We’ve written about the most storied clubs in the United States . . . Merion, Seminole, the Country Club and Pinehurst, but have never managed to write about Oakmont. In celebration of the upcoming U.S. Open to be held this year in Oakmont, we correct our oversight.
It you can define a course by the quality of the champions that have won there, then Oakmont is unquestionably great: Tommy Armour, Bobby Jones, Gene Sarazen, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan, Jack Nicklaus, Johnny Miller, Ernie Els, and Angel Cabrera. Oakmont Country Club has hosted more combined USGA and PGA championships than any other course in the United States including eight U.S. Opens, five U.S. Amateurs, three PGA Championships, and two U.S. Women’s Opens.
We begin reviewing the books of Oakmont by noting what are not books associated with the club. Edward B. Foote’s 1989 Beginning At A Black Oak: A Centennial History of Oakmont 1889-1989 is a history of the town of the same name. Likewise Bob Rector’s History of Oakmont Country Club 75th Anniversary 1922-1997 is a history of the other Oakmont: a club with the same name located in Glendale California.
Oakmont Country Club’s first history was Foote’s Oakmont Country Club, the First Seventy-Seven Years, published in 1980 (D & J F10870). The book was issued with illustrated boards and without a dustjacket. The first history is only eighty pages and gives a good period view of the course.
Oakmont’s first club history by Edward Foote
It includes multiple color photos of the course from 1978 and shows high rough, some burned out patches and golf carts in abundance (along with those frightening 70s fashions).
The book is a good effort and details the history of the Fownes family, and has a record of the tournaments held through its publication date.
Marino Parascenzo wrote the two most recent Oakmont histories. Parascenzo was the golf writer for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, he is the recipient of a major achievement award from Augusta National, and also won the PGA Lifetime Achievement Award recently. His first book, Oakmont 100 Years, was written in 2003 (D & J P4140) and is 257 pages and was issued with a dust jacket.
Oddly, the club printed another history in 2009, just six years after their 2003 history. Titled simply Oakmont, the revised and updated club history is 274 pages and includes coverage of the 2007 U.S. Open held at the club. Both histories were published by the Fownes Foundation. The latter two histories are much more comprehensive than the first and give a good feel for not only the history of the course but also of the club itself. Parascenzo gives great insight into how to improve your score at Oakmont, “Well, I’ve uncovered one secret to playing Oakmont. It’s how to handle the greens. It’s all in the touch. You determine just how hard you want to hit any given putt, and then you reduce that by half. It takes courage to try this, but it works. It really cuts down on the three-putts and four-putts.”
The dust jacket of the club’s 2009 updated history
Both of Parascenzo’s books cover the rich history of the club in detail, and in particular the role played by the founding family: the Fownes’. They also include the architectural drawings for the historic clubhouse and beautiful color pictures of the course and the interior of the clubhouse.
Given the difficulty of Oakmont, Johnny Miller’s U.S. Open round of sixty-three clearly qualifies as one of the single greatest rounds ever played. Miller, Ernie Els, and I have at least one thing in common. Both Els and Miller call Oakmont’s first hole the hardest opening hole in championship golf, and I wholeheartedly agree. The tester is out-of-bounds down the right-hand side the entire length of the hole. If you don’t hit the ball far enough on your tee shot, you have a blind downhill shot to the green. The green slopes right to left and back to front and is lightning quick. Many golf course architects believe in a moderately easy hole to open with, then the course gets progressively more difficult. The father and son designers of the course did not share this philosophy. Their design philosophy of, “A shot poorly played should be a shot irrevocably lost,” was executed with precision when they designed Oakmont.
— John Sabino