Much like Merion, Oakmont is a total golf experience-the club house, the golf shop, the operations of the golf facility, the caddies, the whole nine yards are steeped with rich tradition oozing from every nook and cranny. It is not just the impressive pictures of past champions who have won here like Jones, Sarazen, Snead, Hogan, Nicklaus, Miller, Els, Cabrera, Sheehan, and Creamer-it is not even the overwhelming appearance of the handwritten scoresheets from those events (little known trivia is that Calvin Peete finished fifth the year Larry Nelson won his U.S. Open here). It is the whole aura of the place, creakie floors, un-airconditioned locker rooms, the porches wrapping the clubhouse and looking out over the golf course, all of it makes this an authentic relic that cannot be replicated. When you go here you just have to take the time to meander around and take it in-breath some musty air-look closely at the wood lockers that have been there since the depression-talk to the help-they know the traditions and are glad to share.
From the golf design side, Henry Fownes clearly accomplished his goal of making this one of the hardest tests of golf in the country. The large furrow marks in the bunkers are gone, but the lightening fast, undulating putting surfaces are there, the dense rough and the occasional heather field are there, the 160+ bunkers are there and in play throughout, the hilly terrain that takes a shot hit without confidence to places you would rather not know is there. The overall balance of an extremely difficult, fair test of golf is what you get. The modern equipment may give you the extra distance to shorten some of the long holes, but truthfully the test is in tactics and execution not in distance. Look at the list of winners-Melnyk, Nelson, Mahaffey, Sarazen-these were not men with prodigious length but men who hit it in play and can play around the greens. The secret to Oakmont is hitting it in the fairway off the tee and pitching and putting to save pars from below the hole.
From the blue tees, length very seldom seems to be a factor. Angle of attack or approach seems to always be a factor. The driving areas are visually expansive but are always confined by bunkering usually on two sides. You get none of the cloistered feeling of trees encroaching the playing area. There are plenty of big old trees but most are just background. Beside the bunkering plentitude, the greenside bunkers are very severe. With a sixty degree you can get out of all of them but getting close will be a challenge.
You cannot think of Oakmont without trembling at the thought of the warp speed of the greens. Stimpmeter measurements aside they are just flat out fast. I have heard criticism that the greens are too undulating considering how fast they are maintained and this is something I agree with. But it is a characteristic of the course and you just have to accept it. As troublesome as the downhill putts are I think the real challenge is hitting the uphill putts hard enough. On all courses with fast greens the differential in absolute speed between a downhill and uphill putt is way greater than on a course with slow greens and this differential will drive you batty. You just want to smack yourself upside the head with your Odyssey every time you leave an uphill putt short-and you will do it all day.
Besides keeping your drives out of the rough, and this is a must to have any chance for pars, I think effective pitching and chipping is where the scoring is at. Again the fast greens will carry shots without conviction off to the aprons and you must be able to up and down from there to make pars you thought you deserved.
When you are done here you will likely feel beaten but not unfairly beaten just beaten because of lack of tactical conviction or shot execution. Like the Gold Course at the Golden Horseshoe this is a course to play again and again-it will tantalize you and occasionally treat you kindly, more often than not you will walk away shaking your head at what could have been. But then again that is the lure isn’t it.
Architect: Henry C. Fownes (1903)
Tees Par Yards Rating Slope
Championship 71 7255 77.5 147
Blue 71 6436 74 134