Oakmont Country Club

Green Keeper: John Zimmers

4th hole, 610/510 yards; The amount of time that W.C. Fownes spent refining the golf qualities at Oakmont is well displayed in the playing angles of this twisting hole. First, the downhill tee shot must fit between the Church Pews bunker on the left and 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 it unforgiving from which to play.

5th hole, 380/350 yards; H.C. Fownes captured the landforms in such a variety of manners that the golfer barely notices that many of the holes at Oakmont go back and forth and are parallel to their predecessor. In this case, the fairway runs out 290 yards from the tee and gives way to broken ground. On the far side of a valley with ditches traversing through it, Fownes placed the green. With six bunkers around it, the green is essentially an island. Though large for a hole of this modest length, the green, appropriately, features some of the more severe contours on the course.

Unlike a lot of greens at Oakmont, the one at the fifth only accepts 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’s fine words on Oakmont sum 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 has changed the most in difficulty since H.C. Fownes laid out the course. Originally, it was 370 yards but the 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 as 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 to the hole’s design is at the green complex with the green’s left to right tilt being 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 included a long one shotter into their designs. Examples of very fine to 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. With time and the ceaseless march of technology, these same length holes now only require a mid to long iron shot for the game’s best. Many of the classic old courses don’t have the room to expand their holes but Oakmont does. And they took full advantage when they lengthened 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 as to this rigorous challenge would have fallen on deaf ears to H.C. and W.C. Fownes; they intended 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 moremodest on the course. At hundred yards in length, the Sahara bunker visually dominates but is shallow. Furthermore, on the direct tee to green line, there is forty-three yards of open fairway past the Sahara to the front of the open green.

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

Plus, 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 what a visionary H.C. Fownes was 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 is shared with the practice putting green, giving members on the clubhouse’s long porch plenty at which to observe on the 22,000 square feet of prepared putting surface. Other clubs have subsequently 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 feature – a green that slopes away from the player on a long two shotter. As with the one at the first hole, the approach shot at the tenth remains endlessly fascinating and distinguishes the player who is both thinking and executing well. On one’s approach, not only must the ball be crisply struck from a downhill stance in order to generate spin to control it but the golfer must judge just how short of the green to land it as well. As with all of Oakmont’s greens, the tenth is set just where it belongs. It is a natural extension of the fairway and is devoid of any sign of being forced upon the land. A green built up to ‘better’ receive the approach would have been 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 back up the tenth shows how the green is just an 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 of the sequencing of holes at Oakmont is this finesse hole, sandwiched as it is between the bruising tenth and twelfth holes. One of Oakmont’s famed ditches slashes across the fairway on a right to left diagonal and the golfer’s lay-up off the tee 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.

The perfect tee ball at the eleventh leaves this 115 yard pitch.

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