7255 YARDS (PAR 71)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 77.5/147
COURSE ARCHITECT: Henry C. Fownes (1903)
COURSE WEBSITE: http://oakmont-countryclub.org/
ROUNDS PLAYED: 1
LAST PLAYED: October 29, 2007.
LOW SCORE: 86 (+15)
– Golf Magazine Top 100 Golf Courses in the World 2020/21: #8
– Golf Magazine Top 100 Golf Courses in the U.S. 2017: #6
– Golf Digest America’s 100 Greatest Golf Courses 2019/20: #5
– Golfweek Best Classic Courses USA 2019: #6
– Top100GolfCourses.com World’s Top 100 2018: #9
– Top100GolfCourses.com Top 100 in the U.S. 2018: #5
“Any self-respecting monster has to be preceded by its reputation. A little advance billing makes for a good fright.
Oakmont was something like that to me. I’d heard so many horror stories that when I arrived, a little thrill shot through me. As I stepped out on the practice green, I looked around and thought to myself, well, it’s only a famous golf course.
The practice green was crowded with guys putting all over the place. I was at the back right corner. I bent and dropped three balls, and at that instant someone called from the sidewalk. I turned and exchanged a few pleasantries, then turned back. The balls were gone. I looked around and then spotted them. They had rolled 25 feet away. Welcome to Oakmont, the Dracula of golf courses.
I believe the thing that hits visitors hardest is the peaceful appearance of Oakmont. This is the infamous, prototypical penal course but what’s to fear? Oakmont does not have the beckoning waters of Augusta National, the whiplash doglegs of Medinah, the buffeting winds of Pebble Beach, the forced carries of Shinnecock Hills. So where do the scores come from? You walk off #18, total up the scorecard and then turn and look back out over the course and wonder how you could shoot 10 strokes worse than your average.”
I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to play Oakmont Country Club on Monday October 29th and even luckier to be able to have three friends join me for the round.
Oakmont was awarded as a National Historic Landmark earlier in the decade and is certainly one of the most decorated clubs in the world. It has hosted more national championships than any other club in the United States, including this year’s US Open, won by Angel Cabrera.
In all, it has hosted five US Amateurs (1919, 1925, 1938, 1969 & 2003), three PGA Championships (1922, 1951, 1978), one US Women’s Open (1992) and an incredible eight US Opens (1927, 1935, 1953, 1962, 1973, 1983, 1994 & 2007). Oakmont also is scheduled to host its second US Women’s Open in 2010, which will be its 15th USGA Championship.
The designer of Oakmont, Henry C. Fownes, was an accomplished amateur player even though he didn’t really take to the game well into adulthood. He ran a multimillion dollar iron and steel business and felt that there wasn’t a challenging enough golf course in the Pittsburgh area.
So with no design experience, he decided to build one himself.
The result was Oakmont Country Club, his first and only design – a masterpiece.
The club has gone through many changes over the years, none more controversial than the beautification program in the mid-60s that saw thousands of trees planted on the property then the subsequent restoration program to remove the trees without member consent.
There isn’t one person who can argue with the results from the restoration program, started by Arthur Hills and seen to its conclusion by Tom Fazio. The ugly, old brute of a course is back in full effect!
We took separate cars to Pittsburgh for the challenging four hour drive. Why was it challenging? It seemed we were veering around deer and coyotes all night on the extremely dark highways.
Jon and I stayed in a hotel just on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, about 5 minutes from the golf course while Harry and Preston arrived a bit earlier and stayed closer to the downtown core.
We awakened to a sunny but very crisp morning air and set out for the course at about 9:45am, almost three hours before our tee off time.
We pulled in off the main road through the opened gates and drove up to the bag drop, which was manned by two pleasant gentlemen. They took our clubs, told us to park anywhere we wanted and said that there was currently a frost delay so we’d have to wait awhile before hitting the range.
No problem as far as we were concerned…we wanted to look around anyway!
What a gorgeous vista awaits once you walk up the incline between the storage sheds and the side of the pro shop! The 18th green is right in front of you and the clubhouse sits to your right.
We decided to hit the pro shop first and shop for some goodies, as we seemed like one of the first groups to arrive.
I ended up buying a bunch of hats for some friends and family and also bought myself a nice golf shirt in addition to the book on Oakmont’s history already discussed earlier.
From there, we grabbed our clothes and headed for the locker room. Boy oh boy what a treat!
First, you have the great photos on the walls in the clubhouse and in the little cramped stairway leading up to the locker room. A signed flag from ’73 US Open champ Johnny Miller stares straight at you just before making the left turn toward the stairs.
