It’s time for Oakland Hills Country Club to host the U.S. Open. It’s time for the U.S. Golf Association to recognize the hard work one of the country’s most historic golf clubs is doing, and award it our national championship for the first time since 1996.
It’s time because Oakland Hills has paid its dues, and it has been too long since the golf-mad state of Michigan has hosted a major championship.
I spent last Monday at the Bloomfield Township club speaking with members and staff and listening to a presentation about the restoration of the championship South Course scheduled to be completed in July.
The $12.1-million project is extensive and impressive. Its key component is the installation of a PrecisionAire system that dries, cools and heats the greens. It would give the USGA the assurance and control of green speeds that is crucial during the U.S. Open.
Oakland Hills Country Club 16th hole during the third round of the 2008 PGA Championship. (Leon Halip-USA TODAY Sports)
“At the end of the day,” architect Gil Hanse said Monday, “with players of this caliber, it comes down to two things. We’d have to build this course at 9,000 yards long, and that’s not happening. It comes down to rough and it comes down to firm greens.”
The course should be the least of anyone’s concerns. The venerable club was founded in 1916 and has the pedigree anyone would cherish. It has hosted six U.S. Opens and three PGA Championships.
No one doubts the course will be amazing when the work is done. The question on everyone’s mind is what would it take for the USGA to award Oakland Hills the U.S. Open, which wouldn’t come until 2028 at the earliest?
There are a lot of factors involved, but the most important one is relationships.
The USGA can pick almost any course it chooses to host the U.S. Open. I think it comes down to USGA leaders being comfortable with the Oakland Hills leaders and feeling they could have a good working relationship for the numerous years of preparation that lead up to the tournament.
Although it has been a long time since Oakland Hills hosted the U.S. Open, that was in part by choice. I’ve spoken with lots of people over the years at Oakland Hills who told me club members in 1996 were put off by the way the USGA took over the club during the tournament.
Egos were bruised and Oakland Hills chose to take itself out of the U.S. Open rotation and partner with the PGA of America to host the 2004 Ryder Cup and the ’08 PGA Championship. In the world of golf majors, you either work with the PGA or the USGA, but not both at the same time. To put it in Detroit terms, you’re either a Ford or a Chevy person.
But the leadership from 1996 is different on both sides now. The relationship has been mended, evident in 2016, when Oakland Hills hosted the U.S. Amateur.
Padraig Harrington, of Ireland, celebrates after sinking a putt for par on 18th hole that gave him the win in the 90th PGA Championship golf tournament Sunday, Aug. 10, 2008, at Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township, Mich.
“We have a committee, a future-sites committee, at the USGA that’s constantly looking at where all of our Open championships go,” Ben Kimball, then the U.S. Amateur director, said in 2016. “We want to take our Open championships to the best venues in the country. This is certainly one of them.”
On Monday, Oakland Hills head pro Steve Brady said the club’s “relationship with the USGA, I think, is wonderful.”
Even greater! When do we tee off?
Unfortunately, relationships are harder than carrying a bunker at 275 yards. There are relationships formed through temporary business alliances, like hosting a U.S. Open. And then there are long-term trusting relationships like the ones formed between the USGA and members of private clubs that volunteer their time to serve on USGA committees. It’s my understanding Oakland Hills hasn’t had many of the latter recently. That needs to change if it wants to give itself the best shot at hosting a U.S. Open.
Once those relationships get stronger, the USGA shouldn’t have any qualms about awarding Oakland Hills the U.S. Open. The club has logistics nailed down like plenty of offsite parking, space on the course for corporate chalets and the North Course is ideal for a practice area and business operations facilities.
Even the local economy, which is hard to forecast eight years out, holds promise when you consider the smashing success of the PGA Tour’s return to Detroit last year with the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
Jack Nicklaus chips to the second green at Oakland Hills in Birmingham, Mich., Aug. 3, 1979, during second round action in the PGA championship.
Oakland Hills has also been working with the Detroit Sports Commission, which partners with all the big hitters in town to try to land major events. Oakland Hills is a private club, but its members and leadership understand there’s a public trust with Michigan golf fans who count on the club to bring the biggest tournaments to our state.
Hanse is one of golf’s premier architects who has worked on renovating and restoring some of the best clubs, including upcoming U.S. Open host courses like Winged Foot and Pinehurst. He’s optimistic about Oakland Hills’ chances, but even he doesn’t know the secret ingredient the USGA looks for when it awards the U.S. Open.
“There’s room here to do it, but there’s so many considerations that go into it that obviously I’m not privy to,” he said. “I will say that I’m hopeful once we’re finished that if any of the governing bodies come out to take a look they’ll be favorably impressed. Hopefully, we’ll find a way to get them back here.”
The sooner, the better.
Contact Carlos Monarrez at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @cmonarrez.