Looking far into the future while also keeping in mind the proud past at Oakland Hills Country Club, the USGA on Tuesday announced a strategic partnership with the iconic Detroit-area facility that features a slate of eight championships, including the U.S. Open in 2034 and 2051. The latter marks the 100-year anniversary of Ben Hogan’s Open triumph on the South Course that he famously called “this monster.”
That the USGA held the press conference at nearby Detroit Athletic Club speaks to Oakland Hills’ challenging present circumstances after a fire on Feb. 17 destroyed its sprawling neo-colonial clubhouse, causing damages estimated at $80 million. The news of additional USGA events slated for one of America’s foremost championship venues couldn’t have come at a better time, and it enhances the USGA commitment to Oakland Hills after revealing in January that it was awarding the club the 2031 and 2042 U.S. Women’s Open.
“This is a testament to our relationship with Oakland Hills and the incredible history that we share together,” said John Bodenhamer, USGA chief championships officer. “Given the breadth of these championships today, it's just remarkable. Given everything the club has been through in the last few weeks, we are honored they wanted to move forward with this announcement and this run of championships in the years that we originally discussed. It's quite amazing.
“The USGA believes that our venues differentiate our championships from all others,” Bodenhamer, who referred to Oakland Hills as one of “the cathedrals of golf.”
“Does it matter where a player wins his or her USGA championship? It does matter where they win,” he said.
“I think the fact that this is what makes major championships so beautiful, that you get the chance to go back,” said Andy North, who won the second of his two U.S. Open titles at Oakland Hills in 1985. “If you look at our major championships, the Masters is so unique because it's played on the same golf course every year, but I think the fact that the other three majors have to have an identity of also playing wonderful facilities. You can remember the last time it was there. … You remember great shots by players.”
The USGA also awarded Oakland Hills four amateur tournaments: the 2024 U.S. Junior Amateur, 2029 U.S. Women's Amateur, 2038 U.S. Girls' Junior Amateur and 2047 U.S. Amateur. It last hosted a national championship in 2016 when Curtis Luck won the U.S. Amateur.
Club president Rick Palmer fought back emotions in celebrating the 29-year relationship between the USGA and Oakland Hills. “It really is a great way to end what's been kind of an emotional month for us,” he said. “It comes to mind, I'm pretty humbled today, I kind of feel like the offensive lineman that recovered a fumble in the end zone, and the referee blew a whistle and said, ‘Hey, we won the game.’”
The USGA’s extensive commitment to Oakland Hills not only reflects its appreciation for the club’s historic role in championship golf, but also for the recent upgrade of its South Course overseen by architect Gil Hanse. The South Course was closed in 2020 and early 2021 for the $12 million restoration of the layout originally designed by Donald Ross. Robert Trent Jones redesigned it prior to the 1951 U.S. Open that saw Hogan win his second straight national title with a final-round 67 and seven-over 287 total and remark afterward that “I’m glad that I brought this course—this monster—to its knees.”
“I think we've got a golf course that will be an appropriate challenge even in this day and age,” said Hanse, who with his design partner Jim Wagner sought to make the South Course represent Ross’s original work. “We looked at what can we do, through the prism of looking at Donald Ross and the original design, to create first and foremost a great golfing experience for the membership, and then secondly look at what it takes to host a major championship at this point in time. We really tried the best that we possibly to put back what Donald Ross had created.”
Opened in 1918, the club, located north of Detroit in Bloomfield Hills, has hosted 11 USGA championships, starting with the 1924 U.S. Open. The 2034 championship will end a 38-year hiatus since its last Open in 1996, won by Steve Jones. In all, Oakland Hills has played host to six U.S. Opens. Three PGA Championships and the 2004 Ryder Cup also have been contested on the South Course.
As for the clubhouse, membership already has voted to rebuild an exact replica of the 90,000 square-foot structure that was modeled after George Washington’s Mount Vernon estate at an estimated cost of $50 million. It is expected to be completed by 2024, but perhaps not in time for the U.S. Junior. The USGA gave the club the option to defer that championship to another year, but Oakland Hills declined the offer.
“Our members said not only are we ready, we need it,” Palmer said.
The agreement between the USGA and Oakland Hills, which Bodenhamer said was five years in the making, was completed before the announcement in January that the club would host two U.S. Women’s Opens. “I think for us, for this partnership to be really a partnership, you're in it thick and thin, and we'll be there in the long term for Oakland Hills Country Club,” said Bodenhamer, who reiterated that the history of the club was a central tenet to the USGA’s commitment.
Among the champions, including Hogan and North, crowned at Oakland Hills are Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player, Glenna Collett-Vare and Gene Littler. Padraig Harrington won the last major held on the South Course, the 2008 PGA Championship.
“Those special moments from the past, whether they're Hogan or Palmer or Nicklaus, those are special moments, and those ghosts of the past do matter to the players,” Bodenhamer said. “They want to win where those special moments have been created. It makes their championship win, whether an Open or an Amateur, that much more special. And those ghosts wander the property here at Oakland Hills Country Club, and we look forward to making more memories.”