ak Hill began life in 1901 as nine holes beside the Genesee River, with a converted farmhouse for a clubhouse. Two decades later, due to golf’s burgeoning popularity and an irresistible land-swap offer from the University of Rochester, it moved to a much larger site in the suburb of Pittsford, where Donald Ross laid out two 18-hole courses, the East and West.
John Ralston Williams, a local physician and botanist, planted 75,000 oak, maple, elm and evergreen seedlings to line the fairways, and golf writer Sal Maiorana wrote many years later: “As you walk the grounds of Oak Hill, you can’t help but gaze skyward at the majestic trees that dominate the landscape. They soar to the heavens, lending both an unmatched beauty and a treacherous detriment to one’s scorecard.”
The East Course came of age in 1941, when the local Times-Union newspaper posted a $5,000 purse that attracted a field including Walter Hagen, Ben Hogan and Sam Snead, who was the eventual winner. Many changes have been made since then, by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in the early 1960s, and later by Tom Fazio.
However, in recent times it was felt the ubiquitous trees were choking Ross’s original design, so an extensive pruning and felling program, plus a rebuilding of all the greens and bunkers, was initiated three years ago under the supervision of Andrew Green, assisted by 1988 PGA champion Jeff Sluman.
With the work completed, Oak Hill will host its seventh major in May. The previous six were PGA Championships won by Jack Nicklaus (1980), Shaun Micheel (2003) and Jason Dufner (2013), and U.S. Opens won by Cary Middlecoff (1956), Lee Trevino (1968) and Curtis Strange (1989). Other highlights in the East Course’s illustrious history include the 1995 Ryder Cup, two U.S. Amateur Championships, two Senior PGA Championships and the 1984 U.S. Senior Open.