Oak Hill Country Club has survived a few months of wild weather. (Franklin/Getty Images)
By Jeff Shain, PGATOUR.COM contributor
When Tiger Woods speaks, headlines follow. And that was certainly the case last week when the world’s No. 1 player raised a caution flag over Oak Hill Country Club’s greens following an early look at the venerable PGA Championship site.
Perhaps, though, Woods just showed up for his practice round on the wrong day.
Heavy rains in June and early July, followed by two weeks of stifling heat, prompted superintendent Jeff Corcoran to order a cutback in the mowing schedule. Greens were trimmed only every other day, with handwatering as necessary to keep the putting surfaces healthy.
“We didn’t feel any need to double-cut and roll because one particular person was coming in for a practice round,” Corcoran said. “Our goal was to provide a great course for the PGA Championship this year. We stuck to that goal.”
Corcoran said it was only last week that the greens were able to fully recuperate. The ultimate verdict, of course, comes once the year’s final major begins on Thursday.
“Given the hand we were dealt with,” Corcoran said, “I think we’re going to have a really good championship.”
Said British Open champion Phil Mickelson: “I think the biggest X‑factor or unknown is just how quick the greens are rolling.”
Preparations were proceeding according to plan until the end of May, when a series of storms dumped nearly 16 inches of rain on the Rochester area over the next six weeks.
Allen Creek, the stream which meanders through the Oak Hill property, overflowed its banks five times in that time frame. The worst was a July 3 storm system that produced 2.15 inches of rain in less than 45 minutes and washed out every bunker over the club’s two courses.
“It took three or four days to rebuild all of them,” Corcoran said, noting that the storm also felled a tree near the eighth green, causing minor damage to the right front of that putting surface.
A heat wave followed, leaving nighttime temperatures hovering in the 80s. “We really started playing defense at that point,” Corcoran said.
When Woods made his early visit, he suggested Oak Hill’s bentgrass greens weren’t running any faster than 9 on the Stimpmeter.
“They don't have much thatch to them,” he said before last week’s WGC Bridgestone Invitational. “It’ll be interesting to see what they do for the tournament and how much they’re able to speed them up with kind of a lack of grass.”
By Monday, though, Woods had changed his outlook. “They certainly have sped up,” he said. “I think they are close to 11‑plus now. They have picked up a couple feet, easily.”
Golfers have no such concerns about the rough at Oak Hill, other than to worry about how to escape the Kentucky bluegrass and fescue after wayward tee shots. The rough currently stands at more than 6 inches, though it could be in for a trim before Thursday’s start.
“It's imperative to hit the ball in the fairways and hit the ball on the greens,” Woods said, “because it's going to be tough to get up‑and‑down.”
Oak Hill tweaked three greens during a 2011 upgrade, including a completely rebuilt surface at the par-3 15th that hugs a pond on the right. The fifth and sixth greens also were recontoured to bring Allen Creek more into play.
Weather forecasts call for a chance of rain late Wednesday and into Thursday’s early-morning hours. Sunny days are expected to greet the final three rounds, with temperatures in the mid-70s.