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Monday afternoon, USGA members were invited into the media interview room for Oakmont By Design, an architecture forum which featured USGA Executive Director Mike Davis, Champions Tour golfer and FOX Sports broadcaster Brad Faxon, course architect and FOX Sports broadcaster Gil Hanse as well as Oakmont Country Club Superintendent John Zimmers Jr.
The event was designed to provide a look inside the ropes while allowing for a small Q&A session.
Here is the best of what each had to say:
“I think what really makes Oakmont unique certainly starts with the putting greens and how they’re designed and also how they’re maintained. As many of us at USGA would say, there aren’t faster playing greens that any of us have ever seen. The combination of the actual speeds along with the design is, I would say, the one thing that really sets Oakmont apart.”
“Before the 2007 U.S. Open, most of the interior trees of the golf course were taken down. To me, I think that beyond the aesthetics and beyond the agronomic improvements that John’s spoken to, I think what it’s done also is it’s allowed Oakmont to be a windier golf course. It sits up on a hill.”
“One of the things about a U.S. Open is this week it’s not just a player playing against 155 fellow competitors. It’s a player playing against the golf course, and the golf course, if it you think about our wonderful game of golf, one of the many ways it sets it apart from other sports is the arenas, the playing fields, if you will, are so different. You think about basketball, football, soccer, baseball — pick your sport. Generally speaking, there’s some differences, but not like this.”
“I think that one of the things the U.S. Open has always done is it’s tested a player and his skills and his mental fortitude to the nth degree. And I think that some players embrace that, some don’t.”
“You’ll see a lot of people that are getting to U.S. Opens, after three holes — I saw Scott Piercy today. He’s not happy he’s here because it’s so difficult.”
“From a player’s standpoint, most players, when they get out here and see this course for the first time, they stand on a tee box, they’re trying to pick something out in the horizon, whether it’s a tree, a tower — a lot of times it’s grandstands now, sadly enough, for just the week. But it’s hard. It’s always easier to find a tree to aim it away from or towards. The 5th hole, like you said, it’s one of the holes that you get up and you go, ooh, I don’t know where to hit that shot.”
“Well, my favorite maybe golfing experience here in 1983. I went to Furman University and had just graduated and qualified to play. My buddy from Furman was going to caddie for me, and he had made his plane flight to go home Saturday, knowing that I was going to miss the cut. I ended up making a 15-footer for a bogey on 18 to sneak in.
“My dad was around, so he caddied for me the last two days. On Sunday, I was playing with D.A. Weibring. We had been warned that we were out of position by one of the officials. D.A. was kind of a slow player. I had no idea what I was doing. My dad didn’t either. So we were on the 14th hole, and now we’re trying to scamper through. And on 15, we both hit our tee shots and go scrambling down the fairway. My dad, when I looked back, was standing on the 14th tee watching Arnold Palmer hit his second shot from the 18th fairway, and I’m like, dad, come on. So he comes running down with my Furman golf bag rattling. He said, ‘I’ve never been that close to Arnold.'”
“I think, first and foremost, it’s incumbent on the architect to present to the members what that vision is and do the research, get the old photographs and look at the design, try and understand the original intent. Here, the Fownes, Mr. Henry and his son William, were unapologetic in saying they want it to be difficult. This membership has continued that, and historically the presentation of the golf course has been that way.
But I think ultimately it comes down to the willpower of the membership to forge forward with this sort of commitment. I mean, taking down however many trees you took down could not have been easy, and I’m certain it sparked a lot of commentary and debate amongst the membership. I think, at the end of the day, it takes the courage of certain members, certain leaders to truly believe that what they’re trying to accomplish is the right thing in restoring these great old courses. And I think here it’s a perfect example for every other classic course in the country to watch this week as to how it can be done successfully.”
“I think, when you look at a golf course that’s designed this well, there’s plenty of strategy out there without the trees. There’s the ditches, the bunkers, the greens, the contours, the slopes, and the trees really just pile on to that. I think they detract from the thought process because if it you get behind a tree, you’re just playing out sideways, and you’re really challenging golfers to take on shots that maybe they shouldn’t take on. I think that’s the essence of great architecture, and I think without the trees here, you might start to see players take chances, and that will truly reveal the character of the design.”
“To keep this family friendly, the two F words for architects are fair and frame, and I don’t think Mr. Fownes really appreciated either of those. They weren’t in his vocabulary. That’s why the golf course is so great.”
John Zimmers Jr.
“You can stand at the back of No. 9 and look at 16, 17 flagsticks, see the church pews. It’s as close today as it was back when Mr. Fownes was here. To see his work that’s just pure lay of the land, and as we were talking earlier, there isn’t streams and fancy things out here. It’s just the amazing contours of the land. To be able to see that, it’s magnificent.”