Then you have some more great pictures, including a great shot of the handshake from the famous duel between Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer during the ’62 US Open, which ended with Nicklaus prevailing in an 18-hole Monday playoff to win his first professional tournament.
You pretty much have to walk up the stairs single-file to get to the locker room, which still to this day isn’t air conditioned! Imagine trying to dry off from a shower up there in the summer time!
Original wood-framed lockers abound with low-rising wood benches sitting in-between each set of rows. These benches still are dotted with spike marks from all the famous pros from back in the day. There is no way the Oakmont membership would even consider replacing them!
What a nice touch it was to see our lockers personalized for the day, as you can see above! Just a great, cozy place. I missed out on seeing the card room that sits just off the locker room, one of the only things I missed during the day.
I put on a sweater but left the jacket in the locker, as it looked to be warming up enough to finally hit the driving range.
It was here we finally ran into Harry (left) and Preston (right), who are shown in the photo below.
I hit about twenty or thirty shots and felt pretty good before starting the meat of my practice session on the chipping and putting greens. They had a nice little short game area just at the front of the range and I marveled at how deep the rough was around that green. Thankfully, it didn’t look that intimidating around the 18th green, at least from first site.
I spent the bulk of my practice time on the putting green, which essentially is an extension of the humongous 9th green. I can only refer to Marino Parascenzo’s comments at the beginning of this write-up to properly explain just how fast the greens at Oakmont are.
Everyone had HUGE grins on their faces as they attempted to hit downhill putts toward the hole, only to see them scoot 15 to 20 feet past. The greens were only double cut and NOT rolled on this day – some days they TRIPLE CUT AND ROLL these suckers as they approach 15 on the stimpmeter at times. On this day, they were ‘only’ an 11 or 12. Haha!
The practice green is just a gorgeous site, with the clubhouse in the background. Interestingly enough, before the advent of automobiles, this used to be the FRONT of the clubhouse back in the early days.
I had been putting poorly in the rounds preceding the day at Oakmont so I was determined to work out my kinks before hitting the course. Let’s just put it this way – you DON’T go to Oakmont and suddenly find your stroke and I found that out the hard way. I completely missed lunch in the clubhouse as I continued to hit putt after putt, hoping to find a solution to my wayward stroke. I finally left the green after about a half an hour when we were waved over by our caddies…
We were heading out to the course!
It was a shotgun start and our starting hole was the famous par four third – home of the church pews! Harry and Preston had to share a caddie while Jon and I were lucky enough to have a caddie to ourselves. I had Jason, a six-year veteran at Oakmont on my bag.
THE THIRD HOLE: 428 YARDS – PAR 4
The famous Church Pews bunker on the left and severe fairway bunkers on the right make for a difficult driving hole. A good drive sets up a short iron to an elevated but fairly flat green (by Oakmont standards) that slopes slightly away from you.
– from the Course Guide
I don’t think you can possibly understand just how undulating the property out here is unless you’ve played the course. The third hole is about as far away from the clubhouse as you can get yet you can see quite clearly all the way back, as shown in the picture below.
Harris was the first to tee up and some nerves must have been in effect, as he completely cold topped his drive into the left fescue just off the tee. The ball just DOVE into the grass!
Jon was next and he pumped out a mini hook that started down the right side and drew right back into the middle of the fairway. Beauty!
I was up next and I had some nerves but nothing unusual. I didn’t catch it perfectly but my drive started right center and drew softly back toward the middle in perfect position just past Jon’s ball.
Preston’s drive started nicely down the middle but also drew toward the bunkers, getting a nasty kick to the left into the church pews! We got to see someone hit from there!
We looked for Harry’s ball for about five minutes but couldn’t find the thing! Wow…I’ve heard caddies don’t really like losing their man’s ball but Harry and Presto’s caddie looked like he had spent the night at one of Pittsburgh’s lovely watering holes. A bit rough around the edges but certainly a character. Harris was in relatively good spirits as you see above as he headed back to the tee.
Cool shot above of Harry that I call ‘Solitude’. His troubles continued, as he hooked his shot weakly into the church pews and into a pretty nasty lie to boot. You can see what he was looking at in the shot below.
Harry would eventually get himself out on his way to an ELEVEN on the hole. Yikes! Oakmont rears its ugly head early!
I had 152 yards uphill to a flag that was completely blind, even from my position in the middle of the fairway. The ball was slightly above my feet and in an effect similar to playing the 7th at Lookout Point, the green was tilted in a direction OPPOSITE to the fairway tilt, something you can see in the shot below.
I chose an 8-iron for the shot and hit it perfectly on my intended line.
