ROCHESTER, N.Y — To witness Oak Hill Country Club’s East Course, a masterful layout that will test the world’s top players at the 2023 PGA Championship, is to see an ever-evolving block of clay, one that’s been molded and re-molded over a century.
So that begs a question: When did this pristine place become worthy of major championships?
Much like the course, that answer is still evolving.
The first glimpse the golf world got of the Donald Ross design came in 1934, when the City of Rochester’s 100th birthday and the 20th anniversary of hometown hero Walter Hagen’s U.S. Open win at Midlothian Country Club were rolled into a celebration at the course. Hagen invited a number of his closest friends, many of whom were big fish in the golf pond.
Although Hagen, then 41 years old, failed to crack the top 10 in the event, he played admirably. Meanwhile, the tournament was won by Leo Diegel, a four-time Ryder Cupper who won a pair of PGA Championships. Diegel shot 4 under to take the title, and he left as one of many who were impressed with the course.
“It was the first time many of the great golfers of the world had ever seen Oak Hill East,” said club historian Fred Beltz, who joked that he didn’t attend that event. “This gave members at Oak Hill a taste of big-time golf and it gave big-time golf a taste of Oak Hill.”
And while that first peek didn’t result in instant success in terms of catapulting Oak Hill onto a national tournament stage, it helped build some momentum. In 1941, the founder of the Gannett newspaper chain – now owners of USA Today, Golfweek and the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle – put up $5,000 to host the first Times-Union Open, named in honor of the now-defunct afternoon newspaper. Frank Gannett, who was a member at Oak Hill, hoped the tournament would shed light on the track’s beauty and could serve as a gateway to Rochester hosting a larger tournament.
In 1941, Sam Snead was victorious in the event, but the crowning achievement came in 1942 when Ben Hogan set the layout ablaze, breaking the course record with a 64 in his opening round. It was a record that stood for 71 years, only matched in tournament play by Curtis Strange, who also shot 64 on his way to winning the U.S. Open in 1989.
Although the tournament…
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