U.S. Open announcement caps 'emotional month' for Oakland Hills members

Matt Charboneau
The Detroit News

Detroit — It’s been a little more than a month since the clubhouse at Oakland Hills Country Club burned to the ground, but on Tuesday, there was reason to smile for the members.

The United States Golf Association announced it has awarded the Bloomfield Hills club the U.S. Open in 2034 and 2051, two of eight upcoming USGA events to be played at Oakland Hills in the future. And the news couldn’t come at a better time.

Oakland Hills Country Club president Rick Palmer speaks as The United States Golf Association announces upcoming events at Oakland Hills Country Club, during a press conference Tuesday at the Detroit Athletic Club.

“Wow,” club president Rick Palmer said. “What a great day to be a member at Oakland Hills Country Club.”

Of course, days haven’t been great lately. It was just last month that a fire destroyed the nearly 100,000-square foot clubhouse, built in 1922 and the anchor of the famous country club.

So as Palmer appeared to fight back the emotion during the announcement made at a luncheon inside the Detroit Athletic Club — a worthy fill-in considering the circumstances — it was understandable.

“It’s a fitting way to end an emotional month for us,” Palmer said. “To our members: Six years ago we started in on a process. Our resolve was to make Oakland Hills a better place than when we found it as stewards of the members. We did have a secondary goal, to make the restoration so viable that it would be a viable option and considered for hosting future major championships.

“Well, it was our secondary goal, and here we are. So we're pretty pleased with that.”

The primary goal was restoring the South Course to what it once was, and that was no small process. The course Ben Hogan referred to as “The Monster” after his U.S. Open win in 1951 was shut down for two years as Gil Hanse and his team went to work restoring the course as closely as they could to the original design from Donald Ross.

By this past summer, the work had been completed and play had resumed. Meanwhile, the membership awaited word from the USGA. In January, the club was awarded the U.S. Women’s Open in 2031 and 2042. But the U.S. Open was the crown jewel, and the membership felt confident.

And for good reason. On Tuesday, it was confirmed Oakland Hills was the choice, it was just a matter of making the public announcement.

Then, the fire hit.

The USGA never wavered.

“We gave them the opportunity to defer today, to defer the U.S. Junior Amateur,” said John Bodenhamer, USGA chief championship officer. “But no, they didn't want to do it. We wanted to do what they wanted to do out of respect for our friends, and they said, ‘No, we're going to do this, and it's going to be amazing.’ We know that it will be.”

In addition to the two U.S. Opens, the USGA awarded Oakland Hills the 2024 U.S. Junior Amateur championship, the 2029 U.S. Women's Amateur, the 2038 U.S. Junior Girls championship and the 2047 U.S. Amateur championship. Along with the previously announced Women’s Opens, that’s eight championships through 2051.

Getting the course ready for the U.S. Junior Amateur in 2024 will be the challenge for Oakland Hills. They’ll pull it off, but the new clubhouse won’t be complete.

According to Palmer, demolition continues at the old clubhouse, which has been declared a total loss. From there, it will take roughly six months to finalize designs and pull the proper permits. By next year, Palmer said he hopes ground will be broken and Palmer is optimistic completion would come late in 2024.

“It’s a tight timeline, but I think we can break ground in a year,” Palmer said. “(2024) would be the target.”

That’s three golf seasons with no clubhouse, but the members were allowed back on Friday to start using the driving range and other outdoor facilities. They’ll keep golf when the weather permits, too, and they say the 2024 Junior Am will go off without a hitch, clubhouse or not.

The day was a celebration, to be sure. A much-needed one considering everything that has happened.

On Tuesday night, the membership had planned a reception, the first since the fire “to get together and hug each other,” Palmer said.

Tuesday’s announcement certainly will elevate the mood as Oakland Hills looks ahead.

As Palmer closed his remarks, he read a portion of the club’s vision statement.

“Our golf courses and members have played and will continue to play an integral part in the history of golf in the United States,” Palmer said. “We are dedicated to providing the resources to preserve our courses as championship venues to host state, national, and international championships.

“My fellow members at Oakland Hills, I say job well done.”


Twitter: @mattcharboneau