Comprehensive Guide to Oakmont Country Club
Are you ready to learn about arguably the most difficult golf course in the United States? The USGA takes pride in hosting their Championships at the most challenging yet stunning properties that they can find.
It’s no coincidence that Oakmont Country Club has been the site of more U.S. Opens than any other venue – bar none.
The undeniably great golf course in Plum, Pennsylvania, is the one we are here to chat about today. We’ll start with some stories of how and when the club was opened before we transition into our description of the 7,254-yard track.
And by the way, the U.S. Open isn’t the only prestigious golf tournament that has been contested at Oakmont over the years.
We’ll make sure we enlighten you on what other significant golf tournaments have been played at Oakmont, not to mention what else is around the area. The United States Open is set to return to Oakmont CC in June of 2025. Use what you can gather from this article to help set the foundation for a summer vacation down the road!
Oakmont Country Club – Key Facts
- Plum, Pennsylvania
- Year Opened
- Owner/Operated by
- Course Designer
- Henry Fownes
- 71, 70 for the U.S. Open since 2007
- 7,254 yards
- Host to
- U.S. Open (1927, 1935, 1953, 1962, 1973, 1983, 1994, 2007, 2016), PGA Championship (1922, 1951, 1978), U.S. Amateur (1919, 1925, 1938, 1969, 2003)
- Official Website
A Major Championship Venue Opens in Pittsburgh
If you were only going to design one golf course in your career and call it a day, you’d hope that your creation turned out to be something special. In the case of Pittsburgh native and iron manufacturer Henry Fownes, this was exactly the scenario.
In 1896, 40-year-old Fownes made a fortune by selling his company to the Carnegie Steel Corporation, immediately making Henry a wealthy man and thrusting him into an early retirement.
The newfound extra time on his hands led him to his next project – building a golf course that would overlook the Allegheny River. By early 1903, Fownes had purchased 200 acres of land and hired 150 men and more than 20 mule teams.
He and his team would spend the next year perfecting the old farmland into an exquisite, links-style golf course. The original layout featured eight par 5s and a par 6, totaling out to a par 80! Apparently, Mr. Fownes was well ahead of his time and knew exactly how challenging the setup was!
Keep in mind that the former ironworker may not have picked up the game of golf until he was in his 40s, but that didn’t stop Henry Fownes from competing in 5 U.S. Amateurs. His son, William Clark Fownes, was an even more accomplished player.
W.C. participated in 19 U.S. Amateurs, including winning the 1910 edition. William Clark had so much knowledge of the game of golf that he appointed himself consultant of Oakmont Country Club after his victory at the 1910 U.S. Am.
He was pretty much the man in charge of all the decisions from that point forward and even went on to serve as president of the USGA from 1926-1927. It was safe to say that Oakmont was in some pretty good hands.
We want to tell you all about the golf course and what makes it so demanding for even the top players in the world. To do that, you have to have an understanding of the layout.
An Absolute Brutal Test of Golf
There isn’t just one attribute to Oakmont Country Club that makes it an indisputably tough golf course. In fact, there aren’t just two or three things that make it so grueling.
It’s the combination of everything about the place that when you add it all up, the sum is one stiff test. Ironically, most of the trouble isn’t the same sort of trouble you’ll find at most tracks.
So how on Earth is the golf course so exhausting? Why are the scores so high every time a Major is played here? Allow us to explain.
Between the 18 holes, there are around 200 bunkers. The greens are treacherous, and that might be the understatement of the century.
Due to the arduous blend of lightning-quick speeds and incredibly undulating peaks and valleys, getting around this place with no 3-putts is nearly impossible, even for the best players in the world.
The most notable feature about Oakmont CC is its definitive church pews-style bunker that separates the third and fourth holes. Tee shots pulled left at 3 wind up in the massive sand trap filled with 12 rows of gnarly grass.
Same thing on the 600+ yard par-5 4th hole. Any drives hit up the left side that don’t fade back will wind up in the highly-debated Church Pews bunker.
Another characteristic of this course that we briefly touched on is the severity of the slope in the greens. The putting surfaces aren’t just fast at Oakmont; they are incredibly slippery.
