South Course at Oakland Hills Undergoes $12M High-tech Renovation

When Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township reopens its renovated South Course, dubbed “The Monster” by the legendary Ben Hogan, it will be a blend of modern technology and golf history.
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Oakland Hills South Course
The view of the Oakland Hills South Course restoration from the veranda of its iconic clubhouse. // Photo by Tim Keenan

When Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township reopens its renovated South Course, dubbed “The Monster” by the legendary Ben Hogan, it will be a blend of modern technology and golf history.

Gil Hanse, principal architect on the $12.1 million project, says the goal was to return the course’s appearance to that envisioned by its original designer Donald Ross. At the same time, the course will feature a high-tech PrecisionAire system beneath each green that will ensure “predictable fast and firm” conditions throughout the golf season.

“In August you can trick the grass to believe it’s June,” says Hanse of the PrecisionAire system, which drains moisture from the putting surface and pumps cool or warm air to the roots depending on the time of year. “There won’t be any finer turf grass anywhere in the country.”

Another goal of the project is to make the course more playable for members (who each contributed $10,000 to $12,000 for the renovation) yet more of a challenge for the professionals the club hopes to attract for future major championships like the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship.

Oakland Hills last hosted the U.S. Open in 1996 and the PGA in 2008. Since then, it has been the stage for the Ryder Cup in 2004 and the U.S. Amateur in 2016.

Work on the renovation is expected to be completed in October and be ready for play in July of 2021. The course has been closed since last fall.

In addition to installing the PrecisionAire system, Hanse and his crew of 60 workers removed 137 trees, took out a pond, added a creek, and reduced the number of bunkers from 130 to 90 — but made those 90 sand traps larger. Irrigation was improved so the course’s rough can grow healthy and thick to present an even greater challenge. The course also can be lengthened to more than 7,600 yards for the big hitters on the PGA Tour.

“Courses have to evolve to keep up with the changes in the game,” Hanse says. “We’re trying to maintain the history and the playability for the members, yet make it a challenge for the best players in the world when they come to Oakland Hills for major championships. We’re doing the best we can to think of everything.”

Hanse says modern technology like GPS was used to map the clubs famously challenging greens before they were torn up to install underground facilities, and in some cases moved, so they could be replicated. Oakland Hills archives were used to review Ross’s original design.

While there is no guarantee that Oakland Hills will be granted another major championship, club pro Steve Brady says the project is a valuable investment. “It’s going to be well worth it,” he says.

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