January 7, 2022 By: Tony Paul — It was an old U.S. Women’s Amateur program, unearthed from the club’s archives, that served as the unofficial road map for restoring Bloomfield Township’s Oakland Hills Country Club to its storied past.
And, now, the U.S. Women’s Open is coming to Oakland Hills. Twice.
The United States Golf Association announced Friday that Oakland Hills’ legendary South Course will serve as host of the U.S. Women’s Open in 2031 and 2042, the first marquee championships to be awarded to the club since Gil Hanse and Co. completed the $12.1 million restoration project. The course reopened to its membership in late spring of 2021.
This marks the first marquee women’s golf tournament to be played at Oakland Hills since the 1929 U.S. Women’s Amateur. The program for that tournament, with its detailed, to-scale maps, helped Hanse transform Oakland Hills to its original form, back when Donald Ross built it in the early 20th century.
“This is truly a banner day for Oakland Hills Country Club,” Rick Palmer, Oakland Hills club president, said in a statement. “We have added to our heritage and our long-standing relationship with the USGA with this great news. We are also pleased it has come so soon after we re-opened our restored and iconic South Course. It’s a momentous time for Oakland Hills.’
The last major held at Oakland Hills was the 2016 U.S. Amateur, won by Australian Curtis Luck. The last professional major was the 2008 PGA Championship, won by Irishman Padraig Harrington.
The Oakland Hills membership continues to hold out hope for a U.S. Open, which it last hosted in 1996. The U.S. Open is booked through 2027, and in 2029-30. The 2028 U.S. Open remains up for grabs, at least publicly. Officials from the USGA visited Oakland Hills multiple times in 2021 to assess to the restoration, which removed dozens of trees, making for spectacular views of the entire property, with the stately clubhouse in sight from most points on the golf course. Such views would look good on TV, while making the course better for galleries. Other changes included expanded bunkers and expanded greens. A state-of-the-art weather system was installed around the greens to get the course playable quickly following heavy rains.
Just about everything Hanse and his staff did focused on restoring Ross’ vision, except for one thing: The course has been lengthened and now can play about 7,700 yards.
“We’re here to host a major championship,” Oakland Hills head pro Steve Brady said in introducing the restoration to media members in 2021.
Also in Friday’s announcement, the USGA awarded the 2027 U.S. Women’s Open to Toledo’s Inverness Club, which, like Oakland Hills, also went through a massive renovation. It’s the latest marquee award to Inverness, which hosted the Solheim Cup — the women’s version of the Ryder Cup — last fall. The Solheim drew massive galleries. Inverness also was awarded the 2029 U.S. Amateur. Both clubs are bidding for a U.S. Open, and both clubs would fall under the “cathedral” moniker that USGA leadership has said it wants when selecting U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open sites moving forward. The USGA recently has begun tying U.S. Women’s Open sites to U.S. Open sites, such as Pebble Beach, Oakmont, Pinehurst and Merion.
In making Friday’s announcement, the USGA also announced a new sponsor that will help boost the U.S. Women’s Open purse from $5.5 million to $10 million for this year’s tournament, $11 million next year, and $12 million over the following five years. It’ll mark the largest purse in women’s professional golf, and among the highest in all of women’s professional sports.
“The USGA prides itself on conducting championships that not only provide an incredible stage for the athletes, but also give younger players something to dream about,” Mike Whan, USGA CEO said in a statement. “For more than 75 years, the U.S. Women’s Open has been the one that every little girl, in every country around the world, has dreamed of winning. This partnership with ProMedica allows us to substantially grow the championship in every way, from its purpose, to its purse, to the places that host the event.
“While I’m incredibly proud of what we are announcing today, I know this is just the beginning.”