Holes like 1, 3, 10, and 12 all have back-to-front sloping greens, making chipping and putting increasingly difficult. It’s hard enough when you are coming into a green with a mid to long iron, especially if you are in the rough.
Throw in the fact that even a well-struck shot that gets to the green will just bound forward and roll right off the back edge, and it’s no lie that playing this course can become quite labor-intensive. See what we mean when we said this place wasn’t a bargain, no matter how low your handicap is?
As you get acquainted with how frustrating it can be to try and conquer the putting surfaces, we don’t want you to forget about the other parts of the golf course.
The course is long, and the fairways bend, but we haven’t brought you “up to speed” on the rapid velocity of the baked-out fairways when a U.S. Open is played here in June. Even a tee shot that appears to be perfect will have to avoid running through the fairway and into the unpredictable rough.
If you are even a tad bit off your game, your mistakes will be exacerbated by the viciousness of the rolling fairways. In the event that there has been a lot of rainfall, and the fairways aren’t running out like usual, then good luck hitting 3- and 4-irons into the majority of the holes.
The bottom line is that there isn’t a type of climate that makes playing this course easy. Even if Mother Nature grants you a perfect morning with no rain and wind, you’ll still have all the obstacles that Oakmont presents to contend with.
There Are Really No Birdie Holes
Even at the toughest golf courses, players typically have an opportunity to make up some ground on the par 5s. For PGA Tour players, the par 5s are almost always the easiest holes, as they represent the greatest chances to make a birdie.
The issue at Oakmont is that there aren’t four par 5s; there are only two. We told you about the first one being over 600 yards and guarded by the well-known church pews. The bad news is that the other par 5 on the golf course, no. 12, might be the harshest par 5 we have ever studied.
Forget about getting home in two on the 667-yard 12th; that’s left for only the “immortals.” The fairway slopes from left to right, and it isn’t a gentle one at that. Just laying up to a good number in the fairway is no easy task thanks to the 15 or so bunkers that come into play on this hole alone.
There’s a cross bunker that is eight feet deep. Balls that come chasing onto this green just keep chasing right off the surface of this front-to-back sloping green. Forget about being a birdie hole; players are ecstatic just to walk out of here without surrendering a shot.
If you look at a scorecard of Oakmont CC, you’ll notice the 17th hole is a short par 4, measuring only 313 yards in length from the back tees. Surely this must be the golfer’s best chance to make a birdie, right?
Not so fast, our friends. Unfortunately, the 313 yards on the scorecard only tells half the story. Players that get greedy and try launching driver onto this green will often times end up “scraping away” just trying to salvage a par.
The large bunkers and sticky rough swallow any balls not hit precisely enough, and then it’s like flipping a coin hoping you have a decent lie.
If you make it out of 17 alive, you’re just a 484-yard beast of a par 4 away from completing your round. More bunkers, more slopes, and another ultra-fast green await your arrival.
If you ever get to play Oakmont Country Club, we can unequivocally promise you won’t shoot the best round of your career. But there’s a good chance it’ll be the most fun you’ve ever had playing golf. If that doesn’t define a championship-quality venue, we’re not sure what does.
How about the fact that nine U.S. Opens have been played here, with a 10th scheduled in 2025? Does that make this place worthwhile enough?
Host of Nine U.S. Opens
If we tired you out with our descriptions detailing the brutality of this golf course, we apologize. We wanted to make it clear how difficult this golf course is and why it has been chosen as a staple in the U.S. Open course rotation.
The United States Golf Association is planning to come back in 2025 to host the U.S. Open for a 10th time, and there’s a reason that they have already played the tournament nine times at Oakmont. It’s time to start diving into the instances.
The first time the United States Open was held at Oakmont was way back in 1927. Tommy Armour won the first of his three Majors at the inaugural U.S. Open at Oakmont Country Club, a tournament in which Tommy shot 13 over par and was still able to prevail in a playoff over Harry Cooper.
The course played a whopping 6,965 yards, and Tommy took home the first-place check of $500.
