Fownes was the product of the steel town where he was born. He worked in the steel industry and went on to become the founder and principle along with his brother in the Carrie Furnace Company. At age 40, he sold the business to the Carnegie Steel Company. The sale made him a wealthy man.
He served on the board of several steel companies and banks. However, he did not work so hard that he lacked time to become a very accomplished golfer. Ay age 45, he played in the 1901 U.S. Open and, according to a 1911 newspaper article, at the age of 55 he won a local tournament with a handicap of five.
At age 47, in 1903, he formed Oakmont Country Club. Fownes was very hands on. He was the course designer laying out the course routing and location of each hole from tee to green as well as the challenges along the way. With a crew of 150 men and some two dozen mule teams, Fownes spent a year building Oakmont on old farmland where wide, sweeping vistas made it ideal for a links-style course. He served as Oakmont's President until the time of his death in 1933. Until his passing, he continued to direct any refinements made to the original layout.
Although Henry only designed one course, it hit it out of the park with his first and only design. Oakmont Country Club has hosted more combined USGA and PGA championships than any other course in the U.S., including eight United States Opens, five U.S. Amateurs, three PGA Championships, and two U.S. Women's Open.
Oakmont remains one of the most difficult course in North America, with 210 deep bunkers (personified by the Church Pews), hard and slick greens that slope away from the player, and tight fairways requiring the utmost precision.
Golf Digest ranks Oakmont #5 in its most recent version of America's Top 100 courses.