July 8, 2021 By: Matt Charboneau — The “Monster” has a new look.
Although, what’s new is actually old. At least, that’s what’s happening at Oakland Hills Country Club’s legendary South Course.
Back in the fall of 2019, the course was shut down as the club began a $12.1 million renovation, or as it might more accurately be described — a restoration. The goal was to return the South Course — dubbed “The Monster” by Ben Hogan at the 1951 U.S. Open — to what architect Donald Ross envisioned back in the early 1900s, all with the hope of landing another major golf championship, primarily the U.S. Open or the PGA Championship.
“Put it back as it was intended to be,” explained Phil Cuffare, the club’s director of agronomy.
Cuffare, along with head professional Steve Brady, club president Mike Dietz and a handful of members, gave a brief tour Thursday of some of the key changes made to the course that has hosted its share of major championships, including six U.S. Opens, three PGA Championships and the Ryder Cup.
The work done by architect Gil Hanse has created a course that is difficult to recognize from recent major events, including the 2016 U.S. Amateur, the last marquee tournament to be played at Oakland Hills.
Fairways were widened, bunkers were either eliminated or expanded, trees were removed, some old greens were rediscovered and brought back to life, and the beautiful white clubhouse is now visible from nearly every point on the course.
“Gil Hanse’s design will keep the Oakland Hills South Course among the most revered golf venues in the world,” Brady said. “We could not be more excited about the future of championship golf at Oakland Hills.”
While the majority of the changes were in an effort to get back to what Ross intended before major redesigns by Robert Trent Jones in 1950 and Rees Jones before the 2008 PGA Championship, some were meant to help not only make the course more playable for members but also tougher for the professional.
Listed at more than 7,500 yards from the back tees, the course could be pushed to about 7,700 yards if necessary. Still, the goal was to make it more playable, “but it doesn’t necessarily mean lower scores,” Brady said.
One of the most significant changes to the course, however, is almost invisible to the naked eye. And as the rain continued to pelt the course on Thursday morning, the new investment was hard at work.
Under every green on the course is a new Precision Air unit which allows officials to heat or cool the greens as well as regulate the moisture. On Thursday, the units were actively retracting water after another night of storms that helped knock down a tree near the 16th green.
By midday, the moisture was at 13%, Cuffare said, the same as it was the day before.
In other words, the greens were unaffected by the conditions, meaning players would not benefit by being able to fire at the pins of a soft green.
“Your approach shot remains to a firm green,” Brady said.
In addition to the other restorations made, the state-of-the-art system under each green had the course in nearly pristine shape, even with the massive amount of rain the area has taken on the past two weeks.
It’s all being done in an effort to get Oakland Hills back in the thick of championship golf.
The timetable for announcing upcoming major venues is unclear. The USGA has openings for the U.S. Open after 2027, U.S. Women’s Open after 2025, U.S. Senior Open after 2024 and U.S. Amateur after 2026. The PGA Championship’s next opening is 2030.
When those decisions are made, there seems little doubt the South Course will be in the mix.
“If you wanted a major championship,” Brady said, “you could have it today.”