A comparison of Venues – Valhalla vs. Oakland Hills

Day 1 -Tuesday – Practice Round

A comparison of the Venues – Valhalla vs Oakland Hills

When Valhalla (Norse mythology-The great hall where Viking warrior souls feasted and celebrated) opened in 1986, Oakland Hills was celebrating its seventieth birthday and had already hosted five US Open Championships, two PGA Championships,the Womens US Amateur (1922), the Western Open (1924), and the US Senior Open (1981).

When Donald Ross, America’s premier golf architect of the early 20th century saw the Oakland county dairy farmland that the founding membership had purchased in 1916, he declared, “The Lord intended this property to be a golf course. Prior to the 1951 US Open, Robert Trent Jones tweaked the fairways and redid fairway and greenside bunkers to meet the new technology in vogue then. The 35th Ryder Cup matches played at Oakland Hills in 2004 was set up at 7,084 yards with four par 3’s and two par 5’s. The South course encompasses 170 acres.

The severe undulating greens that had been in place since the Ross design were the primary cause of the American teams poor showing as they lost to the European team for the third consecutive time by a lopsided margin. (18-1/2 to 9-1/2).

Valhalla Golf Club, now owned by the PGA of America, was founded as a “golfing only” club in 1981 by Louisville kitchen cabinet magnate and 1940’s Indiana University football star-Dwight Gahm. He presented a 350 acre parcel of land on the outskirts of town to Jack Nicklaus for golf course development. Upon seeing the property, Nicklaus called it “a golf designers dream with a wide variety of terrain, vegetation and water. For the Ryder Cup matches to be played this week, Nicklaus did a course upgrade in 2006 that regrassed all of the greens and recontoured some of them (they are all large putting surfaces). In addition, he added new bunkers, repositioned others and gave the golf course an additional 329 yards. Spectators and television viewers will note that every fairway has a dogleg and that the course varies from pasture/parkland on the front nine to woods and water on the “home nine.”

This week, for the Ryder Cup, the course will measure 7,496 yards with four par 3’s and three par 5’s. There have been two PGA championships held at Valhalla since it opened. In 1996, Mark Brooks won in a one hole playoff against Kenny Perry, a native Kentuckian. In 2004, Tiger Woods held off little known professional Bob May in a PGA created three hole playoff.

This will be the ninteenth Ryder Cup played on U.S soil since the matches commenced in 1917 at the Worcester CC in Worcester. Mass. The event has not been played at any American venue more than once. In addition to Oakland Hills, some of the more famous courses to host the US version of the Ryder Cup through the years have been: Scioto CC (Columbus), Pinehurst, East Lake-Atlanta,The Champions Club (Houston), The Greenbriar, Muirfield Village (Columbus, Oh), Oak Hill (Rochester, NY) Kiawah Island and Laurel Valley, Pa.

The remnants of Hurrican Ike hit the Louisville area this Sunday with some tree damage and an amount of damage done to the temporary infrastructure put in place for this major international golfing event. Some tents were torn, television towers topppled and debris strewn over the golf course. There was no one on the golf course during the storm and cleanup activities allowed for practice day patrons and contestants to get onto the golf course today.


Jim Judge
GAM Correspondent