“That could be close”, my caddie Jason opined.
I wasn’t exactly enamored with the result upon closer inspection, as my ball released through the green and into the rough over the back right of the green. I wasn’t in bad shape though – Jon got unlucky with his approach as well and ran right through the chipping area behind the green into the rough well back. He would duff his chip, hit his next one to about 10 feet and make it for a great bogey.
I hit a really nice chip to four feet and pretty much had my only straight putt of the entire day. I’d MISS IT and have a five foot comebacker. Ha! I was able to ram home that one for a bogey on my first hole.
THE FOURTH HOLE: 609 YARDS – PAR 5
The Church Pews again penalize an errant drive left and bunkers in the right rough are very severe. However, for the long hitters, this par 5 is reachable and definitely a birdie hole.
– from the Course Guide
We were playing the blue tees so this hole is quite a bit more benign than what the tour players see during the open. It really becomes a matter of how bold you want to be with your line off the tee.
I decided to attempt a slight draw off the second bunker and pulled it off perfectly, leaving a fairway approach from about 255 yards. I double-crossed myself with my 2-iron rescue, hooking one well left of the green when I was attempting a cut shot.
I was pretty fortunate with my lie and had about 40 yards to a pin cut in the front of the green. My lob wedge cleared the bunkers on the front left, landed on the green and rolled about 20 feet past the hole, leaving myself a makeable birdie putt. I’d leave it short but tap in for the routine par. Not bad! I’ll take it!
The shot below is of Jon putting out on the fourth green as Harry and Preston look over their putts as well.
THE FIFTH HOLE: 382 YARDS – PAR 4
Use a long iron off the teeing ground and approach this green with short irons. This very undulating green makes putting difficult, but there should be some birdies here.
– from the Course Guide
This was our first blind tee shot of the day. My caddie left me with the words “aim at the drinking fountain in the distance by the fourth tee box” and handed me a 4-iron as he took off up the fairway with the other caddies to await our shots.
I was up first after parring the fourth and I hit a baby draw that started just left of the lone tree in the right rough. It looked fine from the tee and I got the ‘safe’ sign from my caddie so I was a happy guy.
I ended up rolling into the rough and had about 125 yards downwind to the flag that was cut in the middle of the green. I was instructed to leave the putt below the hole and aim a bit right of the flag.
I hit a nice gap wedge exactly where I wanted it but it rolled a little past pin high, leaving a treacherous, downhill 12 footer for birdie.
I was told to aim about a two and a half feet outside left and I took a very conservative stroke, just leaving the putt short for the easy tap-in par.
THE SIXTH HOLE: 194 YARDS – PAR 3
On the first of Oakmont’s par 3 holes, go with a mid-iron shot to a small green that slopes from right to left. Missing the green to the right leads to a sure bogey.
– from the Course Guide
I wasn’t really comfortable on the tee here, as the wind was swirling a bit for the 150 yard shot, as the tees were playing quite a bit forward here.
I ended up going up from a PW to a 9-iron and hit a beauty just right of the flag, which was front right. You could really see the slope of the green as my ball landed blindly just over the front bunker then came into view as it moved sharply to the left front portion of the green, leaving me with an uphill bid at birdie.
Harris (in the first photo above) hit a decent shot back left while Jon (second photo) committed the ultimate sin here as you can tell by his body language. He went right into the VERY deep greenside bunker, with the putting surface sloping sharply away from him. You could barely see his head poking out from the bunker below.
As you can see, however, he hit a beauty out of that bunker but the ball kept rolling past the hole and ended up about 20 feet away. Still, a wonderful shot from there and you’d be hard pressed to do any better. He’d make a good bogey while Harry unfortunately lipped out hard on a short bid for par – still, it was his best score BY FAR up to that point!
I’d get a bit frisky with my birdie effort, running it about four feet past the hole but made the hard breaking comebacker for par to stay +1 through four holes. Solid!!!
THE SEVENTH HOLE: 479 YARDS – PAR 4
A good drive on this longish par 4 leaves a long iron to another severe green that slopes left to right. To miss this green left is disastrous. Par is a great score on this difficult par 4.
– from the Course Guide
My caddie handed me a driver and took off up the fairway with the other bagmen as we faced a semi-blind uphill tee shot on the 7th.
I hit my first poor shot of the day, a weak hook that dove left into the rough toward the fairway bunkers. I couldn’t tell if I went in from the tee.
Thankfully, I was short of the bunkers and actually drew a rockin’ lie but still had about 200 yards to the green which was completely blind from my vantage point.
