OAKMONT, Pa. - The members of Oakmont Country Club take great pride in showing off their difficult golf course to the world's best players, but the United States Golf Association is going a step or two closer to sheer brutality.
When Oakmont hosts the U.S. Open for the eighth time next month, players will see - gulp! - a 288-yard par-3 and a 667-yard par-5, the longest holes for their respective pars in U.S. Open history.
"It's the most talked-about hole in the locker room at the moment, that eighth hole," said defending Open champion Geoff Ogilvy, referring to the 288-yarder. "We don't have driver or 3-wood par-3s, so it's going to be interesting to see how that's going to shape up."
As for the par-5, which is hole No. 12, Ogilvy said, "we like hitting our second shots on the greens on the par-5s, not hitting our third shots with 6-irons on the par-5s. We are much happier hitting second shots near the green. It makes it more of a challenge, but I guess it makes it more fun, too, in some respects."
To be fair, tees will be moved around on the two long holes. The par-3 may play as "short" as 252 yards, which was its yardage in the 1927 U.S. Open and every Open held here since then, according to Mike Davis, the USGA's senior director of rules and competitions.
The tee on the 12th will be moved up to 632 yards. Because the hole runs a bit downhill, the longer hitters could go for it in two, but bunkers and high rough could deter them.
Perhaps the biggest difference at Oakmont from 1994, the last time the club hosted an Open, won in a Monday playoff by Ernie Els, has been the removal of nearly every tree on the golf course, nearly 4,000 of them. That lends a rather linksy feel to the layout. Wind will sweep across the grounds rather than swirl in the tall trees.
"Aesthetically, it's a big, big change, taking it back to the [course design's] original intent from the start," Davis said. "Even though it's not a true links course, it was really after that concept."
Bunkers have been redone, and some have been added, giving Oakmont a total of 210. The most famous of those are the "church pews," which lie to the left of the third and fourth fairways and have been lengthened, widened and deepened to where they are 26,000 square feet.
"I've heard reports that it's going to be one of the hardest courses we've ever seen," said Ogilvy, who talked via teleconference.
Overall, the course designed by H.C. Fownes, which opened in 1903, will play at 7,230 yards - 284 yards longer than in 1994 - and par-70.
Three of Oakmont's par-4s will be laid out so that players will have a chance to take a shot at the green. The shortest of those three is the 313-yard 17th, which will provide some drama from those trying to make up ground on the leaders.
"Will they be drivable every day? No," Davis said. "But will the USGA try to make them drivable by shifting tee markers a little bit or moving hole locations? Absolutely. We think it's just great drama."
"This really is the gold standard for championship golf," Davis said. "It doesn't get any better than Oakmont. This is just fantastic."