From the 2007 PGA.com article: “Tree Trimming Reveals the Original Oakmont”
Oakmont presents something rarely seen this side of the British Open -- a major championship test on a nearly treeless golf course. But it's not the new Oakmont, it's the old one. The original, in fact. Some 5,000 trees from a gone-sour beautification program in the 1960s had to be cut away to restore Oakmont to what founder H.C. Fownes, a Pittsburgh industrialist, designed and built in 1903 on an old farm outside town. H.C. and his son, W.C. Jr. (named after an uncle), produced the all-time penal golf course. Oakmont once had some 350 bunkers (that's down to about 210), and still has greens of chilling speed. W.C. Jr. explained the Oakmont approach to golf in two simple statements:
1. "A shot poorly played should be a shot irrevocably lost."
2. "Let the clumsy, the spineless, the alibi artist, stand aside!"
So it wasn't on charm that Oakmont stood the test of time for over 100 years. Oakmont has hosted 19 national championships: Seven U.S. Opens (the tie with Baltusrol for most Opens will be broken in 2007), five U.S. Amateurs, two U.S. Women's Open, three PGA Championships, and three National Intercollegiates (now known as the NCAA Championships). Oakmont has made history in other ways:
The Nicklaus Era started with the 1962 U.S. Open, when Jack Nicklaus beat Arnold Palmer in an 18-hole playoff. Sidelight on history: Palmer three-putted 11 times in the 90 holes, Nicklaus only once.
In the 1973 U.S. Open, Johnny Miller came from nowhere in the final round with a stunning 63 on a soaked course, a record for a major. Miller thus triggered the Massacre at Winged Foot in the '74 Open. He'd violated the 11th Commandment: Thou shalt not shoot 63 in a U.S. Open.
Some footnotes to history:
The tree-cutting program was the most controversial issue ever to hit Oakmont. The cutting began in the early 1990s, with crews working little at a time under the cover of darkness.
In the '62 Open, first round, Phil Rodgers, not wanting to take an unplayable lie, chose to hit his ball out of a little evergreen at the short 17th. It took him three hacks. A bogey-5 would have won for him. A 6 would have tied him for the Nicklaus-Palmer playoff. Rodgers made 8.
In the 1935 U.S. Open, Edward Stimpson, a golfer-spectator from Massachusetts, after watching Gene Sarazen putt off a green and into a bunker, was inspired to devise a method for measuring the speed of greens. Enter, the Stimpmeter.
W.C. Jr. had his own device for measuring green speed. He'd drop a ball at the back of No. 2 green, and if the ball didn't roll down off the front and into the fairway, he'd want to know why.
Lee Trevino, once discussing course conditioning: "There's only one course in the country where you can step out right now and play the U.S. Open, and that's Oakmont." Trevino amended the statement: First, they have to slow down the greens. (Some USGA officials, among them Jim Hand, former director of competitions, had said the same thing.)
Except for No. 8, every Oakmont green is where H.C. Fownes put it in 1903. The eighth green was moved a few yards for the construction of the Pennsylvania Turnpike in the 1930s.
Oakmont values its caddies. There was the case of Old Mike. He finally couldn't take any more from one especially obnoxious member, so one day, crossing to No. 2 on the bridge that spans the turnpike and a railroad, he lifted the guy's bag over the edge and dropped it neatly down into a passing coal car. Oakmont's response: Mike wasn't fired, but a screen was built over the bridge to discourage future deposits.
How tough is Oakmont? Johnny Miller called it the "most difficult test of golf in America." Gene Sarazen said it has, "all the charm of a sock to the head." And both those guys won majors there. Club founder Henry Fownes issued this warning: "Let the clumsy, the spineless, the alibi artist stand aside." What is it about the course that backs up that kind of talk?
Its main defense is a medley of slick, wildly contoured greens, which are bolstered by thick, tangled rough, ditches along the fairways and, not least, some 200 bunkers. "A shot poorly played," Fownes growled, "should be a shot irrevocably lost."
When Oakmont opened in 1903 there was nary a tree on the course; Fownes designed the layout to resemble the wide open links of Britain. And so it remained until the run-up to the 1962 U.S. Open at Oakmont, when Herbert Warren Wind (the writer who gave Augusta's "Amen Corner" its name) characterized the course as an "ugly old brute" in The New Yorker. The club promptly planted thousands of trees to "beautify" the holes, which were later removed in an attempt to revive the original design.