Picture Oakland Hills for the U.S. Open 34 years ago: "The Monster," Ben Hogan called it, along with some naughtier adjectives. On fuzzy-fast film, see Bantam Ben belting the beast into submission with that final-round 67 many consider the finest in the history of golf.
Zoom in on the Oakland Hills course for the '85 U.S. Open.
The Monster is nowhere to be seen?
You say a half-dozen guys who couldn't lug Hogan's bag have it trit-trotting with some other puppies just now? And that it cowers in a corner every time Fred Couples unsheathes his driver?
Oakland Hills still has enough teeth to bite the pants off Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Craig Stadler and some minor golf gods.
Still, with little more than a zephyr at his back, Fred Couples reached the 527-yard par-5 second hole in the first round with a drive and six-iron.
"Isn't it awful!" said Robert Trent Jones.
He is the other pre-eminent Jones in golf. He is offended personally, and as a purist, at the beating Oakland Hills is taking this week.
In 1951, he worked his architectural artistry under an alias: Frankenstein. Yep, it was Jones who created The Monster.
He rebuilt Oakland Hills because some of golf's most influential leaders thought it might be embarrassed by Hogan and the other sweet swingers in that '51 Open.
Oakland Hills is one of those courses that help trace the evolution of golf, because it has hosted so many important tournaments.
Cyril Walker won the '24 Open here with a 297 score; Ralph Guldahl won in '37 with a 281 that stood as the lowest Open score for 11 years.
Simple arithmetic whispered to great minds: if golf's masters had whittled 16 strokes off Oakland Hills from '24 to '37, the gang in '51 might abuse it as they would a course where one putts the ball through a giraffe's mouth.
Jones was hired to prevent that; he did, saying before the Open players planted a cleat on the course: "if the score is 286 or higher, the objective will have been accomplished."
Hogan's seven-over 287 won.
His 67 was one of only two sub-par rounds the entire tournament; the average for the field that final round was about 75.
Well, golf has been on fast-forward much of the last quarter-century. Consider: Hogan was nine-over after the first two rounds in '51 -- and won; Jack Nicklaus matched Hogan's 76-73 the first 36 holes this year -- and missed the cut by three shots.
Lots of players are flying the "penal bunkers" Jones devised for the '51 show; the rough is so tame that even the argumentative players regard it as "fair."
So what's happenin' here?
Is it progress?
The celebrated players -- Nicklaus, Watson and the others -- might have been so caught up in lore they treated Oakland Hills with more reverence than it deserved.
Maybe they were intimidated before their first official swing. Probably not, because Oakland Hills yielded another 281 in the '61 Open and -- gasp! -- eight-under 272 in the '79 PGA.
Jones looks at the leader board, at all those under-par red numbers, and shakes his head at the shame of it.
"Every hole should be a hard par and an easy bogey," he believes.
Par hasn't been so precious this week. In the '51 Open, only Hogan and Clayton Heafner had a round under par; in the '61 Open, 10 players broke par during the second round; in the '85 Open, a record 24 beat par the second round.
So . . .
"They're going to have to change the ball," Jones was saying. "It's going 30 yards farther than it did when Hogan won here."
What the lords of golf ought to do, Jones argues, is to legislate the distance golf balls can reasonably be belted.
Compression and aerodynamic standards are such that balls that can be beaten farther than 292 yards by reasonably powerful players are banned.
Jones wants that reduced to 250.
Only then will such as Oakland Hills remain more than a pitch-and-putt for the exceptional players of the next century, he insists.
"There's only so much land," Jones said. "You cannot stretch Oakland Hills any more. We added 20 extra yards to the second hole (that Couples humbled) as it is.
"The course was about 7,000 yards when Hogan won; to make everything comparable this year, it would have to be 7,700 yards."
In truth, players have been routinely pummelling par at usually stingy layouts all year. Lanny Wadkins was 20 under at Riviera in Los Angeles; Corey Pavin brought Colonial in Fort Worth to its knees.
I began to doubt that Oakland Hills was as mean as advertised months ago, when a few of us humble hackers were let loose on the course during the World Series.
Like Nicklaus and Watson, I was in awe of the layout -- and scattered forest creatures with some tee balls. Then I calmed some -- and parred 9 of the final 14 holes.
This was from the mortal-member white tees, naturally, but a fellow rarely breaking 90 on many municipal courses at the time had no business with an 86 on an Open course.
Watson predicted scores in the 90s this week. No way, Tom. My choking point is a $2 Nassau -- and I broke 90.
If the U.S. Golf Association chooses, any Open course can be tricked so nobody can get within 10 strokes of par for 72 holes. Remember the massacre at Winged Foot in '74? Or Hazeltine in '70? That's the course Dave Hill said was meant to be a cow pasture.
Similar tinkering can be done with golf balls. One exists now that Nicklaus cannot nudge more than 100 yards with his mightiest drive.
"You can make a golf ball that goes 400 yards," Trent Jones said. "I met a manufacturer from Japan 15 years ago who had such a ball. He showed it to me.
"A regular ball bounced (from a hard surface) to my waist; the hot ball bounced to my forehead. I said: 'God, don't ever (put it into full production).' "
Jones smiled and remembered how that long-ago conversation ended. The part of him that wants to beat the courses he builds suddenly grabbed hold of his thoughts and Jones found himself saying:
"No. Make one of those balls. For me."