Changes to the club's signature hole, the par-4 16th, had fallen so far behind schedule that workers had to erect the circus tent over the green to "cook" a rush order of bent-grass sod from Canada. (Twenty years later, parasitic nematodes indigenous to Canada would be found under the 16th green, producing frowns of puzzlement among agronomists—until someone remembered Jones's imported sod.) To make things worse, bad weather in the spring of '51 retarded growth to the extent that Jones was compelled to over-seed the fairways with Poa annua, a noxious turf grass. ("That'll grow on the moon," says Ted Woehrle, course superintendent at Oakland Hills from 1968 to 1991.) If not a monster, the Oakland Hills of '51 was at least a mongrel—and one with plenty of bite.
"Brutal," "unfair," "ridiculous." The players' complaints competed for air space with their golf shots. The coda was provided by the victorious Hogan, whose winning score was 287, seven over par. When the wife of the architect, lone Jones, offered her congratulations on his closing 67, one of only five rounds of par or better that week, the unsmiling Texan replied, "Mrs. Jones, if your husband had to play golf on the courses he designs, your family would be in the breadline."
Bobby Jones Jr. and Rees Jones, who were 12 and 10, respectively, sensed that their father had done something important, but they weren't sure if he was regarded as a saint or sinner. "That tournament made my father," says Bobby, who remembers being very proud when the crowd at the trophy ceremony called Trent up to take a bow. "In those days, golf architecture was like stagecraft. Nobody cared who designed the sets." Rees, on the other hand, didn't like it when people called his father the monster maker of the fairways. "I thought they should have called him the master maker of the fairways," he says. "It's almost as if my father had a crystal ball and saw what the changes in equipment had in store for the game."
Be that as it may, the Oakland Hills of June 1951 proved too difficult for member play. Oswald had several of the Jones bunkers removed, and subsequent years have seen greenside traps and other features reappear and vanish in harmony with various national championships. This year, for example, five greens have been recontoured to create more pin positions. Old-timers—still smarting, perhaps, from the lenient setup for the 1979 PGA Championship, which David Graham won with an eight-under-par 272—claim the course again needs toughening. "The players are going to tear the place apart this time," predicts Chuck Kocsis, who tied for 16th and was low amateur in '51.
There are, of course, benefits to be derived from not regarding something as frightening. Jackson, who lives in a house by the dogleg of the 4th fairway, still sees the '51 Open through the eyes of a 12-year-old. He remembers the course as a fairground, the daunting John Oswald as "a big teddy bear," and the golfers Johnny Bulla and Fred Haas as colorful houseguests. Most of all, Jackson remembers the lemonade stand he and his younger brother Mike set up behind the 4th tee—and the fact that even the grim Hogan bought from them all four rounds.
Oakland Hills '96 will provide similar good memories for those who see its storied terrain not as a torture track, but as a landscape of opportunity.
As Rees Jones puts it, "It's not a monster anymore. It's just a great test of golf.