Over the years I’ve had the good fortune to play some really great golf courses. Torrey Pines, Pebble Beach, Spanish Bay, Carnoustie (!), Nairn, The Kittocks at St. Andrews, Ojai Valley, Aviara, Pelican Hill…just to name a few. Last weekend I got the chance to add the venerable Oakmont Country Club to my list.
Oakmont is a world away from my normal west coast haunts. “Traditional” would be an understatement for the club’s culture. It was quirky, formal, historic and genuine –
everything you might imagine from a club rooted in the early 20th century. Our hosts Mr. Fitzgerald and his brother (no relation to F. Scott, to my knowledge) were lifelong 3rd generation members there and made us feel welcomed. We had a group of eight players staying on the premises and playing a couple of rounds, including my longtime friend Tracy.
The course was another matter entirely. Oakmont has a reputation as one of the most difficult courses in America, and we happened to play it during an historic heat wave. On the first day in particular I was a little disappointed because I was competing against the heat rather than the course. As you get more and more stressed by the heat you start to make little mental mistakes, not helpful in golf. It was hard to just enjoy being there.
The round on the second day was just as hot for the first nine but the weather relented a tiny bit as a storm front blew in. We finished (survived) our second round at Oakmont weary, drenched and more than ever respectful of the conditions pro golfers play in each week. Every course they play is tricked up to its max difficulty, and they do in fact play through some heat waves. At some point it’s more work than fun – that’s why they call them pros.
Aside from the heat the course was as advertised. Beautiful, tough and a true test of golf. It has about 200 sand bunkers and our group found many of them. And the greens – I’ve never played such slick and unforgiving greens. Even when I hit a green in regulation, par was not a given. Or bogey.
All in all, it was a strange weekend, quite memorable and at times miserable. Memorable for the glimpse at how the other half lives, for the experience of staying in an historic place and for the humility a course like Oakmont hands you. Miserable for the extreme weather. I find that I’m less and less tolerant of hot weather, and this was some of the hottest I’ve ever been in.