USGA wants to play at golf 'cathedrals'; Oakland Hills in the mix as South reopens

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Oakland Hills Country Club's famed South Course, which boasts such champions as Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus, reopens for the membership next month.

Club officials hope it reopens for the world soon thereafter.

The USGA has assigned U.S. Open sites through 2027, but it is expected to announce commitments beyond that in the coming months, and Oakland Hills certainly is on the radar. USGA officials have been out to the legendary Bloomfield Township club in the last year to check out the $12.1-million renovation — or, more accurately, restoration — by acclaimed architect Gil Hanse.

Curtis Luck hits his approach to the 18th green during the final round of the 2016 U.S. Amateur at Oakland Hills.

This week at Torrey Pines in San Diego, site of the 2021 U.S. Open, John Bodenhamer, senior managing director of championships for the USGA, said there's no imminent announcement on future sites, but he added that "there's really some cool things coming."

"We have quite a process we go through," Bodenhamer said during a press conference this week. "For us, it's a priority, we think at the USGA, to really take the U.S. Open and the U.S. (Women's) Open to what we think of as the cathedrals of the game, the very best places to play our championships.

"It's important where the players win their U.S. Open."

Oakland Hills' South Course, the Donald Ross gem that opened in 1918, certainly would qualify as a "cathedral" in the game. It has hosted six U.S. Opens, the last in 1996, and three PGA Championships, the last in 2008, as well as the 2004 Ryder Cup and two U.S. Amateurs. The 2016 U.S. Amateur was the last marquee event held at Oakland Hills.

Afterward, talks began about renovating the course. The majority of the 500-plus membership approved the plans, which they are funding. The course has been closed since the fall of 2019.

Hanse's mission was to bring the club back to Ross' vision, removing more than 100 trees and about 40 bunkers, but making the bunkers that remained even bigger.

There's also been added length, stretching the course to nearly 7,700 yards from the tips, pumping up the course Hogan famously called the "Monster" after winning the 1951 U.S. Open. The course played under 7,000 for its first five U.S. Opens, and just under 7,400 for its last.

"We're here to host a major championship," Oakland Hills head pro Steve Brady said last summer.

The greens, the signature feature of the course, also will be better protected, with a state-of-the-art weather system installed under each putting surface. That weather system could bring the PGA Championship, now held in May, in play for Oakland Hills. The PGA's next opening is 2032.

Perhaps complicating things for Oakland Hills is another major renovation going on at a classic course, also in the Midwest, at Inverness Club in Toledo. It will show off its renovation with the Solheim Cup, women's golf's version of the Ryder Cup, this September.

There also are opportunities to host the U.S. Women's Open (next available: 2026), U.S. Senior Open (next available: 2025) and U.S. Amateur (next available: 2026).

The U.S. Open, though, is the crown jewel.

"We don't have anything to announce today or really in the near future, but we're thinking and talking a lot about it, and I would just say buckle up because there's really some cool things coming," Bodenhamer said Wednesday. "I would say that on both sides, of the U.S. Open and the U.S. Women's Open. Won't be too long, but we've got some more work to do."

Oakland Hills majors

►1924 U.S. Open (Cyril Walker)

►1937 U.S. Open (Ralph Guldahl)

►1951 U.S. Open (Ben Hogan)

►1961 U.S. Open (Gene Littler)

►1972 PGA (Gary Player)

►1979 PGA (David Graham)

►1981 U.S. Senior Open (Arnold Palmer)

►1985 U.S. Open (Andy North)

►1991 U.S. Senior Open (Jack Nicklaus)

►1996 U.S. Open (Steve Jones)

►2002 U.S. Amateur (Ricky Barnes)

►2004 Ryder Cup (Team Europe)

►2008 PGA (Padraig Harrington)

►2016 U.S. Amateur (Curtis Luck)

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Twitter: @tonypaul1984