Kerry Haigh joined the PGA of America in 1989, and was elevated to his current position in 2012. 2023 will mark the third time that he has visited Oak Hill Country Club for an association championship, and the second time that he will oversee the event. On GolfWRX, where I write with some frequency, I have had the opportunity to interview the director of golf at Oak Hill, Mr. Jason Ballard, and the superintendent of grounds, Mr. Jeff Corcoran. In anticipation of the May playing of the 2023 PGA Championship, it seemed prudent to add an important interview to the collection. It is my pleasure to present the Chief Championship Officer of the PGA of America to you, to assist in framing the 105th PGA Championship.

1. Would you please elaborate for our readers the duties of the Chief Championship Officer of the PGA of America?

My role as the Chief Championships Officer of the PGA of America is to oversee the entire Championship along with a great staff both on site and at the PGA of America Headquarters.

This includes almost all facets of the Championship including but not limited to site selection, contract discussions, club relations, volunteer recruitment and assignments, site plans, ticket and hospitality logistics and sales, media and broadcasting needs, vendor selection and services, entrance and exit logistics, golf course set-up and more.

All of these require a great team effort which includes the host site/club, local city, state and community, a great Executive committee, volunteers and volunteer chairs all with a great desire to make the next Championship the very best one we have ever conducted.

2. Upstate NY has a different climate from Long Island, where the first May championship (Bethpage Black course in 2019) was held. Was there ever any concern that a club in western New York would not yet be in season for a May playing?

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.

Oak Hill Country Club has always been a “Major Championship” facility in every respect. Part of the club’s DNA is in hosting major events. The membership is extremely knowledgeable and supportive of hosting such Majors despite the disruption that it entails. Rochester and the entire Finger Lakes Region and upper New York State have been great partners and great supporters in helping us conduct our 105th PGA Championship at Oak Hill to hopefully make it our greatest PGA Championship ever.

3. Oak Hill will host its fourth PGA Championship in 2023. Which parts of the course will mark the East Course as a truly unique and exciting, host site?

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 #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 laning 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 #7: 461 yards, Par-4 (“Creek’s Elbow”)

This dog-leg 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 #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 ‘ 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.

4. The 2023 event at Oak Hill will be the first to be held on the restored East course. How will the well-received work of Andrew Green and his team impact the competition?

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.

The changes to the course will provide some more options for the players with the expanded green surfaces and green side short cut areas. It is difficult to know whether the course will be easier or more difficult as the weather and ground conditions have so much effect on this. If it rains and there is little wind then we would certainly expect the course to play more easily than if it is cold, dry and windy. Having more options usually means a course is more fun to play as it allows players to showcase their skills and talent.

5. Can you speak a bit on general fairway width, and general height of the rough, as you anticipate them being for the four days of the championship?

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.

6. Putting surfaces receive great scrutiny from announcers and fans. Are there any surfaces that deserve extra attention, given the potential severity of the location’s tilt?

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.

The renovations were made to keep the golf course up to modern standards. The changes included the addition of chipping areas around a number of greens, the restoration and reshaping of bunkers, the addition of some new tees and the expansion of some greens complexes. All were done with the aim to make the golf course more interesting, more exciting and still more challenging. Oak Hill has always been a wonderful test of golf and now it provides even more challenges and strategy than ever before.

7. Would you close, please, with two items that you believe might be of interest to the attendees and watchers of the 2023 PGA Championship? Thank you for your time today.

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:

On how Holes 5, 6 & 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 back stop 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.