Oakmont: A Timeless Tradition
By Bill Fallon
Throughout the 115-year history of the U.S. Open, only a handful of golf courses have truly withstood the test of time. Oakmont is one of those courses, and the timelessness of this Western Pennsylvania fixture will be on full display for players and fans worldwide when it hosts its record ninth U.S. Open Championship in mid-June.
What makes Oakmont so special? Several things come to mind.
Oakmont’s most principal asset is its golf course. Club founder and steel magnate Henry Clay Fownes designed it with difficulty in mind, and when looking at the scores of USGA championships hosted at Oakmont over the years, he succeeded. There have been very few changes made to the original design, which measures just over 7,000 yards. When playing Oakmont today, one experiences the design genius of a man who carved a golf course out of natural rolling hills without the benefit of today’s technology.
The demanding nature of this links-like inland course forces players to advance in precise attacks. In order to avoid a high score, the player needs to know not only where to place shots, but perhaps more importantly, where to miss shots. Recovery can become next to impossible if you miss in the wrong place. Imagination is a key attribute of successful play at Oakmont.
Oakmont’s longtime relationship with the United States Golf Association has played a large role in the history of the course and the USGA. Founded in 1903, the club has hosted eight U.S. Opens (1927, 1935, 1953, 1962, 1973, 1983, 1994 and 2007), five U.S. Amateurs (1919, 1925, 1938, 1969 and 2003) and two U.S. Women’s Opens (1992 and 2010). Through these championships, Oakmont has helped identify truly legendary champions, including Bob Jones, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus and Paula Creamer, just to name a few. Two Oakmont members have also won a USGA championship at Oakmont – 1919 U.S. Amateur champion S. Davidson Herron and 1935 U.S. Open champion Sam Parks Jr., who became a member after his victory.
Oakmont has also given back to the game through member participation in USGA committees, including W.C. Fownes, the son of Oakmont’s founder, who served as USGA president from 1926-27. This combination of involvement makes the club’s connection with the USGA an essential piece of its DNA.
Iconic golf imagery helps elevate to the lofty standing Oakmont holds in the golf community. Namely, the Church Pews bunker; the No. 9 green and practice putting green complex; its speedy, undulating and often intimidating greens; and the spectacular clubhouse views when walking to Nos. 9 and 18. In 2016, guests will be treated to views of the entire golf course from the clubhouse.
Speaking of the clubhouse, it too is paramount to the allure of the place. Opened in 1904, it has undergone only a few minor additions, all completed to maintain the integrity of the original architectural design. Thanks to its many famed visitors, one is overwhelmed by the history of the building as soon as they step inside. Upon entering the locker room, you catch yourself thinking, “Are those Hogan’s, Nicklaus’, Walter Hagen’s, Gene Sarazen’s or Arnold Palmer’s spike marks on the benches?” And, patrons of the 19th hole are treated to a seat at a genuine Brunswick Oakwood bar, rescued from Froggy’s, a beloved Pittsburgh landmark.
Oakmont’s Western Pennsylvania location serves as a fitting backdrop for the club’s character. In many respects, the club is deeply entwined in the “Pittsburgh Pride” culture. Pittsburgh is a town that is proud of its sports heritage. In the bigger picture, this reflects the city’s underlying toughness and resiliency, as evidenced by its ability to reinvent itself time and again. Oakmont members and the community at large are proud of what the club stands for and cherish the impact it has made and continues to make on the game of golf.
This impact will once again be felt in 2016 when the U.S. Open makes its historic return to Oakmont for the 116th playing June 13-19. An expected 30,000 people per day will visit the club throughout championship week, and millions more will tune in on Fox. Not only will a new champion be crowned, but a new chapter of the club’s special role in the game will be on display for a new generation of golf fans to experience the magic that is Oakmont.
Pittsburgh resident Bill Fallon is a longtime Oakmont member who was the general chairman of the 2003 U.S. Amateur Championship at Oakmont, the group chairman of the 2007 U.S. Open Championship, and vice chairman of the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open Championship.