Jason gave me a target and I ended up trying to hit my 5-iron too hard, completely pulling the shot well left. I was pretty upset with the shot, especially having read the yardage guide which specifically noted that left was dead.
Interestingly enough, the shot didn’t look THAT bad. I was over by the 8th tee and the pin was up on a shelf on the back right portion of the green. It looked to be quite a bit uphill to the pin.
“Don’t worry about flying it all the way there”, Jason said. “Just land it on over to the left and it will roll out and to the right hard.”
Hmm. Didn’t really look like it would move too hard but I tried to aim out a bit left. I pitched it pretty well right at the flag and saw it land softly about 10 feet short of the pin and start rolling a bit to the right…it continued to roll and roll and ended up about 30 feet right of the flag in the fringe.
Unreal! Even Jon couldn’t believe how far past the hole it ran.
My putt was sharply uphill and I ended up ramming it well past the hole on the slick greens and couldn’t make the comebacker, settling for a dreadful double. My first three-putt but it wasn’t official, since my first putt was from the fringe. Still, a double and I was now +3 through five.
THE EIGHTH HOLE: 288 YARDS – PAR 3
This extremely long par 3 requires a long iron or fairway wood to a fairly large green without much undulation. A bunker called “Sahara”, some 100 yards long sits to the left of the green, making the tee shot very intimidating.
– from the Course Guide
This hole made headlines during the Open for its length, as some players were forced to hit drivers just to get the ball to the green.
We were a bit more fortunate, as the hole was playing closer to 220 yards, which is a solid 4-iron for me.
I was a bit worried when Preston’s 3-iron and Harry’s 4-iron bids came up well short but I stayed with my plan and striped a solid shot just through the fringe into the rough just right of the hole and short of the right greenside bunker.
I hit a perfect chip that started right and curled back left, rolling just over the cup. However, it continued to roll about six feet past and I was unable to make the par putt, never even coming close to scaring the hole.
I headed to the ninth in a bit of a huff as Preston tried to get me to look on the bright side as we crossed the bridge.
“We’re at OAKMONT, man!”, he said. “Just a little better than being in the office, isn’t it?”
He was right. It IS Oakmont…it really doesn’t get much better than this!
THE NINTH HOLE: 477 YARDS – PAR 5
This very difficult, blind, uphill driving hole has a severe ditch left and severe pot bunkers right. This pivotal hole, which plays as a par 5 for the members, played as a long par 4 for the US Open. The huge, severely undulating green also serves as the practice putting green.
– from the Course Guide
This gives the 18th a run for the most picturesque hole on the course. The shot above shows Jon’s caddie Mike strolling up the expansive fairway, something that can’t be seen at all from the tee below.
It’s a blind tee shot and we were told to aim for the left chimney on the clubhouse.
That’s me above, looking determined before hitting a draw that I caught pretty well but went a little further left than desired. I had to hope for the best.
Preston and Harry both ended up going right of the fairway with their tee shots (shown above) while Jon absolutely killed his drive right down the middle.
Thankfully, my line off the tee ended up being better than initially expected, as I was safely down the left side of the fairway, right in line with Jon’s ball about 228 yards from the flag on the short par five.
I ended up picking my pesky 2-iron rescue and again tried to hit a little cut off the US flag in the distance. This time, I succeeded, hitting a perfect fade right at the pin. It looked like I was close from back in the fairway!
The picture above of Harry and Preston walking to their balls on the ninth may qualify as my favourite photo from the day. Just a majestic walk up this fairway with the grand clubhouse in the background.
I was a bit disappointed to see that my ball caught up in the rough just in front of the green. I had a delicate chip to the pin that was tucked front middle but it came out of the rough softly and rolled right for the cup. I had my arms raised as the ball cruelly lipped out and stopped about a foot from the hole.
Man, an eagle at Oakmont? That would have been INCREDIBLE!
I would coax home the delicate 18 incher for my first birdie of the day and get back to +3 on the day!
THE TENTH HOLE: 462 YARDS – PAR 4
This par 4 features yet another downhill, narrow driving lane with severe fairway bunkers right and left. A short iron follows to a very difficult green that slopes from right to back left. Four is a great score here.
– from the Course Guide
This is a fun tee shot and I had some confidence here after my birdie on the last hole. I absolutely KILLED my drive here, nailing a draw hard down the right side of the fairway that disappeared into the distance.
I ended up having a SW into this green from 116 yards after a 324 yard bomb! Sweet!
Poor Harry lost yet another ball here, or should I say his caddie lost another ball. I at least got a laugh when the poor caddie mumbled under his breath “well, bad caddies lose balls”.