Given the status of the golf ball and equipment back in 1927, we can’t imagine what playing a nearly 7,000-yard course would be like. This helped us understand why the cut was 19 over par; it should do the same for you.
The next time the U.S. Open came to Oakmont, +11 was the winning score, and the honor went to Sam Parks Jr. The graduate of the University of Pittsburgh may have only won once on the PGA Tour during his lifetime, but he sure picked a good tournament to win.
Sam was awarded $1,000 for his efforts, a far cry from the first-place check that was handed out some 18 years later when the USGA returned.
This time around, the purse was $20,400, and the winning golfer was set to take home $5,000. The tournament, and quite frankly the entire year, belonged to a man by the name of Ben Hogan.
“The Hawk’s” victory at the 1953 U.S. Open at Oakmont was sandwiched in between victories at the Masters and British Open.
Not only did Hogan become the first golfer to ever win the first three Majors during the same calendar season, but fast forward to today, and he can still stake the claim as the only man to accomplish that feat.
By the way, it wasn’t even close that week. Ben finished at five under par, clubbing the field by six strokes.
Ready for a U.S. Open for the ages? How about a playoff between Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer? How about the site of the first Major Championship for the Golden Bear, the legend who would proceed to win 17 more after this? Does that get your blood flowing?
Jack was a baby-faced 22-year-old, fresh out of the Ohio State University. Arnold was the face of the PGA Tour, already having won 3 Masters, a U.S. Open, and a British Open by the time the two men clashed at Oakmont in ’62.
After Palmer missed a 12-foot birdie putt on the 72nd hole of regulation, the fans had exactly what they wanted.
The most popular player on tour would face off with the up-and-coming superstar that, at the time, nobody really knew just how good he would become.
Arnie was from nearby (Latrobe, PA) and had the entire collection of spectators rooting for him. However, to the dismay of the patrons, the kid from Columbus was too much to handle.
June 17th, 1962, marked the day that Jack Nicklaus joined the ranks of Major Champions in the game of golf. Little did we know that we some 50+ years later, we’d be calling him the greatest champion in the history of the sport.
The 1973 United States Open at Oakmont CC is remembered for one thing specifically. Johnny Miller’s magical final-round 63 is arguably the greatest final round in Major Championship golf history, and it has withstood the test of time.
He birdied the first four holes out of the gate on Sunday en route to shooting the lowest final round by an eventual winner in Major Championship history. This is what Miller told espn.com.
“That’s why it was voted the greatest round. There have been 59s shot, I shot several 61s in my career. But to shoot 63 at Oakmont on the last day to win by one is what makes the round what it is.”
We could go on and on telling you about Miller’s historic final round as many men and women in the golf world have reveled around his fairytale day in ’73. When it’s voted as the single greatest final round in Major Championship history, we figured that ought to justify its place in history.
At the halfway point of the 1983 U.S. Open, things weren’t looking very good for Larry Nelson. At the time, the 35-year-old from Fort Payne, Alabama, was at 6 over par, some 7 shots behind the co-leaders, John Mahaffey and Joey Rassett.
Some 48 hours later, and Larry Nelson was celebrating on the 18th green with the U.S. Open trophy in hand. So how did he turn things around?
How’s 65-67 over the weekend to storm up the leaderboard and overtake the field? It was good enough to edge out Tom Watson by a single shot and earn Nelson his first Major Championship.
Do you like 3-man playoffs on the Monday after a U.S. Open? Then you must like it when after 90 holes, two men are still tied, and more golf is necessary. That was exactly the case in the 1994 U.S. Open at Oakmont, an event which featured three men post -5, 279.
Curtis Strange was a shot out of the playoff after reeling off four consecutive rounds of 70.
At the end of regulation, it was Ernie Els, Loren Roberts, and Colin Montgomerie who had a tee time set for early the next morning. Monty bowed after a sluggish 78, but Els and Roberts were still deadlocked after matching 74s, despite Ernie starting off bogey-triple bogey that Monday morning.
Sudden death ensued. After Roberts lipped out his par putt and bogeyed the second playoff hole (the 11th), Ernie calmly two-putted his way to the title. This would be the first Major Championship for the South African nicknamed the “Big Easy.”
