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Kerry Haigh Q&A: The PGA of America’s setup man on setting up Oak Hill for the 105th PGA Championship

Kerry Haigh has been at the forefront of every PGA Championship since 1989 at Kemper Lakes outside of Chicago.

As chief championships officer for the PGA of America, Haigh will make sure every blade of grass at Oak Hill meets his exacting standards for the 105th PGA Championship.

Haigh, a native of England and a scratch golfer before turning his attention to golf administration as a career, is a straight shooter with perhaps one exception: he won’t reveal the speed of the greens at the PGA Championship beyond stating they are “championship speed.”

But, nevertheless, his tireless efforts to make sure a winner is declared on Sunday despite unscheduled weather interruptions that routinely pop up, have earned him a reputation as peerless at what he does.

Oak Hill in Rochester, N.Y., should serve up a splendid setting for a major yet again, and as Haigh told Golfweek, “As long as the weather is halfway reasonable it can be our greatest championship yet.”

Here are six things Haigh shared with the media ahead of the 2023 PGA Championship.

On Andrew Green’s renovations to Oak Hill’s East Course

Oak Hill Country Club
Oak Hill Country Club

The Oak Hill clock at Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York. (Photo: Joshua Bessex/Getty Images)

The Andrew Green renovations to the East Course at Oak Hill will make what was already a wonderful and challenging major championship venue into an even more interesting and enjoyable golf course. The changes included a total reworking of the bunkers, the addition of some low-cut roll-offs from a number of putting greens, the addition of a few new tees and the expansion of a few greens.

The sum of these changes, along with a reduction in the number of trees that were encroaching the fairways now provides an even better test of golf that will now require more strategy and more options for the best players in the world as they take on the 7,394-yard, par 70, beautiful rolling parkland challenge.

On the course setup for the 2023 PGA Championship

Oak Hill Country Club
Oak Hill Country Club

An aerial view of Oak Hill Country Club in Rochester, New York. (Photo: Gabe Gudgel/Golfweek)

The fairways at Oak Hill are not wide and historically have placed a premium on driving accuracy due to the challenging rough and trees. With the reduction of trees now lining the fairways, this may allow players to be a little more aggressive from the tee while still placing a lot of importance on hitting the fairways to allow for a more controllable approach.  

The greens will provide a stern test and provide a number of interesting and challenging hole locations. The greens will be at “championship” speed which we will plan to be an appropriate speed for the best players in the world and for the amount of contours within the green complexes.

On weather and course conditions impacting the first-ever PGA Championship at Oak Hill in May

Oak Hill East
Oak Hill East

Oak Hill Country Club’s East Course in Pittsford, N.Y. (Gabe Gudgel/Golfweek)

The change to our May date was made after we announced Oak Hill as our 2023 venue in 2015. So, playing in the third week in May could bring a lot of differences that we have previously experienced with our August date. Firstly, the course will just be coming out into spring and the leaves on the trees will be nothing near as full or dense as they were in August. The playing surfaces should be excellent but the temperatures will likely be much cooler than August and the wind is more likely to be a factor than it was in August. 

These factors could make the golf course more challenging and potentially more interesting but we never know what the weather will be until we get there. This is why it will be so much fun watching the best players in the world play in what could be very challenging or testing conditions.

On the potential of a drivable par-4 this year

The 320-yard par-4, 14th hole has always been a very fun, interesting and exciting short par-4. In both 2003 and 2013, we had players deciding whether to lay up or go for the green. The hole itself is steeply uphill with bunkers fronting the green and a newly designed short grass roll-off beyond the green.

The green itself is two-tiered and holding a ball on the top (rear) tier is a challenge in itself even with a short wedge shot in. Watching players decide how to play this hole is one of the more interesting aspects of the finish at Oak Hill. It certainly adds to the drama of any championship as it offers the opportunity for eagle, birdie or trouble.

On the most challenging or ‘pivotal’ holes on Oak Hill’s East Course

I honestly think all 18 holes provide unique challenges at Oak Hill. To try to limit it to three is difficult, but if we had to let’s suggest the following:

Hole No. 4: 615 yards, par-5 (“The High and Mighty”)

This S-shaped par five has had a new tee added to keep the right-side fairway bunkers in play. The tee shot is one of the most difficult on the course in that the fairway is one of the narrowest in the tee shot landing area and the fairway slopes from right to left. The left side has trees that block out a direct line to the green and forces a player to play conservatively to get the ball back into play. On the right side of the hole are trees and the perimeter road surrounding the golf course which is out of bounds. In past championships, we have had players who are trying to keep tee shots on the right side hitting it out of bounds. For those who do hit the fairway, they are left with a long second shot to an hourglass-shaped green, fronted by two steep bunkers, that provides some fun and interesting hole locations. Two great shots will see players reaching the green and possibly putting for eagle or birdie but a wayward tee shot could leave players struggling to save par. This is a wonderful par-5. 

Hole No. 7: 461 yards, par-4 (“Creek’s Elbow”)

This dogleg left par-4 once again calls for a tee shot that must hit the fairway. Most players will likely hit less than driver from the tee as there is a creek that cuts into the right side of the hole at around 275 yards. If players take on the creek they are left with a much shorter approach to a relatively small green. Any ball to the left from the tee will find rough and tree trouble and par will be a good score. 

The green itself is sort of rectangular in shape and has a steep drop-off behind. Players should look to play to the middle of this green and will then have an opportunity for birdie. 

Hole No. 15: 155 yards, par-3 (“The Plateau”)

This is a totally new hole that was built by Andrew Green during the renovation. Previously, there was a pond along the right side of the green. Andrew has tried to bring this shortest par-3 on the golf course more in line with the rest of the course. The tee is tucked back in the trees and often protected from the wind. Short and left are deep bunkers that will make for a challenging up and down. There is a tightly mown run-off area down the entire right side of the green that is 4-5 feet below the green surface and calls for a very interesting and challenging recovery. So, hitting this long and slim green is critical to being able to make a birdie but missing the green will make for a very pivotal hole.

On how holes 5, 6 and 15 were specifically changed

The changes to holes 5, 6 and 15 were a result of what took place many years ago when these three holes were changed from the original Donald Ross design. There was a feeling among club members that they were not in keeping with the other 15 holes on the East Course. So Andrew Green went to work and totally changed all three holes. 

Hole 5 is a new short par-3 of 180 yards, located by the main clubhouse entrance driveway. It provides a two-tier green surrounded by deep bunkers that should provide a lot of excitement, with opportunities for a hole-in-one especially when the hole location is on the lower, front portion of the green which will have a backstop slope of green that will help provide a lot of interest.

Hole 6 is now a long par-4 at 503 yards. This hole will be a tough challenge for the entire field. The tee shot landing area is one of the widest on the course but there is a pond on the entire right side. The right side is the better side of the fairway to come into the green from. The second shot sees the same water penalty area cross the fairway and run along the left side of the green. Any ball missing the green to the left will likely find this creek. Par will be a good score on this hole throughout the championship.

Story originally appeared on GolfWeek