I think that’s when Jason turned to me and whispered “you guys (me and Jon) should thank your lucky stars you got your own caddie instead of sharing one like those guys.”
The other caddie was trying to run around and give both Harry and Preston reads and it had to be tough for the poor chap. At times, either my caddie or Jon’s would step in and clean the other guys balls or give them a read, just to keep the pace of play, which was actually quite good all things considered.
I’d hit a great approach right of the flag but had a delicate 18 footer for birdie here. I’d just miss the putt and tap in for yet another par. +3 through my first eight holes! It wouldn’t last…
THE ELEVENTH HOLE: 379 YARDS – PAR 4
This short par 4 is best played with a long iron or 3-wood to reach the plateau in the fairway. The short iron approach shot is to a flattish green that slopes from back to front.
– from the Course Guide
My caddie left me with a 4-iron and walked toward the fairway, saying “just hit it up the middle here”.
It was yet another blind tee shot and poor Jon was left with a driver by his caddie for some reason, ticking Jon off when he saw mid-irons in our hands. I left my tee shot out to the right a bit but again, got the ‘safe’ sign from Jason.
I was in some really deep rough and had my first pretty bad lie of the day after playing from the fairway for most of the first eight holes. We had a bit of a wait for some reason so I got into a bit of a conversation with Jason for a minute or two.
He was pretty jazzed at this point, saying that “you’re going to break 80 for sure the way you’re hitting it” and also commenting on the fact I’d yet to hit a ball into a bunker.
“In six years out here, I’ve never carried for a guy who didn’t have at least one bunker shot!”
Can you say jinx?
Of course, I come out of my PW approach from about 120 yards and it heads right toward the deep front right bunker. Harry and Preston are laughing their asses off at my good fortune.
“Now you’ll see what WE’VE been dealing with all day”, Harris shouted.
So we walk up to the bunker and there is NO BALL. Hmm. We look past the bunker and can’t find it and we carefully inspect the bunker again. Still no ball.
Then, just as I’m about to give up, I spot the ball embedded into the grass lip of the bunker but not IN the hazard. I was able to take advantage of the local rule and extract the buried ball and place it in a better lie as Harry spewed obscenities in my direction.
“There’s Matt taking advantage of the rules again”, or something to that effect.
I still had a really difficult shot and had to grip down almost to the clubhead due to the crazy incline. I did well to get the ball out to 12 feet but couldn’t make the putt, settling instead with a bogey.
THE TWELFTH HOLE: 667 YARDS – PAR 5
Typically a three-shot hole, this final par 5 is the toughest one at Oakmont. You may use a 3-wood to hit the sloping fairway, then a long iron for the second shot to set up a wedge third shot. The severe green slopes away from you, making approach shots and putts very difficult.
– from the Course Guide
This qualifies as the widest driving hole on the course. I murdered yet another drive here and even gave the ‘Tiger extension’ after hitting it, twirling the club in my fingers in the process. What a fun driving hole this is! My ball just kept rolling and rolling down and to the right before disappearing from site.
It’s very tough to keep your ball in the fairway off the tee due to that slope. I hit my ball down the left side of the fairway yet I ended up in the second cut off the right side. The caddie wanted me to lay up with a 7-iron but I had only 250 or so to the flag so I pulled my 2-iron rescue with confidence, even though the ball was well below my feet.
I figured that would help negate my tendency to hit the hard hook and help straighten out my ball flight. Unfortunately, I swayed way off the ball and ‘worm-burned’ it.
The others all laughed but Jason, my dedicated caddie says “perfect layup!”
Indeed, I got very lucky and was only about 125 yards away. I took out a PW and hit a little 3/4 shot but pulled it way left and into the greenside trap.
There goes the streak…
I was DEAD. I shortsided myself and really had no shot directly at the pin if I wanted any chance of having a par putt. I took the safe route and aimed well right, hitting as good a shot as possible. I was still 30 feet away by the time the ball stopped rolling.
I had my craziest putt of the day to this point here, as Jason had me aim a good 15 feet left of the pin for the 30 foot putt. It looked like it would never come back but with about 10 feet left, it broke SHARPLY toward the cup and JUST missed, stopping inches away. I could have been much worse than bogey here. I’m now +5 through 10.
THE THIRTEENTH HOLE: 183 YARDS – PAR 3
On this mid-iron par 3, the hourglass green is very narrow. A miss long or right makes par a fading fantasy. Stay below the hole to have a better chance for a birdie putt.
– from the Course Guide
This hole has a very narrow green and it is pretty intimidating from the tee. I hit a really nice little 8-iron here that started right and drew right toward the flag. However, it was a bit long and I’d have a treacherous looking putt for birdie.
