Raindrops were falling early this May when Jeff Corcoran walked Oak Hill Country Club East Course in Pittsford, NY, near Rochester. Corcoran, the manager of Oak Hill’s golf courses and courses for the past 20 years, had a lot of confidence in his brilliance.
Western New York’s unusually warm weather — only 50 inches of snow fell in the Rochester area instead of the usual 100 — was lucky for Oak Hill. Preparations for the course were ahead of schedule for the 105th PGA Championshipwhich runs from Thursday to Sunday.
Once known as “Glory’s Last Shot,” the tournament, which took place in August, moved later, as the fourth and final major of the year, to second place when golf moved the tournament to May in 2019.
The move was made after golf returned to the Olympic Games in 2016 in Rio de Janeiro, creating a conflict with the PGA Championship. This forced the PGA of America to move the tournament to July. Officials did not want to change the schedule of the Olympic Games every four years, so they chose a fixed date in May.
There were other good things about the game. By moving the PGA Championship to May, the FedEx Cup Playoffs could end in August to avoid competing with the NFL juggernaut.
The move to the PGA Championship wasn’t seen as a gamble when some of the hosts were down south. But this year’s northern landscape – its oak trees have not been fully abandoned – draws attention to the calendar change. The serious preparation of Oak Hill and the PGA of America, which manages the event, took the reduction of the famous winter season and the end springs provide a professional class in the management of the course.
Whether the weather suits them is in their hands.
“Mother Nature rules everything,” Corcoran said. “He didn’t give up. If they think there will be five inches, there will be five inches of snow. Or they might think it will be 70.”
This will be the first of 13 major golf tournaments held at Oak Hill, including three. previously the PGA Championship. The group was selected to participate in 2023 event eight years ago and he learned about the upcoming May move in 2017. He found a way to make the date.
Golf officials still admit that despite the season’s concerns, a second-place finish this season has helped put the show in the spotlight after the world’s most watched golf tournament, the Masters. It also ended the two-month gap from the Masters to the United States Open.
“It made good progress to have a big event every month,” said Kerry Haigh, head of the PGA of America tournament.
Consider that playing on August’s beach days prompted officials to create a marketing slogan to “make a problem look like an opportunity,” said Seth Waugh, head of the PGA of America, in an interview.
“I think we have a better audience,” he said. “I think we have a great story to tell. And I think we’re front and center.”
They can thank the work behind the scenes. For major tournaments, golf organizers often set up bases at local clubs – the courses and corporate tents – three months in advance. In Pittsford, about eight miles southeast of Rochester, however, the ground is usually cold in February.
According to Bryan Karns, the director of the 2023 PGA tournament at Oak Hill, the crew laid the wooden floor by November, building the floor and steel walls of the six-foot-high tents to withstand heavy snow.
The course closed to members in October. By that time, Corcoran had improved the economy’s key operations, including air conditioning, mulching and sanding and applying snow chemicals.
Remembering the cold May days at Oak Hill helps to keep the nerves at bay. The PGA Championship in 2008 and 2019 – which took place a few days apart in May – was marked by rain and strong winds, which made the conditions extremely difficult. In 2008, there was a frost delay in the cycle and snow in the first quarter, sending some of the officials packing. Jay Haas won with 7-over-par; there were only 12 rounds of golf on the weekend that week.
“It was a really cold week; “The weather was tough, and the numbers showed,” said Haigh.
Much has changed at Oak Hill since then. After the Senior PGA Championship ended in 2019, the course was renovated by architect Andrew Green. Corcoran called it a “sympathetic restoration” of the original 1926 design by Donald Ross.
The green removed hundreds of overhanging oak trees, making it easier for golfers to play, and improving the view for spectators. Now the large American club flag to the right of the 13th green will be visible from most of the front nine.
Green also designed three holes that didn’t appear to match Ross’s mold. He removed one altogether – the 3rd sixth which was his place four holes in one in the second round of the 1989 US Open. This is now section 4, combined with the fifth hole. Green pitched the fifth quarter. By restoring the greens to their original size, Oak Hill has been able to increase the number of bunkers, giving professionals a new golf course.
“Our goal is that it’s tough and tough and fair,” Haigh said. “This puts a premium on driving and hitting the fairway.”
The fairways will be shiny, even though the trees inside may not be green. “I can’t control this,” Corcoran said. “But they don’t play big races from treetops, do they?”