Golf Course Architecture - Issue 65, July 2021

56 South roars back A bold, aggressive new restoration by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner brings renewed life to a championship venue. Bradley S Klein reports OAKLAND HI LLS COUNTRY CLUB, MI CHIGAN, USA ON S I TE I t’s early 2020, and Gil Hanse and his design partner, Jim Wagner, are touring the famed Oakland Hills Country Club South course with superintendent Phil Cuffare. The main playing surfaces – tees, fairways, bunkers and greens – are stripped down to bare dirt. That’s what it takes to bring a golf course back to life: first you have to take it to within an inch of its recognizable existence. Which doesn’t prevent Hanse from seeing how the main features function. From the middle tee on the eleventh hole, over 400 yards from the green, Hanse gestures towards the top of the right greenside bunker and tells his crew: “That line needs to come up four to six inches so that it creates an edge. We don’t want to be looking at the f lat top of the twelfth tee behind it.” This is what he sees, from 400 yards away: a matter of half a foot. And it’s observations like that, carried out over 160 acres for 22 months, that make the difference between what Oakland Hills South was when it went under the knife (bulldozer, actually) in September 2019 and how it has emerged upon reopening in July 2021. The process goes by various names: retrofitting, ‘restovation’. Sometimes Hanse refers to it as historic renovation, though in the case of Oakland Hills the South course turned into more of a restoration than had originally been intended. The terminological vaguery is understandable in the case of a vintage championship course with two legendary lineages: originally by Donald Ross in 1916, and then subjected to the