For the second hole in a row, my caddie gave me a line that was almost ridiculous. In fact, I think Harris even swore out “No &*@^ing way!” when he saw where I started my putt, as he was on a similar line.
I had about 25 feet, with my ball on the middle left portion of the green and the pin cut in the front middle. I basically aimed 90 degrees left, starting the ball right toward the middle of the green and letting it drift down the slope toward the front. It took a great leap of faith to hit this, let me tell you.
But the ball did exactly what the caddie said it would do, hitting the slope and forcefully came down toward the cup. I ended up hitting it too hard, however, and left myself about 10 feet for par. I was unable to make the comebacker and I now had my first official three putt of the day.
THE FOURTEENTH HOLE: 358 YARDS – PAR 4
This short par 4 requires a long iron off the teeing ground. A short iron second is to a very large green with a lot of subtleties to it. The green generally slopes from right to left so stay left of the flagstick to have an uphill birdie putt.
– from the Course Guide
I was a bit worried when Jason handed me driver and took off up the fairway, considering how tight this hole is from the tee box and that a short iron may have been the most prudent play.
However, I was hitting it well off the tee so I tried to put it out of my mind and hit yet another beauty down the pipe.
You can see my ball sitting on the fairway in the photo above, as I had only 105 yards to the stick. I hit a little SW that actually spun back on me, leaving a perfectly uphill, left to righter for birdie. I’d make a good pass at the ball but just leave it on the edge, settling for a solid par.
THE FIFTEENTH HOLE: 499 YARDS – PAR 4
This long par 4 features a blind tee shot to a fairway that slopes from left to right. The Church Pews left and severe ditches and bunkers on the right call for another straight drive. A mid-to-long iron sets up a second shot to a very large green with many subtleties. Take four here and smile going to 16!
– from the Course Guide
It’s really incredible how many blind shots you face at Oakmont and here is yet another. I boomed a drive up the right side but knew it was a bit further right than I wanted. Again, I had to hope for the best here.
I was in the rough but VERY fortunate to miss the huge ditches to the right. I had about 175-180 yards or so but the shot was being played downwind to a green that sloped sharply front to back. The caddie suggested it was about a 155-yard shot based on the conditions so I tried to cut an 8-iron in there. I hit it well but it stopped just short of the green, leaving a tricky little shot from 10 yards off to a pin cut down the slope about 35 feet on the green.
Jason suggested I putt the ball and after watching Jon hit a gorgeous chip to four feet, I saw just how fast this shot was going to be. Still, I couldn’t properly gauge the speed and ended up going 10 feet past the hole. I’d ram my par putt a few feet past and was fortunate to make a slick little bogey putt to keep the dream of breaking 80 alive.
THE SIXTEENTH HOLE: 231 YARDS – PAR 3
A long iron is needed on this par 3, which has a fairly large green that slopes from left to right. To miss this green to the left is to ask for trouble.
– from the Course Guide
Another intimidating one-shotter. I pulled a 4-iron for this shot and hit a really nice ball that drifted a bit too much to the left. From the tee, it was hard to see where the ball ended up but if I went in the bunker, I was obviously dead.
Preston hit a GORGEOUS shot in here that we thought just might go in but instead ended up 18 inches away. AWESOME! He’d tap that in for birdie, our group’s second of the day.
My ball ended up barely staying up in the rough and I had next to an impossible chip down a sharp incline to the flag.
“This will be fast”, Jason said menacingly.
I opened up the face of my 60 degree wedge and it popped straight up and landed about an inch on the green and slowly made its descent toward the flag.
“Go in!”, I shouted.
It stopped about a foot and a half away, giving me a great up and down par, only my second up and in of the day. I was now +7 through 14 and on pace to shoot 80 on the button.
THE SEVENTEENTH HOLE: 313 YARDS – PAR 4
Although some of you can drive this par 4, severe bunkering 50 yards from the green will make you think twice before trying to do so. Either a long iron and wedge over “Big Mouth” or a driver to the green makes this hole very exciting.
– from the Course Guide
I have a feeling that when the caddie master was giving his pep talk to the staff before the round that he told them to encourage us all to give the famous 17th a go off the tee.
The caddies almost seemed giddy, saying “you guys can GET THERE!”, handing us all drivers as they headed up toward the green to watch our shots.
Preston hit first and went well right. Harris hit a beauty here, starting it at the bunkers and cutting it right in front of the green. ‘Safe’ sign from the caddies for Harris. Jon also hit safely up the right side.
I picked this moment to hit my worst shot of the day to this point, a weak hook into one of the gaping fairway bunkers, my first such shot of the day.
