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Oakland Hills' historic clubhouse engulfed in fire
The clubhouse at Oakland Hills Country Club, site of more than a dozen major championships, suffered extensive damage after being engulfed in flames on Thursday.
Multiple camera crews caught firefighters battling the blaze at the historic site in Bloomfield Township, Mich., a suburb of Detroit. MLive.com reported that firefighters were dispatched to the club at 9:17 a.m., after bystanders smelled smoke in the area. More than a dozen fire departments eventually reported to the scene, where crews were still battling the fire into Thursday evening.
Bloomfield Township Fire Chief John LeRoy told MLive.com that the cause of the fire has not been determined and might not be for several days. Fire crews were continuing to work on containing the fire into the evening.
The fire appeared to have started in the attic of the 110,000-square-foot building. Part of the roof eventually collapsed. Renovations to the clubhouse’s patio were underway at the time of the fire, and no injuries were reported.
The clubhouse, completed in 1922, housed memorabilia from many of Oakland Hills’ majors, along with art and tributes to the state’s golf heritage. The club's website noted that "the membership is proud of the heritage of their club and consider themselves stewards of a national golf treasure."
“This is a gut-wrenching day for Oakland Hills,” said Rick Palmer, Oakland Hills president. “While we know that no one from the membership or staff was hurt, we have lost our iconic clubhouse, that housed our history and our place in Michigan and U.S. and international golf. Oakland Hills is tremendously grateful to firefighters who were diligent in helping save some of our priceless pieces of memorabilia."
Exactly how much was pulled out of the fire and how much was lost is still to be determined.
“It hurts to see this, but we are comforted to know that the heart and soul and legacy of the club resides in our membership and staff," Palmer said. "Only time will tell what is next, but we will move forward with a purpose to honor all those who made this grand building come to life with their golf and their work.”
Oakland Hills, established in 1916, boasts two courses designed by Donald Ross. The club’s original head professional was 11-time major winner Walter Hagen. Its first big tournament was the 1922 Western Open, won by Mike Brady. Oakland Hills has since hosted six U.S. Opens (only Oakmont and Baltusrol have hosted more), three PGA Championships, two U.S. Amateurs, two U.S. Senior Opens and the Ryder Cup, counting Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player among its champs. Oakland Hills is one of only four courses to host the U.S. Open, the PGA Championship, the Ryder Cup and the U.S. Amateur; the other three are Oak Hill, Scioto and Pinehurst No. 2.
The club is also scheduled to host the U.S. Women’s Open in 2031 and 2042, that announcement coming just last month.
“My first thought is the history of the club," said Andy North, who won the U.S. Open there in 1985. "Buildings can be rebuilt, but you can’t rebuild the memorabilia that they might have lost. That building is a huge part of our golf history with the displays of the champions and the championships they’ve had. They will rebuild a great new clubhouse, but they can’t rebuild all those things they’ve lost. It’s unbelievable.”
The South course re-opened in 2021 after a $12 million restoration by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner in hopes of hosting another major championship. The club had reportedly been lobbying to host the 2028 U.S. Open, the next spot available on the USGA calendar. The South was recently ranked No. 21 on America's 100 Greatest Courses list.
“This is a truly sad day for the history of American golf,” Hanse said. “Our thoughts are with all of our friends at Oakland Hills.”
The USGA also issued a statement on Thursday regarding the fire: "Our thoughts are with our friends at Oakland Hills. We have been in touch with their staff, and most importantly, are relieved to hear that no one was injred. Along with so many others in the golf community, we have special memories at this stories venue and look forward to making more in the coming years. We will support the club wherever possible in this rebuilding process."