Despite quirky spring weather, Oak Hill ready for ‘our Super Bowl,’ the PGA Championship

ROCHESTER, N.Y. — If ever there were truer words spoken about Rochester’s always unpredictable spring weather, they came from the mouth of Oak Hill Country Club greens superintendent Jeff Corcoran late last week.

“Yeah, it’s been an interesting type of spring; the weather’s been a little bit schizophrenic,” Corcoran said.

That’s pretty much par for the course because that can be said for just about every spring in these parts and none of us really pays too much attention because we’re all accustomed to the rollercoaster ride Mother Nature takes us on. We know that it might snow on a Monday, be sunny and 80 degrees on a Tuesday, and rain on a Wednesday. We shrug, wash, rinse, and repeat.

However, Corcoran and his staff have had to pay extraordinarily close attention to the weather because it impacts almost everything they’re doing as they get the East Course ready to host the 2023 PGA Championship, May 18-21.

And the good news is that the wide swing in weather variance — for instance, a mid-April week where the temperatures were in the 70s and 80s, and more recently a stretch of nonstop rainy days — has actually been a good thing for course preparation.

“We’ve had some warm weather, we’ve had adequate rainfall, so I think that when it’s all said and done, the next two weeks look really good and I think we’re gonna be in a good spot,” Corcoran said.

The front nine at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York. (Photo: Gabe Gudgel/Golfweek)

The rough has always been the primary defense for the East Course because there isn’t a lot of water or out of bounds areas. Sure, fast greens with subtle undulations are a challenge, but the pros putt on greens like that every week. They rarely see rough as long and thick as it will be at Oak Hill.

This is the third time Corcoran has had to prepare for a professional tournament in May, but this is the earliest. The 2008 and 2019 Senior PGA Championship events were held on Memorial Day weekend, but this PGA Championship is a week earlier, and we all know a week can mean a lot regarding Rochester weather.

Taking a look around the East Course last week, you can see that much of the foliage has already blossomed, and that will only continue this week and into next when the players arrive. And thanks to the rain that has fallen persistently but not in damaging deluges, coupled with the fertilization that is taking place, the acres and acres of grass look spectacular, green as it is lush.

Weather forecast for PGA Championship 2023

It’s still early, but the first part of next week is shaping up to be fantastic.

The early forecast predicts mostly sunny days for the start. Highs are expected to be in the 60s for Monday-Wednesday, with lows in the mid-to-high 40s.

As for rain, always a worry during spring, Monday could bring some precipitation. After that, the threat subsides through Wednesday.

Oak Hill will play differently during PGA

Corcoran said the only real difference between the course the members would ordinarily play and the one the PGA pros will see is the length and density of the rough. He keeps it penal but playable for the members, but for the pros it will be penal and penal.

Corcoran compared it to anyone who has a lawn at their home: the grass is always thicker in the spring and you may have to cut it twice a week as opposed to the summer when it might be once a week.

The 13th hole at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York. (Photo: Gabe Gudgel/Golfweek)

“Just like any championship that’s been held at Oak Hill Country Club, if you miss the fairway you’re gonna be in trouble,” he said, adding that once the competitive rounds start Thursday, the rough, per PGA of America mandate, will not be cut the rest of the week so by Sunday, it could be extremely gnarly.

It has been 10 years since the last PGA Championship in Rochester, so not many of the players in the field have played the East Course. But even for those who have, this is not the same layout.

And here’s the thing: While the PGA can dictate what height the rough should be cut, there’s really no way to control the thickness. When the PGA Championship used to be played in August, the rough was long but at that point in the summer, some of the density was lost due to hot temperatures. That won’t be the case next week.

It has been lengthened to nearly 7,500 yards; two holes were extensively changed; one hole was built to replace one that was deleted; all of the greens have a new strand of grass and some were reshaped that has created new locations for pins; areas around the greens are now mowed tightly which can alter strategy; hundreds of trees have been removed; and most of the bunkers have been re-contoured.

“There isn’t really one aspect from one through 18 that will be the same as it was in 2013 or even the Senior PGA Championship in 2019,” Corcoran said.

‘This is our Super Bowl’

Getting the course ready is a labor of love for Corcoran and his staff which regularly numbers around 60 – remember, there are two courses at Oak Hill – but will expand to around 130 for the tournament as volunteers from other clubs both locally, nationally and even internationally will lend a hand. It’s also nerve-wracking.

“For me and my profession, this is our Super Bowl,” he said. “I would say that if you ask all the guys on our staff that really have a vested interest in this industry, I think they’ll tell you the same thing; if you’re not nervous, then it doesn’t mean anything. The world’s watching, it’s a major championship, and if you love golf, this is what it boils down to. And we have the opportunity to prepare a golf course for the PGA Championship.

“It’s one of those moments that you kind of wish for.”