southern Hills.
A RESTORED LOOK
Green’s remodel is not a faithful restoration. He did not attempt to rebuild exactly or in exact places what Ross had laid out in plans and on the ground. But Green did capture the spirit of an older mode of bunker shaping with more intricate edging, level bunker floors and vertical grass faces, as well as mimicking the early golf technique of benching bunkers into embankments and upslopes.
The result is a more severe-looking East course with strong horizontal top lines and stark shadow contrast. Most bunkers have low entry points and steep back faces, and recovery chances will depend on where in the sand the ball comes to rest. This is especially true for fairway bunkers, which can extol a half- to full-stroke penalty if the ball settles near a face.
RETURN OF THE GREENS
Oak Hill has a compelling blend of short par 4s like the 12th and 14th, both potentially driveable depending on where the PGA of America sets the tees, and long, arduous two-shot holes, particularly holes six to nine, and 17 and 18. Two of the four par 3s will play between 210 and 230 metres to well-protected targets. But expect scoring to be linked closely to the weather – a cold upstate spring week will keep par numbers relevant, but if it’s reasonably warm and calm the course will yield to aggressive play.
OAK HILL COUNTRY CLUB – EAST COURSE
MAJOR RENOVATION: Andrew Green (2019)