The restoration of Oak Hill is all but complete.
Superintendent Jeff Corcoran was satisfied. “It pretty much went flawless.”
It was a ten month project. A mild winter certainly helped, but Corcoran said the last piece of sod was laid the day before Thanksgiving last year.
Priortiy A-1 was restoring the original 100 year old design to three holes.
“Driving around this property, you always saw that 5, 6 and 15 didn’t really fit,” Corcoran said.
The new 5th hole is a par-3 that’ll play 170 yards for the pro’s. The old 5th is now number six. It’s a par-4 that can extend past 500 yards. At 15, the pond next to the green was replaced by a chipping area.
All three holes were changed in the late 70’s by a George and Tom Fazio designed renovation. The new look is actually retro and goes back another five decades.
“What we tried to do is put Donald Ross’ original design thoughts back out on the golf course,” Corcoran said.
Corcoran said the new sixth hole was as close as the club could come to the original Ross design plus a few dozen yards of length.
“It’s a different golf course I think,” said Restoration Committee Chair Tim Thaney. “It’s going to take a while for all of us to get used to playing it.”
Part two of the project was the greens which were still smarting from Jason Dufner’s course record 63 in round two of the 2013 PGA Championship. His wasn’t the only low score that afternoon thanks to rain the day before that significantly softened the course.
“We received that rainfall and we saw the scores go lower,” Corcoran said. “We knew we kinda had something to do with these greens.”
The club also felt members deserved the best that could be offered. Both motivating factors helped persuade Oak Hill to update drainage technology on all greens for the first time in a century.
“We’ve already seen them perform really well. They’re like water in a screen door,” Corcoran said.
The goal is not getting new greens to pin the needle on the stimpmeter. Firmness is the priority, not speed.
“Greens that are firm and rolling an 11.5 (on the stimpmeter) are actually better and a little more diabolical than, say, a green that’s a 13, but receiving shots really well and real soft,” Corcoran said.
The greens won’t be pushed to tournament speed and conditions this summer. There’s still a feeling out process. Or perhaps the better term is “playing” out.
“This year is about pumping the brakes a little bit. They’re brand new greens. They’re children, adolescents, so to speak,” Corcoran said with a laugh.
Andrew Green is the architect of record on this Restoration. His other recent projects include extensive renovations at Congressional Country Club in Maryland and Inverness Country Club in Toledo, Ohio.
“He saw some of the greens had changed over the years. Some of the bunkers had changed, so he really looked at it as a brand new opportunity to change (the course),” Thaney said. “A lot of the greens, the contours are going to be the same. There were a few greens that changed quite a bit, especially (5, 6 and 15).”
Less discussed among the golf fan, but more important to the members is the addition of forward tees. It’s something Oak Hill has featured a bit, but will be more extensive post-Restoration.
“Make it playable for everybody,” Thaney said. “Virtually every hole has a new opportunity for somebody who’s drive will only be 150, 160 yards.”
There are also new opportunities for the fans who come to Oak Hill during major events.
A significant number of trees were removed from the property prior to and during the Restoration. The open space is almost jarring near the property entrance on Kilbourn Road where the line of trees that visually separated the course from the adjacent neighborhood is largely gone.
The front nine area between the 4th and 9th is much more open. Trees have also been removed near the 14th green, creating a spectacular vista that could give the 13th a run for its money as the “signature hole”. The throng that arrives in 2023 for the PGA Championship will be impressed.
“Once we saw the openings that we were going to create and the vistas,” Thaney said while shaking his head the way someone does when amazed beyond words. “It’s really gonna change the way you feel about the golf course.”
Members get their first swing at the new track next weekend with the first tee times on Friday, May 29th.
“We do have the West course open right now, so people are out here and they can obviously see it from the road,” Thaney said. “A lot of people have told me they’ve just taken a walk of the entire course. And they’re excited.”
“To be able to be a part of Oak Hill’s history and to put (back) what Ross’ vision was or be a part of that, it’s awesome,” Corcoran said. “I just want the membership to come out and be like, ‘This is awesome. This is why we did this. This is why we shut down’.”
It will be the final step of another important chapter in the legendary club’s history.