Date: August 07, 2013
Author: Mike Clayton /

Clayton: Would Ross recognise his Oak Hill today?

Oak Hill in Rochester, New York is a Donald Ross golf course but if the Scottish-born designer came back to watch this week&aposs US PGA championship he would be hard pressed to recognise it as the course he made in the 1920s. Ross was one of the great architects who worked in the most productive age of course building. From 1913 and the National Golf Links of America to 1932 and Augusta National, America lead the way and a staggering number of brilliant courses resulted. Some have been well preserved and sensitive architects determined to preserve the legacy of men like Ross, George Thomas and Alister MacKenzie have restored others to original glories. After the Second World War others modernized some of these classics and the most prolific modernizer was Robert Trent-Jones. At Ross Oakland Hills in Detroit and Oak Hill, he completely altered the bunker schemes Ross had so brilliantly arranged. Later the Fazio family rerouted a couple of holes holes in the middle of Oak Hill s front nine in order to make gallery flow easier (could there be a more horrible reason to alter a classic hole?) and they rebuilt the par three 15th, coming up with a hole unlike anything Ross would have countenanced. Then there was the inevitable narrowing of fairways. Ross was a man who celebrated width and giving options of line from the tee to the players. It was a philosophy borne out of The Old Course at St Andrews where choice and options abound like no other. In Australia MacKenzie showed off the same principle to best effect at Royal Melbourne and that is the principal reason it is still the finest course in the country. Oak Hill, too was crowded by an ambitious, and many would argue ill-advised, tree planting scheme that further eliminated options and narrowed the course to the point where it is now a simple exercise of hitting between the lines that delineate between fairway and the high, thick and green rough sure to keep the best scores this week close to the par of 70. Such is the fashion of course arrangement in the United States, with the exception of The Masters, for championship golf and that will be the test this week. It was also the test last week at Trent-Jones Firestone and there Tiger Woods made the rest of the field look somewhat second-rate with his extraordinary play. When Woods looks so commanding and controlled there is no one in the game who can beat him and the only question is the obvious one. When is he going to win one of these things again? Jack Nicklaus endured droughts without major championship wins, the longest in his peak years stretching from the 1967 US Open to the 1970 British Open. Like Woods he contended in many but there was an inevitability he would win again. Woods last won one of the championships he most coverts in 2008 but like Nicklaus he has been an almost ever-present threat for at least the last couple of seasons. At Muirfield last month he was perfectly positioned at the half-way mark but just as he had done at Augusta and Merion he missed putts and fairways and slipped out of the car park on Sunday night with a nice finish and a whole lot of frustration. Once again he is the most likely and his altered method looks to be both an improvement and to be well bedded in after a couple of years of hard work. Adam Scott has also become as close as one can get to a constant factor in the majors and like Woods he had a tremendous chance to win The Open. He made a horrific three putt from twenty feet at Muirfield s 15th hole to lose any chance but that day Phil Mickelson was irresistible. Scott showed magic with the long putter at Augusta but those awful two putts at Muirfield showed even the elongated putter isn t foolproof in the face of great pressure. Jason Day too has played some tremendous golf in the biggest events and Oak Hill s setup will be indistinguishable from the test he has relished at the recent U.S Opens at Congressional and Merion. He has developed the power game so critical to success on the PGA Tour and there is little question, such is the quality of his action that his time will come. Woods and the Open champion, Phil Mickelson though will be the ones all eyes will follow at the beginning before the play fashions the makeup of the contenders on Sunday afternoon. If they were both there at the end it would make for a brilliant finish to a season where the biggest championships have not disappointed.