It didn’t look THAT bad to me. I had about 75 yards or so, maybe less. I pulled my SW out and opened up the face.
I took a big swing. THWACK! Right into the sand lip and back into the bunker.
I quickly approach the ball again, open the face and take another swing. THWACK! Same place, right into the lip and back down toward my feet.
I think steam started coming out of my ears at this point. Harry took this picture of me trying to get out from across the fairway. You can BARELY make out my little head right near where my caddie is standing.
“Take a little more sand”, my caddie offers.
I go with his advice and take a ‘U’-shaped swing and out pops the ball.
“Great shot!”, Jason says.
“That’s in the greenside trap isn’t it?”, I ask.
“Yeah, it probably is”, he says, the excitement in his voice now gone.
In fact, I was now in “Big Mouth”, as it’s called. Harry took the following picture, which does it no justice. I wish I was in the picture when he took it to give the proper scale to the shot. This bunker is about 12-15 feet deep!
The pin, of course, was tucked right in front. All I wanted to do was get this thing out. I opened my 60 degree and took a full swing and out she went, as the ball soared well over the green.
I was lucky to avoid the two back bunkers but drew a horrendous lie in the deep rough. I took a huge swing and the ball miraculously popped out perfectly onto the green, trickled toward the hole and stopped a foot away. I had myself a one-putt triple bogey and knew it could have been MUCH WORSE!
There goes the score…
On a positive note, Harry was able to par this hole, his FIRST OF THE DAY!
Welcome to Oakmont indeed!
THE EIGHTEENTH HOLE: 484 YARDS – PAR 4
This is by far the most picturesque hole at Oakmont and perhaps the greatest finishing par 4 in golf. You must drive the fairway to avoid the ‘chip out’ bunkers left and right. An uphill mid-iron to a very undulating green makes for a great finish!
– from the Course Guide
This hole is stunningly beautiful from the tee. The drive is downhill and you need to split the fairway bunkers that line both sides. From there, you hit uphill to a diabolical putting surface, with the pin cut back middle on this day.
Somehow, I was able to nail a perfect drive down the pipe after my ugly result on the 17th. I think all four of us drove perfectly on the hole, giving us a chance to get together for a nice group shot and also gave me a chance to get a photo with Jason.
I still had 186 yards to the middle of the green for my second shot but it played more like 210 to the flag according to Jason. That meant a 4-iron and I hit a perfect little cut that got all the way back to the pin and looked like it might be close.
This green is absolutely diabolical. A false front, huge swales throughout the surface…no wonder guys had such troubles during the Open here.
I was in pretty good shape, about 20 feet away just in the rough but knew the shot was going to be quick. Both Jason and I settled on the putter and I just had to pop it out and it would roll all the way to the cup.
Immediately after hitting it, I knew it was too strong.
I had a longer par putt than I did for birdie. I would leave my next one six feet short as I had to come back up the large slope then proceeded to ram my bogey putt past the hole. I had FOUR-PUTTED from the back rough for a crippling double bogey.
Welcome to Oakmont Matt…
THE FIRST HOLE: 482 YARDS – PAR 4
One of the hardest holes in golf, this long par 4 requires a blind mid-iron to a green that slopes away from you and will receive only the crispest of iron shots. Two putts and par here is a great start.
– from the Course Guide
I wasn’t a happy camper coming off the 18th as we approached the first tee, our second last hole of the day. This hole features out of bounds right, one of the only such instances all day with a boundary, with the other being the third hole which runs alongside Oakmont East, the adjacent public course.
I hit an uninspired drive toward the left fairway bunkers and almost wish I found them. Instead, I was on the grass lip and had a practically impossible shot from there. I yanked a 9-iron well left, just trying to get it out and still had about 60 yards downhill to the green for my third.
It’s a pretty intimidating shot, as you can see the green falls off hard and to the left. I ended up hitting it strong to the right, duffed a chip on and three-putted from there for yet ANOTHER triple bogey.
I have gone eight over par on my last three holes. The best score on this hole was double I believe in our foursome, even though the other three were in good position off the tee.
This is most definitely Oakmont…
THE SECOND HOLE: 340 YARDS – PAR 4
On this short par 4, a long iron off the teeing ground avoiding the ditch on the left and the bunkers on the right sets up a short iron to an infamous green. You must approach your putt from below the hole; three putts are common from above it.
– from the Course Guide
Our last hole and it’s a doozy. Plain and simply, it looks like you have no where to hit the ball. I chose a five iron and worried a bit too much about the ditch on the left, I ended up coming out of the shot and put it in the fairway bunker.
