Oakland Hills Set to Host US Amateur Qualifier on North Course
It was February 17, 2022. Then Ben Smith, a senior in a red shirt from Georgia Tech, was on the golf course when suddenly his phone started exploding. Golfers and athletes dream of the moment after an unprecedented win when the congratulatory texts start pouring in. Unfortunately, this occasion was not for a good reason.
“I was playing golf and started getting tons of texts and phone calls about it,” Smith said. “I immediately thought, ‘Are they going to be able to keep all of the memories and all of this history inside the clubhouse?'”
The clubhouse on the historic grounds of Oakland Hills Country Club, host to 17 championships including six US Opens on the famous South Course, was burning down.
Today, July 5, nearly four and a half months after the devastating loss, the club’s North Course will host one of 94 American Amateur Qualifying Tournaments held across North America.
“Oakland Hills has always been the pinnacle of golf in Michigan”
Smith’s memories at the club go back years, but begin to take on greater significance in August 2016. The Novi, Michigan native qualified for the US Amateur, which was to be held that year for the second time in its history in Oakland. Hills.
“It was my first time qualifying for the US Amateur, so to be able to do it 20 minutes from home in a place that is so dear to me was really special,” Smith said.
Smith shot 74 on the “Monster” and 73 on the north course, missing the playoffs 23-8, which included Sahith Theegala, Maverick McNealy, Matthew Wolff and Stewart Hagested, among others, by five shots. He returned three years later and achieved redemption on the North Course.
After birdie-nil on the north side in the second round of the US Amateur Qualifier, Smith went nine over two rounds of stroke play at the 108th Michigan Amateur to secure medalist honors by four against eventual US Amateur Champion James Piot. The medalist award would have been reason enough to feel vindicated. Smith went further and dominated the match play, defeating the University of Michigan’s Patrick Sullivan 2&1 in the final to win the title.
“My swing coach, who I’ve been with since I was 8, taught in Oakland Hills,” Smith said. “So he was able to be there and I became good friends with a lot of the pros there. So it was really special to be able to win there with all the people I know around me.”
It was around this time that he met Jack Nicklaus, who was in town for another Golf Association of Michigan event that was taking place during the Michigan Amateur era. They chatted on the green just outside the clubhouse, creating memories that will last forever.
Smith gained access to practice facilities through his relationship with swing coach Dan VanLoozen. So because he was not a member, his movement inside the clubhouse, which would have been 100 years old in 2023, was restricted. He remembers admiring countless pieces of memorabilia lining the walls, displayed in display cases, decorated throughout the building. Few, if any, of those items were saved in the blaze that reportedly caused $80 million in damage.
Smith’s farewell season as a member of the Ramblin’ Wreck golf team had its ups and downs. He competed in eight events and averaged 73.04 – second to last on the team. Although he finished tied for 11th in the Calusa Cup, which was the fourth of the team’s five wins in the 2021-22 season. And in the Yellow Jackets’ first victory, in Hawaii at the Maui Jim Invitational, Smith shot a 63 in the second round to post the team’s second-lowest score over 18 holes that year. Ross Steelman made him better a day earlier.
Championship golf on the horizon in Oakland Hills
After Tuesday’s 36-hole US Amateur qualifier on the North Course, Oakland Hills has plenty of championships lined up.
The US Junior Amateur will make its first appearance at Oakland Hills in 2024, marking the fifth different USGA event to be held there. Then in 2029, on the 100th anniversary of its first US Women’s Amateur, Oakland Hills does it again for the 129th consecutive edition of the tournament.
In 2031 with the arrival of the US Women’s Open, it will become only the fifth club to have hosted the US Open, US Women’s Open, US Amateur and US Women’s Amateur. They will host again in 2042.
The US Open will return to Bloomfield Hills in 2033, and once again in 2051, bringing the club’s total to eight, and the first since 1996.
“You can already see what the Rocket Mortgage Classic coming to Detroit Golf Club has done for the community,” Smith said. “It’s astronomical. And it’s just a regular occurrence on the circuit. So to have a major championship coming back here will be huge.”
Additionally, the club is set to host the 2038 US Girls’ Junior and the 2047 US Amateur.
Gil Hanse’s recently renovated south course will be the showpiece of all the aforementioned championships. Always known as a tough course, the upcoming US Junior Amateur will be the golf world’s first look at the Monster’s new look.
“You either hit the fairway or you’re done,” Smith said of the tough South Course.