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85th PGA Championship: The growth of tradition at Oak Hill

You could say the roots of Oak Hill Country Club and the University of Rochester are inextricably intertwined.
Long before it was transplanted to rolling acres in Pittsford, Oak Hill was rooted in soil that later produced some of the 20th century’s leading minds.
Oak Hill was founded 102 years ago on picturesque land along the Genesee River. The following year, members dedicated an old farmhouse for their clubhouse on Decoration Day, May 30. The club grew, and an additional clubhouse went up in 1911. At this location for some 20 years, Rochesterians grew adept at the new Scottish import of golf.
By the early 1920s, UR was bursting at the seams of its Prince Street buildings. Community leaders began scouting the area for land on which to grow the university to national prestige. Among the sites were land along Webster’s lakefront, East Avenue, Irondequoit Bay and the current home of Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.
While university trustees and faculty debated the merits of each, businessman George Todd rallied his friend Rush Rhees, the university’s president, behind the idea of a move to Oak Hill. UR benefactor George Eastman’s backing also was key, but he was staunchly against the idea at first, preferring to expand at Prince Street. Todd enlisted the help of attorney James Havens, who convinced Eastman that Oak Hill was the perfect new home for the school, local history sources show.
Still, one major obstacle sat in their way: making the move worthwhile for Oak Hill Country Club.
“The University of Rochester raised the money to make it attractive for Oak Hill to consider coming out here,” club historian Donald Kladstrup says.
Bankrolled by Todd, Eastman and other businessmen, the university purchased some 350 rural acres in Pittsford for Oak Hill’s new home, arranged for two courses to be laid out and landscaped, and helped pay for the building of a clubhouse. Total cost: $360,000.
Famed course architect Donald Ross was recruited to design the East and West courses. A golfer himself, Ross was known for bringing an artistic sensibility to what previously had been an engineer’s job. His courses were challenging, with narrow fairways and subtle contours that blended well with the surrounding land.
Oak Hill was no exception. Eighty years later, both courses at Oak Hill still bear his signature design. Two other great course architects-Robert Trent Jones and George Fazio-also put their mark on the East Course with renovations in the 1950s and the 1970s, respectively.
A local physician, John Williams, nurtured and planted thousands of seedlings that grew into the oaks, maples and evergreens that fill the courses today. Local architect Arthur Headley designed the Tudor-style clubhouse.
Oak Hill was not the first major golf club in the area-the Ross-designed Country Club of Rochester opened in 1895-but it is arguably the best-known. The club has hosted the U.S. Amateur in 1949; the U.S. Open in 1956, 1968 and 1989; the PGA Championship in 1980 and 2003; and the Ryder Cup in 1995.
Oak Hill members say Rochester’s early-20th-century community leaders had the vision to transform rolling farmland into a lush, wooded playground for lovers of the game-a setting that ultimately would catch the world’s eye.
“What foresight,” says Thomas Mooney, CEO of the Rochester Business Alliance Inc. and a club member. “(Eastman) probably couldn’t have imagined how successful in the field of golf this would have been. But the way he did it was absolutely perfect.”

08/01/03 (C) Rochester Business Journal

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