Clearly, it was just the start of something great, as Ernie would tack on another U.S. Open and a pair of Claret Jugs over the next 20 years.
Maybe Angel Cabrera hasn’t won dozens of PGA Tournaments, and perhaps he isn’t a household name for most golf fans. But the fact of the matter is that this man has a Green Jacket in his closet and a U.S. Open trophy on a mantle at home. There aren’t a lot of guys who can say the same thing.
Angel tasted victory for the first time on U.S. soil at Oakmont in 2007, and he did so by outlasting the field on an extremely difficult setup.
His score of +5 was one better than Tiger Woods and Jim Furyk, and believe us when we tell you that Cabrera felt the pressure coming in.
“El Pato” must have chain-smoked his way through a pack of cigarettes on the back nine alone that day, but hey – whatever it takes, right? The big-hitting and powerful Argentinian unleashed a 346-yard bomb down the 72nd hole, leaving himself just a flip of a pitching wedge into the finishing hole.
A green in a regulation and two putts later, and Cabrera was the United States Open Champion.
The 2016 U.S. Open at Oakmont was the tournament where Dustin Johnson finally got the monkey off his back. Dustin Johnson entered the week just a few days shy of celebrating his 32nd birthday, and boy, did he give himself the perfect gift.
DJ entered Sunday’s final round trailing leader Shane Lowry by 4 shots, although that was quickly overcome as the two men were tied with nine holes to play. By the time Dustin got to the final hole, the tournament was all but his.
A majestic drive and approach on the final hole led to a closing birdie and a 3-shot win. This was Dustin’s first Major Championship, but something tells us it won’t be his last.
Five U.S. Amateurs
While the United State Open is clearly the flagship event to have taken place at Oakmont CC, the U.S. Amateur isn’t far behind. Essentially the national championship for amateur golfers, there isn’t a more significant golf tournament that a non-professional golfer can qualify for.
Ask anyone who knows anything about winning the Havemeyer Trophy, and they’ll echo our same sentiments.
Merion Golf Club and the Country Club at Brookline are tied for having hosted the most U.S. Am’s with six apiece. Five U.S. Amateurs have been contested at Oakmont, putting the private country club in western Pennsylvania next on the list.
The first time the U.S. Am was played at Oakmont was in 1919, and the tournament was won by an American by the name of S. Davidson Herron. Six years later, the same tournament returned to Oakmont, and this time, it was won by a name that should ring a bell – Bobby Jones.
The victory at the 1925 U.S. Amateur was the second in a row for the young man from Atlanta, but he was far from finished.
He would go on to win three more U.S. Amateurs (1927, 1928, 1930) on his way to becoming the most accomplished amateur golfer of all time.
When the USGA came back to Oakmont to host the Am for the third time in 1938, it was Willie Turnesa who bludgeoned B. Patrick Abbott 8&7 in the final match.
His extraordinary play from the bunkers is what earned him the nickname “Willie the Wedge.”
The 1969 U.S. Amateur marked the fourth time the competition was held at Oakmont CC, and this time, it was recent graduate from the University of Florida, Steve Melnyk, who persevered.
The former two-time All-American for the Gators would go on to capture the 1971 British Amateur, putting him in some pretty heady company. Melnyk is one of 13 men who can stake claim to winning both.
The fifth and most recent time the U.S. Am was held at Oakmont came in 2003, and what a tournament for Australian golf it was. It had been exactly 100 years since an Australian-born player had claimed the U.S. Amateur.
A 19-year-old baby-face named Nick Flanagan was the man who put his nation on his back and was the last man standing in 2003.
He defeated Oklahoma State-standout Casey Wittenberg in 37 holes of action-packed golf. This is what Nick told USGA.org after his triumph.
“I really didn’t think I would be able to beat him today and, luckily, I might have got him on a half-off day. And, it kind of worked in my favor.”
Three PGA Championships
You know about the nine U.S. Opens and five U.S. Amateurs that have been held at Oakmont Country Club. It’s significant to note that three PGA Championships have been contested at the private club located in the Pittsburgh suburb of Plum.
