As Oakland Hills Country Club celebrates its centennial by hosting the 2016 U.S. Amateur Championship on Aug. 15-21, officials at the club in Bloomfield Township can only hope they see a finish like the one that settled their last Amateur Championship in 2002.
In that event, future PGA Tour players Ricky Barnes of the University of Arizona and Hunter Mahan of Oklahoma State University battled it out over 36 holes on the final day. In the end, Barnes defeated Mahan, 2-1, to win the prestigious Havemeyer Trophy. As a result, Barnes’ name will forever be linked with those of other notable U.S. Amateur champions including Bobby Jones, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Phil Mickelson, and Tiger Woods (three times).
Although Barnes defeated Mahan that day, Mahan has won six times on the PGA Tour, finished second seven times, and so far has amassed $29.6 million in winnings. Barnes, meanwhile, has not won on the tour, but has collected $6.4 million in prize money.
The Amateur Championship is the United States Golf Association’s oldest championship, dating back to 1895. It is also the USGA’s largest event, with 312 players in the field. Unlike 2002, which was the last time Oakland Hills hosted the championship and play was restricted to the famed South Course, players this year also will utilize the club’s North Course.
Following a two-year renovation, the North Course is up to championship standards, reports Steve Brady, PGA head professional at Oakland Hills. The update was prompted, in part, by a chronic water problem in an unsightly wetland on the 15th hole.
“The club decided to address the water problem and that led to the overall upgrading as tees were moved around, bunkers reworked, and trees addressed,” Brady says. “Now it’s an absolutely beautiful golf course. The amateurs will have to deal with The Monster (nicknamed by Ben Hogan in 1951) and they should enjoy the North Course, too,” he says.
Brady spent nearly 20 years at Oakland Hills before taking the head professional job this year. Brady, a Saginaw native, was inducted into the Michigan Golf Hall of Fame in 2013. He is a three-time Michigan Open champion and a two-time state PGA champion.
He says the U.S. Amateur is spectator-friendly. “You go to an Open or any of the other tournaments and everything is roped off, and you get steered toward seats in the grandstands,” Brady says. “In the Amateur, you get to stand right next to the players; you can stand in the rough or out on the fairway, and listen to them talk back and forth with their caddies.”
The Amateur Championship has another distinction: “You could argue about which professional tournament is the best to win, the Masters or the U.S. Open, or some other major tournament, but for the amateur players, this is the best one to win,” Brady says.
Brady predicts as many as 10 or 12 players from Michigan could be in the field in August, including members of Oakland Hills along with nearby residents.
“I think in terms of club enjoyment, the 2002 Amateur ranks right at the top of all the major championships that we’ve hosted,” Club President Terry Donnelly said when the event was announced last year. “It really is a fan-friendly event.”
For tickets to the 2016 U.S. Amateur Championship at Oakland Hills Country Club, visit oaklandhillscc.com or call 248-723-8726.