OAKMONT, Pa. — It’s difficult to imagine Oakmont Country Club once was a gentle piece of property in the soft, rolling hills northeast of Pittsburgh.
Then Henry Clay Fownes, who built an iron empire in the Steel City, purchased the vast plot of land at the turn of the 20th century. Along with his son, W.C., an accomplished golfer, they set out to create a course that would test not only the physical skills of players but also their souls.
“Let the clumsy, the spineless, the alibi artist stand aside,” W.C. said.
With a crew of 150 men and two dozen teams of mules, they built a links-style course that faithfully plays to that declaration. Despite the absence of lakes, ponds or streams — and with nary a tree coming into play after the removal of nearly 15,000 — Oakmont has been considered one of the most maddening tracks in the world since opening in 1904.
Starting Thursday, it plays host to the 116th U.S. Open. On its own, Oakmont, distinctively divided by the Pennsylvania Turnpike, would provide an exacting…