“That’s dead”, Jason said, noticeably down due to my poor play over the last few holes.
Yup, indeed I was. I had a pretty substantial lip to contend with and took out my SW, just hoping to blast out. Unbelievably, I almost MADE THE GREEN from 130 yards, clearing the cross bunker in front of the green and leaving a reasonable pitch shot third.
Harris was in the same bunker as I was and wasn’t as fortunate. He took a mighty swing and looked to the heavens to see his fate. Only he couldn’t find the ball.
I certainly saw it and I got the following Pulitzer Prize winning photographs, documenting his fate.
I hit a pretty nice little pitch shot to about seven feet right of the flag and had a hefty little right to lefter for par.
Wouldn’t you know? I made the sucker! Great par putt to finish off a round of 86. Not exactly what I was hoping for after being only +7 through 14 but those three holes at the end cost me huge.
Preston and Jon both had excellent back nines on their way to also breaking 90, shooting 87 and 89 respectively. Harry could never get on track with his game, making one par on his way to a 115. That’s what happens when you play nine holes in the month leading up to Oakmont, you silly fool.
We headed back into the clubhouse after the five hour round and got a little buffet dinner comprised of finger foods – not exactly dinner but it hit the spot, especially since I missed lunch.
I was also able to get a few last minutes shots inside the clubhouse. First, a shot of the library.
Then I got a few shots in the hallways, including the trophy case and the lounge area near the reception desk.
I was also able to get a couple quick shots of the famous grill room, with the cool wooden floors dotted with spike marks and the walls lovingly decorated with pictures of all the greats who have walked these hallowed grounds.
So, what did I think about the golf course?
Absolutely incredible! I’ve played penal golf courses before, with Princeville’s Prince Course being the toughest test I’ve ever seen prior to Oakmont.
The thing that separates a great course like Oakmont from a very good course like the Prince is the fact that Oakmont is so FAIR.
Yup, I said the ‘F’ word!
There are no forced carries out here. No water hazards at all, just some dry ditches.
Anyone can play this golf course and if you drive it straight and putt and chip well, you can get it around.
You won’t necessarily score well – as the saying goes here, you just DON’T go low at Oakmont unless your name is Johnny Miller.
This course poses risks at almost every turn but demands a multitude of different shots in order to succeed. You use every club in your bag out here and pinpoint accuracy is required all day. The course is definitely a tough go for the higher handicapper but again, a lot of the difficulty comes on the greens. You can definitely get it around the course with all the width out there.
Again, I was amazed at how fair this golf course really is. You can make a lot of bogeys and doubles but a lot of the difficulty lies on the slick greens. All that said, it is so difficult to get the ball close to the hole and even when you do, good luck finding a straight putt! Supremely difficult test. The green complexes are varied both in size and undulation and Fownes gives golfers four short fours during the round, a rarity in championship golf. There may be an over-reliance in some respect on bunkers flanking every fairway and the prevalence of straightaway holes. Again, a lot of the memorability lies in the diabolical green complexes and the severe bunkering. The use of front to back slopes on the greens is also very unique in golf and gives Oakmont a lot of its bite.
Oakmont certainly is not the prettiest girl in the world, especially after restoring the course to its former brutal glory. However, it’s certainly gorgeous in my eyes.
If you can point me to a course that’s better conditioned than this one, I’d love to see it. Greens superintendent John Zimmers does a tremendous job with this club and the membership is well known for being completely masochistic – they want the course to be running firm and fast at all times and take delight in seeing their guests shoot high numbers. Harry putted a ball from 75 YARDS OFF THE GREEN on the 1st hole…it went through the green into the back rough. Enough said.
This is pure golf the way it’s meant to be played. Every student of golf architecture should make a point of seeing this course. It was a pleasure walking down every fairway and you couldn’t wipe the smile off any of our faces the whole day.
A challenging walk to be sure but a great one indeed. You couldn’t take a cart unless you had a note from a doctor. Great comment from an older chap walking to his car. A friend asked him when he last walked a course and he replied “oh, about twenty five years ago.” That’s Oakmont for you!
Let me tell you something. I feel like the luckiest guy in the world, having been able to play not only Oakmont this year, but also the much-revered Riviera Country Club as well.
Both are incredible in their own right but the Oakmont experience is likely one of the most unique in the world.
I could never dream of a more pleasurable butt-whooping than the one I received on this day.
If you want to read more about Oakmont and its history, I definitely recommend that you pick up Marino Parascenzo’s “Oakmont – 100 Years”, a book that is now part of my library.
Again, Oakmont is an experience not to be missed if you get an invite and my day there will be one I treasure for the rest of my life.