The 1922 PGA Championship at Oakmont belonged to a 20-year-old kid named Gene Sarazen. The New York native nicknamed “The Squire” would later become the first man to conquer the career Grand Slam in golf when he won the Masters in 1935, but 1922 was the year he got it all started.
After winning the U.S. Open at Skokie Country Club a month earlier, Gene won six matches en route to winning the first of his three PGA Championships. Sarazen’s 4&3 victory over Emmet French in the final marked the first time the PGA had expanded from a 32- to a 64-player bracket.
Match play was utilized in this tournament in one fashion or another until 1958 when it was converted into a 72-hole stroke-play event.
“Slammin” Sammy Snead dominated the 1951 PGA Championship, but it wasn’t easy. The format was 12 rounds of golf in 7 days, signifying more of a marathon than a typical golf tournament.
The format started on a Wednesday with 140 players. This was whittled down to the top 64 after two days (36 holes) of qualifying.
After two more rounds on Friday, there were only 16 competitors remaining. Saturday matches were 36 holes, as were the quarterfinal and semifinal matches on Sunday and Monday.
The tournament was not finalized until the 36-hole Championship was completed on Tuesday, marking the 6th day of the competition. In the case of the 1951 final, Snead only needed 30 holes to dispatch Walter Burkemo 7&6.
John Mahaffey had a solid career on the PGA Tour, winning 10 times from 1973-1989. The highlight of his career undoubtedly came at the 1978 PGA at Oakmont, the site of his first and only Major Championship.
The 1970 individual and team champ from the University of Houston got it done at Oakmont by outlasting Tom Watson and Jerry Pate in a sudden-death playoff.
The dream was a reality – John’s name was going on the Wanamaker Trophy.
The Surrounding Area
The U.S. Open will head back to the eastern suburb of Pittsburgh for a record 10th time in 2025. That means there is plenty of time for you to make the necessary arrangements to make sure you get to see the action up close and personal.
If you are from the northeastern region of the United States, you’ve probably driven on the Pennsylvania Turnpike once or twice in your day. Perhaps you never made it to the section that intersects Oakmont CC, just south of the Allegheny River. Holes 2-8 at Oakmont sit east of the highway, while the other 11 holes are just to the west.
If you are lucky enough to attend the National Championship of golf when it makes its return to Oakmont, there will be plenty of other things to do and see while you are visiting. Flying in? No problem.
Once you land at Pittsburgh International Airport, start heading east, and you’ll see tons of cool things on your way to the course.
The downtown area features tourist hotspots like the Andy Warhol Museum and the Senator John Heinz History Center.
If you feel like seeing the largest museum dedicated to a single artist or want to learn more about your favorite brand of ketchup, these destinations should be right up your alley!
If you are traveling with family members or children, there is no better way to cool off after a hot and humid June day then by going to Kennywood.
The number-one amusement park in Pittsburgh is a never-ending paradise of games and rides, and it’s only 13 miles from the country club. No matter how old or young you are, you won’t be disappointed.
Oakmont CC – The Synopsis
Oakmont Country Club isn’t just a famous golf course that has hosted some illustrious tournaments over the years. It also happens to be a National Historic Landmark (after it was added to the list in 1987). There is a reason this place is so admired, and it’s not just one.
It’s the combination of all the history and tradition that has been steeped in the club since it opened in 1903 that makes Oakmont what it is.
The golf course is unquestionably challenging for even the top guys in the world. High handicappers that are blessed with the opportunity to play Oakmont should forget about their score and just focus on enjoying the day.
There are lots of tough golf courses, many of which have held big events. However, only one course can say they are on the cusp of hosting a U.S. Open for the tenth time.
We took you on a tour through all the instances an acclaimed men’s golf tournament has been played at the location, not to mention we explained what makes the place stand out.
The fact that the world-class players struggle on a track with no water hazards and no trees is a testament to how brilliantly the fairways and greens were designed. Some may say it’s unfair; others would call it the work of a savant.
The bottom line is that there isn’t a golf course in America that is better suited to host a U.S. Open. We hope you make the trip in 2025 and see for yourself!