Oakmont The Extraordinary
Hallowed Course, Prepared To Host
U.S. Open, Has Rich History
February 23, 2007
With the U.S. Open returning to Oakmont this June for a
remarkable eighth time - no course has held more U.S. Opens -
we offer the first installment of a four-part series that
examines all the USGA championships held there.
By , USGA
Far Hills, N.J. - How do you define Oakmont Country Club,
nestled in a rolling valley suburb?
The Church Pew bunkers? The furrows created by the toothy
rakes? The almost unfathomable 63 shot by in the final round of
the 1973 U.S. Open? The scary green complexes?
|Oakmont's noted "Church
Pews" guard the third and fourth holes. (USGA Photo
No matter how you quantify the difficulty of this western golf
course, nobody can argue its place on the American championship
landscape. Oakmont's founder and architect wanted it that
way. When he designed his first and last golf course, Fownes set
out to create a masterpiece, one which would challenge the best
At the time of Oakmont's creation - 1909 - the new Haskell
ball had been developed. It flew farther than its predecessors,
so Fownes built a course longer than most to accommodate the
technology. Fownes also wanted a course that could host major
championships such as the U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur.
By all accounts, he succeeded. Oakmont arguably is the
toughest course utilized by the USGA for its national
championships. While the layout might look harmless, danger lurks
at every corner, thanks to the treacherous green complexes and
While it may not possess a plethora of water hazards like the
Tournament Players Club at Sawgrass or need wind as a defense
like or Shinnecock Hills, or have hidden pot bunkers and gorse
like , Oakmont's strength lies in how players handle the
challenging greens. Ask Palmer. In the 1962 U.S. Open, he had 11
three-putts, which cost him the title.
once remarked that he marked his ball with a dime and the dime
slid away. called Oakmont "the best test of championship
golf in the country."
Need further proof?
When the 2007 U.S. Open heads to Oakmont this June, it will be
the eighth time the championship has been held on the course.
That's more than any other venue in the country. It will also
be the 14th time Oakmont has been used to decide a USGA
championship - it has hosted five U.S. Amateurs and one U.S.
So as the '07 U.S. Open approaches, we take a look back at
the classic USGA championship moments at Oakmont.
However, we'll actually start with the 1916
Intercollegiate Golf Association of America championship. That
was the first major competition held at Oakmont and was the
genesis for everything else that followed, which also included
Prior to 1937 when the National Collegiate Athletic
Association took over running intercollegiate athletics, the IGAA
served as the national event for college and university golfers.
There was a team and individual event. In 1916, won the team
competition, handing favored Yale just its second defeat in 10
For the individual event, which mimicked the U.S. Amateur with
stroke-play qualifying followed by match play, 45 players from
eight colleges came to Oakmont. By comparison, the U.S. Amateur
held a week earlier drew 160 entrants. The favorites included
Oakmont's own of . Also included on that short list was
's D. Clarke Corkran, who had reached the semifinals of the
1916 U.S. Amateur; defending champion of Yale, and his teammate ,
the 1915 U.S. Amateur stroke-play medalist.
Corkran was the only player to live up to the high
expectations, reaching the 36-hole final against Harvard's .
Hubbell was 4 down after the morning round, but managed to rally
for a 1-up upset win. He won five straight holes from No. 23, and
he took the lead for good with winning pars at the 33rd and 34th
A Rare Jones Defeat
World War I put a halt to major golf competitions from
1917-18, but with the conflict now over, the USGA decided to take
the 1919 U.S. Amateur to Oakmont. By now, the course had received
plenty of national acclaim. Oakmont, which had been operating now
for 10 years, was clearly ready for such a competition. The club
spent a reported $40,000 getting the course primed for the
championship. The USGA also was busy, revising the format to
include a Saturday qualifying round that reduced the field from
136 to about 75. Another qualifier on Monday trimmed the field
down to 32 for match play.
|Bob Jones circa 1916, three years before
he'd lose in the U.S. Amateur final against S. Davidson
Herron. (USGA Photo Archives)|
The field included the 17-year-old Jones of Atlanta, Ga. He
had made his Amateur debut three years previous at Merion, where
he advanced to the quarterfinals as the youngest participant in
the competition. Fans in the area flocked to Oakmont to watch
this prodigy and see his immaturity. Jones had yet to harness his
temper and that showed during a practice round when he sliced a
shot with a 2-wood. He slammed his club so hard on the turf that
the wooden shaft snapped. That night, he would need to have a new
shaft put on the club.
Also in the field was Oakmont's own , now a 20-year-old
steel mill laborer who had served in World War I. Around town, he
was known as the kid who had sold lemonade to golfers on hot days
and later captained the golf team. But he would later be known as
one of two men to beat the legendary Jones in a U.S. Amateur
In 1919, Jones had yet to cement his legacy as one of
golf's greatest champions. He would not win his first USGA
title - the U.S. Open - for another four years. But he was a
favorite to win this championship along with 1916 champion
Charles "Chick" Evans and 1914 champ , who had made
history in 1913 when he won the U.S. Open in a playoff over
English stalwarts and .
Ouimet would only go as far as the third round, defeated by
's of North Hills Country Club in 38 holes. Ouimet ousted
Evans in the second round, 1 up.
Herron quietly made his way through the draw, defeating Platt
handily, 7 and 6, in the semifinals, while Jones defeated
Oakmont's William C. Fownes, the 1910 Amateur winner and son
of course architect Henry Fownes, 5 and 3.
The final was a see-saw battle, with Herron taking a 3-up lead
through 12 and Jones coming back to square it by 16. In the
afternoon, Jones fell behind by three again with just seven to
play. At the brutish 12th hole (30th of match), Jones thought he
saw an opening after Herron bunkered his tee shot. In the fairway
about to launch his second shot with a 2-wood, Jones heard a
gallery official yell "fore!" through a megaphone as he
was at the top of his backswing.
Later in his career, the distraction might not have made Jones
twitch, but the youthful golfer topped the ball into a bunker,
from where he failed in his recovery attempt. Instead of cutting
the deficit, Jones now was 4 down. Herron went on to a 5-and-4
Jones later said the megaphone incident didn't cost him
the championship. "I feel sure Davy would have beaten me
anyway," Jones wrote later. But he added: "I wish all
gallery officials realized that the megaphone is the most
alarming hazard that ever appears on a golf course."
David Shefter is a staff writer for the USGA. E-mail him
with questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.