Top USGA execs made two visits to new-look Oakland Hills in considering bringing majors back

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Top executives with the United States Golf Association have made two extensive visits to Oakland Hills Country Club in the past year, as it considers bringing major championship golf back to Metro Detroit.

Gil Hanse, the acclaimed architect who oversaw the $12.1-million restoration of Oakland Hills back to the vision of original course designer Donald Ross, said Friday in a call with reporters that he's had two walk-and-talks on the property with members of the USGA.

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

In the fall, Hanse hosted outgoing USGA executive director Mike Davis, as well as the USGA's player rep, Jason Gore. This spring, he hosted John Bodenhamer, the USGA's senior managing director of championships.

"Everybody has now been through here as they start to look and evaluate major championships," Hanse said Friday, after playing the course for the first time (he only played nine holes because of the rain) since his group finished the renovations.

Oakland Hills' legendary South Course in Bloomfield Township has hosted six U.S. Opens, but the last was in 1996. The club then partnered with the PGA of America, which brought the Ryder Cup (2004) and PGA Championship (2008) to the club. The South has hosted three PGAs.

More: It's a back to the future restoration project at Oakland Hills' historic South Course

The USGA returned with the 2016 U.S. Amateur, as the club began considering a massive restoration.

The U.S. Open's next opening is 2028, with future announcement sites expected this year or next.

At last month's U.S. Open, Bodenhamer wouldn't give specifics about the end-of-decade rotation, but he might've at least given a little clue about future sites.

"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," Bodenhamer said.

Oakland Hills' South Course, once dubbed "The Monster" by Ben Hogan, certainly would qualify there.

The restoration started in the fall of 2019, and the members finally got back onto their signature course July 1. They had only been able to play the North Course, another Ross gem, since the restoration started.

Hanse's restoration, paid for by the members, removed many trees and bunkers, though there's more sand on the property because the bunkers that remain are much bigger. The course now allows for run-up shots to the greens and the greens have been expanded, allowing on average three more hole locations each — a huge selling point to the USGA and PGA of America, who like to have options in setting up a major course. Major changes were made to Nos. 3 and 7.

And under each green, a state-of-the-art weather system was installed, allowing for speedy drainage on poor condition days like Friday, as well as cooling or heating depending on the elements.

Majors at Oakland Hills

►1924 U.S. Open (Cyril Walker won)

►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 (Europe)

►2008 PGA (Padraig Harrington)

►2016 U.S. Amateur (Curtis Luck)

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tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984