Oak Hill Country Club manager of golf course and grounds Jeff Corcoran exudes confidence and intensity, a potent combination for somebody responsible for maintaining some of golf’s most historic land. Corcoran is one of the best in the business at producing awesome course conditions and developing talent.
His philosophies mirror the western New York vibe: bust it every day and share credit with others.
He has now led the maintenance efforts of two PGA Championships. The pressure his team faced in 2023 proved enormous because of what the event means to the community they represent. Pre-tournament estimates indicated the economic impact to the region will approach $200 million. The once-in-a-decade boost isn’t easily replaced, and Rochester can’t pitch abundant lodging, an airport with numerous direct flights, ideal weather or Fortune 500-type business environment to the PGA of America, USGA or other organizations seeking sites for huge events. That leaves Oak Hill as Rochester’s biggest selling point in the cutthroat request to attract men’s major championships.
Good luck, though, sensing that pressure in Corcoran. He’s a cool character.
As I walked to my vehicle in the shuttle-bus parking lot after attending the second round of the 2023 PGA Championship as a spectator, I received a phone call from Corcoran. I immediately answered, probably too stunned to utter anything meaningful. The massive crowds overloaded the cell networks around Oak Hill, making it difficult to post photos to social media during the morning and afternoon. I used the 15-minute shuttle ride from the course to Monroe Community College to post Twitter and Facebook updates about the awesomeness of Oak Hill in tournament action.
I made the eight-hour roundtrip trek to Oak Hill in a day, leaving home at 3 a.m. and returning shortly before 9:30 p.m. to say goodnight to my wife. It was a gametime decision, and I didn’t want to burden Corcoran, his staff and volunteers by requesting their time. Corcoran noticed my social media posts and hoped to reach me before I left the course as his team waited to begin its evening work. Given the magnitude of the week and demands on his time, Corcoran was the last person I figured would call my cell phone that evening. He was also the last person I wanted to bother. Bad read on my part! I owe him and his team a return visit.
I’m confident I’ll visit Oak Hill again. I’m less confident that I’ll attend another men’s major championship at the club.
Oak Hill is a glamorous place amid gritty surroundings. Rochester — population 210,606 — is the smallest community to host a men’s major championship this century. The city also hosted PGA Championships in 2003 and 2013.
Will Oak Hill remain on the 10-year cycle?
The PGA of America has booked PGA Championship sites through 2030. The association recently unveiled PGA Frisco, a massive and modern facility it owns in the booming Dallas-Fort Worth metroplex. PGA Frisco is hosting PGA Championships in 2027 and 2034. After stopping at Valhalla Golf Club in Louisville, Kentucky, and Quail Hollow Club in Charlotte, North Carolina, the next two years, the PGA Championship begins a run at clubs in major metropolitan areas.
Oak Hill also has a USGA history, hosting the three U.S. Opens, two U.S. Amateurs and a U.S. Senior Open. The club is scheduled to host the 2027 U.S. Amateur. But the USGA has moved toward an anchor site system for the U.S. Open, with 2031 the only opening in the next 13 years.
Small and midsized cities are being pinched from major championship schedules. Money means more than history and hospitality.
Fabulous golf courses are a must for a city such as Rochester to continue hosting major championships. Fortunately, Corcoran and his team delivered a product that gives their community a chance to continue competing for what should be more than a $200 million prize by the 2030s.
From sharp mowing lines to intimidating bunker faces sculpted by highly trained turfgrass maintenance artists, Corcoran and his team nailed every detail. The Andrew Green-guided East Course restoration resulted in green complexes guarded by bunkers that actually played like hazards and clever mounding. Expanding the greens to resemble what Donald Ross intended promoted an electric course setup featuring an abundance of corner hole locations. Once on the greens, players putted on heavenly bentgrass surfaces.
Anybody who understands playability and presentation left Oak Hill mesmerized by what Corcoran’s team had produced in May, a month not known for peak golf conditions in western New York. I think I tried telling Corcoran some of the above during our surprising Friday evening phone conversation.
The stakes are high for everybody responsible for maintaining a golf course. Economies and households depend on playability and presentation.
Oak Hill personified those stakes and how turf leaders and teams handle them at the highest level.
Guy Cipriano is Golf Course Industry’s editor-in-chief.
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