2023 PGA Championship Course Preview for Oak Hill: From Donald Ross to Andrew Green

2023 PGA Championship Course Preview for Oak Hill: From Donald Ross to Andrew Green article feature image

Via Gary Kellner/Getty Images. Pictured: A view of the Wanamaker trophy on the 13th hole at Oak Hill Country Club on June 7, 2021 in Rochester, New York.

As we approach the season's second major championship, I will be your conductor in looking at some of the first-look situations that players will encounter during Oak Hill Country Club (East Course) for the 105th iteration of the PGA Championship.

Beyond anything else, it is a venue with a ton of storied history and unique concepts when you look into the layout of the land. That generates interesting concerns for those wayward with any facet of their game, so let's dive into some of those questions that golfers should expect to have answered when they tackle Oak Hill.

If you haven't already, you can find me on Twitter @TeeOffSports. There, I will provide a link to my pre-tournament model, a powerful and interactive data spreadsheet that allows user inputs to create custom golf rankings. That sheet is released every Monday, so be sure to check it out and construct your own numbers from my database of information.

Oak Hill Country Club

First and foremost, throw out anything you think you have learned about this course in the past when it has hosted the PGA Championship in the last 20 years. Any of those plodder expectations of 2003 and 2013 are a thing of the past, and the new-look (but old-styled) venue will be locked and loaded to generate despair for those who cross its path in the second major of the season.

All of that starts to tell this dangerous story of what might be in store for everyone with the bite I am expecting from the track. In order to properly talk about the changes, let's first go back to the past and highlight what this course used to be under the days of Donald Ross's original construction.

How The Course Came To Be

We can date this back to 1901 and highlight the city of Rochester wanting a golf course of its own to compete with the other lavish properties in New York. The town started with a nine-hole venue that served its purpose for a handful of years, but as time went on and the city's aspirations grew more prominent, it required a trade of the land to acquire more acres to build its property of the future.

Insert Oak Hill Country Club and the vision of Donald Ross, who walked the land in 1922 and signed off on the property because of its rolling hills and elevation changes. We know from most Ross designs how his courses demand a plethora of different shots, and he delivered on that front with this picturesque facility that merged beautifully with the land's topography.

Changes To The Donald Ross Design

Unfortunately, that is where things started to take a turn for the worse over the next 30 years. Major championship dreams led to its first overhaul before hosting the 1956 U.S. Open, and changes continued for decades past that point, as different architects tried to alter Ross's original design to appease major championship golf enthusiasts.

Honestly, change can be a good thing when you need to adapt, but with the venue moving further and further away from how it was meant to be played under the initial mindset of its creator, something did get lost in translation during the past two PGA Championships that were held there.

In my opinion, the course lost most of its bite in 2013 when Jason Dufner captured the title at 10-under par. None of that suggests it lacked difficulty (often on the contrary), but the strategic layout felt much more like it belonged at a different event than a PGA Championship track.

I always have thought of a PGA Championship property as one that demands driver-heavy affairs and rewards quality off-the-tee play and stout second shots from distance. This challenge started to get lost in translation and presented the opposite of that strategy, which naturally forced the alterations in the 2020 redesign by Andrew Green to bring the course back to its roots.

Enter Andrew Green

Green's first line of business was restoring the setup to more of how Ross had this venue structured nearly 100 years ago. He used old sketches and pictures to recapture the greens, edges and shape of the land, not to mention that he sanded out the surface/flattened the edges to allow a higher collection area for shots.

Those alterations provided a much cleaner contextual look and highlighted the multiple-tiered nature of this course. However, Green didn't stop there and removed countless trees to open this property back up to play as this rugged test that would not only expose the field to more of the conditions but also helped to reroute some of these holes to feature the countless pitfalls, including a stream that will run throughout the property.

Some front nine pics from Oak Hill.

-Bunker depth on the 2nd
-Mega false front on the long par-3 3rd
-Tee view on the 615 yard par-5 4th
-Up the hill to the green on the 9th pic.twitter.com/FHqKjLkICA

— No Laying Up (@NoLayingUp) May 15, 2023

PGA Championship In May Versus August

When Oak Hill initially got clearance to host the PGA Championship, it was a venue slated to play in the middle of August and not in May. That might not seem like something that changes much from an expectation standpoint. Still, it is crucial to highlight how colder weather during this time of the year will turn an already gnarly course into one that further diminishes distance off the tee.

That factor will transform this property into a brutally challenging layout that doesn't allow much room for error because of the luscious rough that has grown out from the recent rainfall, adding to the compounding issues because of the lack of rollout that players will experience with their driver.

Final Thoughts

I don't know how you view this course as anything other than tumultuous agony. Golfers will need their very best form in all iterations of their game to succeed, which is the kind of expectation that gets me excited when there is this much history on the line.

New York has often been known as one of the world's capitals in hosting title fights. The only difference is that this time it will be moved over five hours from Madison Square Garden to Oak Hill Country Club to allow an actual 156-man war.

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