Oak Hill Country Club is One of America’s Great Golf Masterpieces
By Bob Denney, PGA Historian Emeritus
The quest for the Wanamaker Trophy returns to Oak Hill Country Club. (Gary Kellner/PGA of America)
When Oak Hill Country Club moved to its current location in Pittsford, New York, in 1922, the 355-acre barren farmland was devoid of trees. Club members hired Donald Ross to design two courses, the East and West, and encouraged retired doctor John Ralston Williams to decorate Ross’s design with tens of thousands of trees, mostly oak.
Williams, the first physician in the country to use insulin in the treatment of diabetes, made Oak Hill his garden. He once said, “I discovered the Almighty was the greatest landscape architect of all. It was His plan to have oaks at Oak Hill.”
Williams reached out to arborists around the world for help, one acorn at a time. There were contributions from oaks planted by George Washington at Mount Vernon, from the Shakespeare Oak at Stratford-upon-Avon, from Sherwood Forest, the Cedars of Lebanon and from the Kew Gardens of England.
When asked how many trees he planted on the property, Williams said, “I stopped counting at 40,000.”
The East Course opened in 1925 and continues to challenge the world’s greatest players. Though several architects have applied changes over the years - including Robert Trent Jones Sr and Tom Fazio - Oak Hill turned back the clock in 2019 by commissioning Andrew Green to restore the greens and bunkers to Ross specifications.
In 2023, Oak Hill will host its fourth PGA Championship, second only to Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which hosted its fifth Championship last year. The 2023 Championship will also be the 14th PGA in New York, the most for any state.
Oak Hill had had a lasting imprint on PGA Championship history. Among the moments: Jack Nicklaus winning the penultimate major of his career by seven shots in 1980; Shaun Micheel striking one of the greatest clinching shots in 2003, a 174-yard 7-iron on the 72nd hole that left him with a two-inch, tap-in birdie; Jason Dufner’s second-round 63 in 2013, setting the East Course record and earning him the first major championship of his career.
In 1995, Oak Hill hosted the 31st Ryder Cup, which Europe captured with a stunning final-day comeback, 14½ to 13½.
There have been many other major and premier championships at Oak Hill: the 2008 Senior PGA Championship (won by Jay Haas); the 1998 U.S. Amateur (Hank Kuehne); 1989 U.S. Open (Curtis Strange); 1984 U.S. Senior Open (Miller Barber); 1968 U.S. Open (Lee Trevino); 1956 U.S. Open (Cary Middlecoff); and 1949 U.S. Amateur (Charles Coe).
As Ross intended, Oak Hill has been a unique test through the years. He once said of his design standards: “Make each hole present a different problem. So arrange it that every stroke must be made with a full concentration and attention necessary to good golf. Build each hole in such a manner that it wastes none of the ground at any disposal, and take advantage of every possibility I can see.”