Oakland Hills' famed South Course opens July 1; it might have a new signature hole

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Closed for more than 21 months, Oakland Hills Country Club's legendary South Course is finally ready to open back up the tee sheet.

The South will reopen for its entire membership Thursday, July 1, a day after a few select members get to play the course for the first time as part of a reopening ceremony.

The course has been closed since fall 2019 to undergo a massive, $12.1 million renovation that's more accurately being described as a restoration. Architect Gil Hanse oversaw the project, his chief priority getting the layout to look more like it did when Donald Ross built the place in the early 1900s. Oakland Hills ordered the restoration in hopes of landing another U.S. Open or PGA Championship.

No. 7 on Oakland Hills' South Course could become the course's new signature hole.

“Restoring the South Course at Oakland Hills was a master class in scale from architect Donald Ross,” Hanse said in a statement released by the club Thursday. “By returning the proportions of the features to the large scale of the property, we learned so much about how to create interest, strategy, and beauty. This was a truly thrilling project for us to be involved in and we are excited about the transformation that has occurred.”

Getting back to Ross' vision meant massive tree removal throughout the property and reshaping all 18 greens to get them back to their original specifications — albeit with state-of-the-art weather systems installed under each, allowing club officials to heat or cool the greens as necessary, depending on weather.

Many bunkers also were removed, though there's actually more sand on the course. The bunkers that remain have been expanded, many of them well short of putting surfaces, making for more of one of the toughest shots in golf — the long, 40- or 50-yard bunker shot.

The biggest change to a specific hole came at the par-4 seventh, which used to have a pond on the right side of the fairway. That pond is gone, replaced by a creek that runs the entire length of the hole. That green also now is one of the most treacherous on a course full of treacherous greens, a Ross staple.

Members have been able to take a walking tour of the course this week, and many believe No. 7 will become the course's new signature hole, replacing the par-4 16th — where Gary Player said he made the best shot of his life, a 9 iron from behind a tree and over water to 3 feet, springboarding him to the 1972 PGA Championship title.

"It's (No. 7) the hole everyone wants to play," said member Greg Kampe, Oakland's men's basketball coach who saw the restoration for the first time Wednesday. "If they have the pin tucked left, behind the stream, that's Sunday in the U.S. Open. Nobody is gonna birdie that hole."

That hole redesign was part of Ross' original design, and will play 421 yards from the tips. Hanse and staff — partner Jim Wagner and on-site coordinator Kye Goalby, son of 1968 Masters champion Bob Goalby — used old photos as well as the program from the 1929 U.S. Women's Amateur in helping with the project.

Oakland Hills' South Course reopens for the membership July 1.

Not all changes were to accommodate Ross' vision; some were meant for the modern game. Most notably, the course now can play close to 7,700 yards, or perhaps even a bit longer.

The USGA has visited Oakland Hills as the restoration has progressed. It has openings for the U.S. Open after 2027, U.S. Women's Open after 2025, U.S. Senior Open after 2024 and U.S. Amateur after 2026.

The PGA Championship's next opening is 2023.

Oakland Hills, the Bloomfield Township golf mecca that Ben Hogan famously dubbed "The Monster," has hosted six U.S. Opens, three PGA Championships, two U.S. Amateurs and the 2004 Ryder Cup. Its last marquee event was the U.S. Amateur, in 2016.

During the restoration, Oakland Hills' membership, which paid for the project, was only able to play the North Course, also designed by Ross. The South opened in 1918, and the North in 1924.

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984