There were significant questions about Oak Hill’s ability to host a major championship heading into 2023. Questions of a sort the storied club had not dealt with in decades.
Could the club support the infrastructure and influx of fans during Rochester’s fragile May climate? Was the East Course still up to the task of testing the world’s best players while entertaining everyone else after Andrew Green’s restoration in 2020?
As it turns out, the answer to both was a resounding yes. Perhaps even beyond most reasonable imagination.
“I think everybody wanted to see how we could perform in May,” 2023 PGA Championship General Chairman Ron Pluta said. “I think we’ve outperformed everyone’s expectations.”
The course itself is at the top of that list. It was bleeping hard, but it was fair and it was widely praised by the players it frustrated for 72 holes. Phil Mickelson tweeted that Oak Hill and the PGA of America “nailed” the set-up. He complimented the fairway width, the rough height and the East Course’s ability to remain playable in a variety of weather.
The membership’s reaction?
“The word that comes to mind is pride. Our membership is just so proud of how our course shined,” Pluta said. “We went through four seasons this week. We had a frost delay on Thursday. We had rain (Saturday). We had sunshine and close to 70 degree weather (Sunday) and the course came through perfectly.”
The week did not come without some issues. Cell service was a constant frustration all over the course. In an era of golf viewing where handing old school pairing sheets has been replaced by a push to download an app, that’s a problem that can’t be ignored. It’s no easy solve either, as Pluta points out, with 30-thousand-plus cell users a day spread over nearly 400 acres. Many of those acres untouchable due to their function as part of the event.
Parking was also a hot button for fans. During championship play, many shuttle lots were full before most the field even got on the course. Ride sharing was embraced by Rochester, but not enough to ease the strain. Pluta says the PGA Championship move to May from August brought an added obstacle in this department.
“What we did lose was the high school (lots) because high schools were still in session and that hurt us a little bit,” he said. “I think, if we ever get this opportunity again, we’ll get a head start and try to secure larger parking areas.”
The club handled the schedule change with flying colors otherwise. The buildout plan to begin construction in the fall and finish after winter broke was smooth from start to finish. Trees had mostly bloomed by the time tees were in the ground Thursday to provide the proper “look” for a golf event. While the weather had some wild swings typical for Western New York in mid-May, the only delay was two hours Thursday morning to let frost clear. Rounds two through four all ended on time.
It won’t be long before the talk in Rochester turns to the next major championship. The U.S. Amateur is coming to Oak Hill in 2027 which could open the door to a U.S. Open down the road. The relationship between the club and the PGA of America also remains incredibly strong. It’s easy to imagine another PGA Championship returning to Rochester in a decade or so.
Regardless, Oak Hill and Rochester did their part putting on a heckuva show last week. And the club membership knows it.
“I feel more confident today (about another major coming to Oak Hill) than I did two weeks ago,” Pluta said. “I think there’s no question now that we can host major championships in May.”