Oakmont, site of US Open, is Links-style Course Again

Fans who remember the 1994 US Open played at Oakmont Country Club will be astonished at the course when the tournament is played June 11 - 17.

Somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 trees have been removed from the areas around the tees, greens and fairways at Oakmont. There are no longer trees on any interior portion of the course. The restoration began after the 1992 U.S. Women's Open.

Because of the changes, Golf Digest now lists Oakmont as the #5 course ... right behind New Jersey's Pine Valley Golf Club, Augusta National Golf Club, Long Island's Shinnecock Hills Golf Club and Cypress Point in Pebble Beach, CA.

Many consider Oakmont's greens to be the fastest in the world. The course boasts more than 180 bunkers, including the legendary Church Pews. Although right now, ice and snow cover the course.

Tom Meeks, the USGA's director of rules and competition said about the changes to the course, "In all my years of doing championships, I have never seen a course looking better."

Before it was founded in 1903, Oakmont was a farm. The land resembled the barren appearance of the Scottish links that founder Henry C. Fownes, a Pittsburgh industrialist, admired.

In the 1960's, Robert Trent Jones was commissioned to plant more 3,500 trees, including crab apple, blue spruce and flowering cherry. The course went from the link-style course to a parkland-style course.

The removal of the trees, for the most part, was done secretively. Mark Kuhns, the superintendent of the course, and a crew of 12 workers would begin cutting down trees at 4:30 a.m. They used lights from the maintenance carts to illuminate the area.

"We'd take out three or four trees at a time," said Mr. Kuhns, who is now superintendent of Baltusrol Golf Club in Springfield, NJ. "We had all the equipment loaded the night before and everyone knew their job. We'd spread out tarps so we didn't get a lot of sawdust on the ground. We had two sweepers who would sweep up all of the leaves.

"We'd cut the trees, grind the stumps down to nothing, throw down some soil and plant sod. We would even fluff the grass back up. We would be cleaned up before the players got there."

Other changes since the last time the event was at Oakmont include:

  • a 50,000 square foot facility will be constructed on the public course Oakmont East that will house merchandise sales. (In 1994, it was simply a small merchandise tent.) Nearly every manufacturer in the industry will be selling their merchandise
  • Three hospitality villages will be erected
  • A 35,000 square foot media village
  • More grandstands for spectators -- space found due to the expansive tree removal program

To learn more about this topic, go to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette, February 11, 2007

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