Oakmont Country Club

Green Keeper: John Zimmers

4th hole, 610/510 yards; W.C. Fowne’s ability to define quality golf at Oakmont is well-displayed in the playing angles of this twisting hole. First, the downhill tee shot must fit between the Church Pews on the left and  a set of small, deep bunkers that protrude in from the right. The second shot is over the brow of a hill, creating uncertainty. The best angle of approach into the green is from the right of the fairway, exactly where W.C. manufactured several steep bunker walls.

The golfer dearly loves to shorten the fourth by playing over the five bunkers on the right.

A pulled drive into the Church Pews is certainly no good. Also, as seen above, the fairway disappears over the crest of the hill…

…creating uncertainty as to just how far right to lay up. The bunker above perfectly guards the best angle into the green. Note how the bottom of the bunker is less than two foot below ground. However, its built-up wall makes recovery more than a little daunting.


5th hole, 380/350 yards; H.C. Fownes captured the landforms to create so much variety that the golfer barely notices that many of the holes at Oakmont go back and forth and are parallel to their predecessor. Here, the fairway runs out 290 yards from the tee and gives way to broken ground. On the far side of a valley where ditches lurk, Fownes placed the green. Six bunkers around it creating a virtual island. While spacious for a hole of modest length, the green, appropriately, features some of the more severe contours on the course.

Unlike a lot of greens at Oakmont, the fifth accepts only an aerial approach. The fact that the green’s interior contours are visible from 100 yards away should concern the golfer.

6th hole, 195/170 yards; The long slender green is severely sloped from right to left. Short-siding a right hole location becomes a test of making a twenty footer. Tom Doak eloquently sums up the hole perfectly: ‘ I’ve never understood why water to the right of a green is acceptable but rough and a tilted green that make it impossible to get up and down from the right are ‘unfair.”

The right to left pitch of the sixth green is evident in this photograph.


7th hole, 480/370 yards; This hole’s difficulty has changed the most since H.C. Fownes laid out the course. Originally 370 yards, a new back tee high on the rim of the property allows this hole to play 480 yards, albeit with a sharply downhill tee ball. The playing angles have remained the same; the hole is rifle straight from tee to green, not atypical for an Oakmont two-shotter. Bunkers left and right of the fairway highlight Oakmont’s high-demand architecture. The artistry in the hole’s design is at the green complex where a left-to-right tilt is in fine contrast to the prior two greens.

8th hole, 290/225 yards; Nearly all the great architects during the Golden Age of golf design featured a long one- shotter. Examples of  excellent holes in the 220 to 240 yard range built during the 1910s and 1920s are too numerous to mention. In those days of hickory golf, such holes required either a three wood or driver. Time and the ceaseless march of technology has reduced the same length holes to only a mid or long iron shot for the game’s best. Many of the classic old courses don’t have room to expand their holes but Oakmont did and took full advantage by lengthening this hole to nearly 290 yards in preparation for the 2007 U.S. Open. The whining and howls of protest from the world’s best for its rigors would have fallen on deaf ears to H.C. and W.C. Downes who intended that a driver to be hit here and designed the hole accordingly. The green and its contours are (relatively speaking given that the greens often stimp above 13!)among the more modest on the course. A hundred yards long Sahara bunker is visually dominating but quite shallow. Furthermore, on a direct line, there is forty-three yards of open fairway past to the front of the open green which sits at grade.

What’s all the fuss about playing this hole at 290 yards? It is across modest terrain and when Oakmont opened, it was 220 yards and required a driver or third wood, same as today.

Additionally, the eighth was designed to accommodate a long approach as there is plenty of room past the Sahara bunker to land one’s tee ball and have it run onto the green.


9th hole, 475/460 yards; Another example of  H.C. Fownes’  prescience can be found in his placement of this green at the base of the clubhouse. It hardly seems surprising today but when he routed the course in 1903, it was not customary to return both nines to the clubhouse. Indeed, given how sharply it plays uphill, others might have routed a hole ninety degrees to its right. As it is, the back of the green constitutes the practice putting green, giving members on the clubhouse’s long porch plenty to observe on the 22,000 square feet of prepared putting surface. Others have copied this notion of a shared putting surface but none nearly as well.

The ninth returns the golfer to the clubhouse.


10th hole, 460/440 yards; In the last twenty U.S. Opens of the 20th century, Oakmont’s tenth ranked behind only the awkwardly converted seventeenth hole at Olympic in playing the most over par. Indeed, the two hardest pars at Oakmont feature the same, great design – a green that slopes away from the player on a long two shotter. Like the first hole, the approach shot here is endlessly fascinating and distinguishes the player who’s thinking and executing well. On one’s approach, the ball must be crisply struck from a downhill lie in order to generate spin for control but the golfer must also judge just how short of the green to land it. As with all of Oakmont’s greens, the tenth is set just where it belongs as a natural extension of the fairway and is devoid of any sign of being forced upon the land. Building up such a green to ‘better’ receive the approach would be a crime, just as would altering any of the numerous greens at The Old Course at St. Andrews that slope from front to back.

This view up the tenth shows how the green is a mere extension of the fairway. So simple, yet the front to back nature of the green gives players fits.


11th hole, 380/330 yards; Highlighting the ebb and flow in the sequence of holes at Oakmont is this finesse hole, sandwiched between the bruising tenth and twelfth holes. One of Oakmont’s famed ditches slashes across the fairway on a right to left diagonal to complicate the golfer’s lay-up which must find the fairway. The steeply pitched back to front green insists the pitch be carefully gauged to finish below the day’s hole location.

An ideal tee ball at the eleventh leaves this 115 yard pitch.

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