When Oak Hill Country Club opened in 1926 with its two Donald Ross-designed golf courses on a 355-acre plot acquired in a land swap with the University of Rochester, it transformed the small town of Pittsford in the northwest corner of New York.
With its Tudor-style clubhouse and its grand design, Oak Hill had almost everything – except trees.
The notion of a club named Oak Hill sitting on land left largely barren by years of farming didn’t sit well with Dr. John Williams, a club member who had been instrumental in the use of insulin to fight the effects of diabetes. Williams took it upon himself to change the look of the Oak Hill landscape.
it led to the planting of approximately 75,000 seedlings around Oak Hill, many of which originally were planted in Williams’ garden not far from the club. Those seedlings grew into the massive trees that now frame Oak Hill, giving the club’s golf courses much of their personality and challenge.
The PGA Championship returns to oak Hill this week, setting the season’s final major championship on the brawny, muscular east course that owns the distinction of being the only layout to have hosted the U.S. Open, U.S. Senior Open, U.S. Amateur, PGA Championship, Senior PGA Championship and the Ryder Cup.
“It is the best, fairest and toughest championship course I’ve ever played in all my years as a professional,” Ernie Els said.
Oak Hill has become a part of golf history.
It’s where Lee Trevino introduced himself on the world stage, winning the 1968 U.S. Open while becoming the first player to shoot four sub-70 rounds in that championship, and where Jack Nicklaus won his 17th professional major championship when he claimed the 1980 PGA Championship.
It’s where Curtis Strange won his second consecutive U.S. Open in 1989 and where, six years later, Strange was a central figure on the final day of Europe’s dramatic comeback to capture the 1995 Ryder Cup.
The last time the PGA Championship was played at Oak Hill, Shaun Micheel capped his unlikely victory in the 2003 tournament by hitting a 7-iron shot to within two inches of the hole on No. 18 to beat Chad Campbell.
This isn’t the sandy, windswept Ocean Course at Kiawah Island where Rory McIlroy blitzed the field to win last year’s PGA Championship by eight strokes. This is Oak Hill, originally designed by Ross and later retouched by Tom Fazio, where the challenge is straightforward and the demands unrelenting.
“It’s one of the original hard courses,” said Strange, who revisited the club last fall. “It’s just a hard golf course. Demanding off the tee. You have to keep it below the hole on certain holes. There’s a few blind shots. There are a couple of massive par-4s.
“It’s long enough and hard enough that if you do drive it in the rough, I don’t know if you can get it to the green.”
In a major-championship season rich with drama – it began with Adam Scott’s emotional victory at The Masters, continued with Justin Rose’s clinical performance in the U.S. Open and, most recently, produced Phil Mickelson’s spectacular come-from- behind victory in the Open Championship – the PGA Championship at Oak Hill offers the opportunity for a suitably dramatic final chapter.
“I love golf courses like this: big, mature trees, tree-lined fairways,” McIlroy said earlier this year. “It’s a typical, old-style (course). It was obviously a fantastic golf course 50, 60 years ago, and it’s a fantastic golf course now.