John R. Williams
It is practically impossible to walk the Oak Hill grounds or clubhouse without seeing the name of John R. Williams. The John R. Williams Order of Merit is the highest honor the membership can bestow on a member; The John R. Williams Four-Ball tournament is a nationally recognized Mid-Amateur and Senior Amateur event; the Oak Hill’s fabled Hall of Fame was the creation of Dr. Williams … so who exactly was this man and why is he so revered?
A physician by training, he was instrumental in the establishment of what would become Highland Hospital; he was the first doctor in the country to use insulin in the treatment of diabetes. He was an author, artist, civic leader and for any one of those accomplishments he could be well remembered but most of all he was an arborist – a nationally recognized authority on trees.
When Oak Hill first moved to the Pittsford location the landscape was mostly barren of trees, oaks or otherwise, and after furnishing the new clubhouse there was no money left over to plant trees or shrubs. It was at this time that Dr. Williams retired as a physician and began the effort to bring oaks to Oak Hill. After studying and reading everything he could about trees, he began to experiment with growing oak trees with literally hundreds sprouting in coffee cans in the backyard of his Monroe Avenue home. Reaching out to fellow arborists around the world, Williams received acorns from oaks planted by George Washington at Mount Vernon, from the Shakespeare Oak at Stratford-on-Avon, from Sherwood Forest, the Cedars of Lebanon and from the Kew Gardens of England, as well as many other lesser-known forests. Dr. Williams, responding to the question of how many trees he head planted, answered: “I stopped counting at 40,000.”
There can be no doubt that the lush, verdant property that has challenged the world’s greatest golfers is the work of two visionaries of nearly a century ago: Donald Ross, the course architect, and Dr. John R. Williams, the course landscape architect. Donald Ross is known as an architect whose philosophy was that God created great golf courses and architects only discovered them and in much the same way Dr. Williams once shared his belief that “I discovered the Almighty was the greatest landscape architect of all. It was His plan to have oaks at Oak Hill.”