OAKMONT, PA. This week’s US Open at Oakmont CC — the club’s record 9th time as host — is significant in more ways than just from the golf side of things. Pittsburgh is not in the first tier of large American cities such as New York, Los Angeles and Chicago — but its desire to impact the broader sports scene is often overlooked and under appreciated by many. This past Wednesday the community celebrated the Stanley Cup triumph of its beloved Penguins hockey franchise – the team’s 4th — in front of 400,000+ people who beamed happily in enjoying the moment in grand fashion.Pittsburgh doesn’t get the quite of attention because others with larger populations and media concentrations often block out its ongoing contributions. However, this “rust belt” city has transformed itself in the last 20-25 years and now provides a concentration of key elements — with sports being central to its core identity.
The US Open golf championship presents another dimension in an area justifiably proud of how the world’s best players and those interested in the game have come to see what Western Pennsylvania provides. Clearly, the golf side will never usurp the domain of the city’s most favored team –the 6-time Super Bowl champion Steelers. Football weighs heavily here and the roster of stars who have made major contributions is legendary with the likes of quarterbacks Joe Montana, Dan Marino, Jim Kelly and Joe Namath, to name just four Hall-of-Famers.
The baseball side is ably provided by the Pirates. The franchise doesn’t have the deepest of pockets comparable to the NY Yankees, Boston Red Sox or Los Angeles Dodgers — but is able to compete successfully in most years. It was also the Prirates who provided an open door to Latino players – the most famour being the great Roberto Clemente.
The greater Pittsburgh area also is home to Arnold Palmer — the man who brought golf to the masses with his rousing play in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. Palmer still calls nearby Latrobe home and his status has only increased as he has aged. Now 86, the seven-time major champion has had recent health issues but his overall well being has improved recently — although he was not able to travel to Oakmont for this week’s event.
Palmer encapsulates the “can do” and “gritty” nature of what endears such athletes to a community that long has had its roots in the blue collar side of things. It was through Palmer’s down-to-earth appeal that drew people to golf who had never seen the game as something of interest.
The embedding of golf runs deep in Western Pennsylvania on both the private and public side of the domain. Clubs such as Pittsburgh Field Club and Fox Chapel are two other stellar private clubs beyond the stature of Oakmont. On the public side there is a range of fine daily fee layouts such as Olde Stonewall, Totteridge, Indian Run, The Madison Club, Quick Silver and Birdsfoot, to name just a few that are quite good in plenty of ways. In 2011, Golf Digest named The Steel City as the 2nd best community in the USA for public golf and many were likely puzzled. A simple visit would convince them otherwise.
The rolling terrain adds a good bit of beauty and architectural heft is certainly present with many of the courses.
Clearly, Oakmont highly occupies center stage. The Fownes designed layout is often cited — along with the likes of Winged Foot / West in Westchester, NY — as the two most demanding of courses used for the US Open.
Those attending the event epitomize the cross section of local natives. There are those who are golf-centric and have the means to be members at different clubs in the area. On the flip side — the”lunch bucket” golfers who relish the opportunity to step on the grounds of one of the world’s greatest courses. Together they share seats across from one another as they get to enjoy the crowning of the next champion of American golf.
Oakmont commands center stage in the golfing world this week. The course put forward a specific style that mirrors the ethos of Pittsburgh — fight hard and you shall be rewarded because nothing less will sufffice at a layout that penalizes even the slightest of errors.
Golf will never replace the role the Steelers, Pirates and Penguins play but the game tugs at the heart of those who call Pittsburgh home. Arnold Palmer became the game’s greater ambassador and his legacy will forever shine the brightest of lights on this grand community.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?