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Nine Things to Know: The Country Club

13 Min Read

Need to Know

    Written by Jim McCabe @PGATOUR

    The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, has been the scene of some of the game’s most historic moments, so it’s fitting that it will offer an old-school test for this week’s U.S. Open.

    You like tight fairways, thick rough, greens that are smaller than small, and big, bodacious rock outcroppings? Then The Country Club should satisfy you.

    Said Gil Hanse, who has been consulting with TCC officials for more than 10 years to update this brilliant course: “It’s going to be an interesting mental test.”

    In other words, the U.S. Open the way it used to be.

    To prep you for the 122nd U.S. Open and just the fourth at The Country Club, here are Nine Things to Know about this historic course.


    If ever a property in the golf world has evolved, it is The Country Club. From that day in 1892 when a group of gentlemen discussed the need for a club where outdoor activities were central, this stately property in Brookline – a mere 6 ½ miles from Beacon Hill in the heart of downtown Boston – the emphasis has been on getting it right.

    Members built the first three holes in 1893, then brought in Scotsman Willie Campbell as head professional. Campbell designed six more holes and by 1899 he had created an 18-hole course. In the meantime, club officials at The Country Club had joined with peers at Newport Country Club, Shinnecock Golf Club, Chicago Golf Club, and St. Andrew’s Golf Links outside of New York City to form the United States Golf Association, which began running national championships.

    It wasn’t until 1902 that The Country Club hosted its first national championship, the U.S. Women’s Amateur.

    But should you forget that the original intent was to create a club with a variety of activities, rest assured that TCC is faithful to that intent. Golfers share this vaunted club with those who enjoy skeet-shooting, skating, hockey, swimming tennis, paddle and squash, and should you mention the words “Canadian Club,” be warned that in these parts, that is not a whisky; it is the beloved group of curlers who use TCC as their home port.


    Seeing as how a movie, several books, decades of endless newspaper and magazine articles, and a heralded scholarship have been created around the hero of arguably golf’s greatest story, we’ll assume you know of Francis Ouimet.

    To recap: The 20-year-old former caddie at TCC walked across the street from his home at 246 Clyde Street to play in the 1913 U.S. Open as an amateur. Ouimet opened with 77 and trailed by six. After shooting a second-round 74, he was four off the lead. Another 74 in the third round tied him for lead. All three 54-hole leaders -- Ouimet, Harry Vardon, and Ted Ray -- closed with 79 to force an 18-hole playoff.

    Ouimet, of course, won the Saturday playoff with a 72. Vardon shot 77, Ray 78.

    It remains an overlooked nugget to this story, but for a good part of 1913, the U.S. Open was destined to go to the National Golf Links of America out on Long Island. Accommodating the schedules of Vardon and Ray, two of the biggest stars of the day, was an issue. TCC passed on an August date. When the English golfers said September was fine, TCC jumped back in and got its first U.S. Open.

    Now we’re not saying Francis Ouimet couldn’t have won at NGLA, but he certainly wouldn’t have walked across the street, now would he? And isn’t that the most charming flavor to the story?

    The aftermath: A common man, Ouimet showed that the game was for the masses and the number of golf courses in the U.S. doubled over the next generation. Ouimet enjoyed a lifetime as an amateur icon on par with Bobby Jones and his friendship with his 10-year-old caddie, Eddie Lowery, lasted until his death in 1967. Lowery was a pallbearer for his great friend.


    “Harry Vardon and Edward Ray, those two wonder-workers of the links, demonstrated yesterday at The Country Club, Brookline, that they are the superiors of Francis Ouimet . . . ”

    Ouch. All these years later, it still hurts to reach such words, but here’s the good news: They were written about a tournament played in 1920, seven years after the golf match that really counted. Oh, and this 4-and-3 triumph was a 36-hole contest that involved the 1913 lads – Ouimet, Vardon, and Ray – but it was a team match. Vardon and Ray combined to spank Ouimet and Jesse Guilford before 3,000 TCC members and their guests.

    Bottom line, it was never going to be easy for Francis Ouimet to follow-up his 1913 drama in any subsequent trip to TCC and for the most part his competitions there paled in comparison.

    He did play well in the 1915 State Open, but at 308 he was tied for fourth, 10 behind the winner, Walter Hagen.

    Ouimet was not in the field in 1920 for the State Amateur (won by Fred Wright), but two years later there were shock waves throughout The Country Club in Round 2 of the U.S. Amateur. “Rudy sadly blasted the hopes of Boston followers of golf,” read the Boston Globe, chronicling a 4-and-2 win for Rudolph Knepper of Sioux City, Iowa, over the beloved Ouimet.

    Small consolation arrived in 1925 when Ouimet won for the sixth and final time in the State Amateur, the only other championship of note that he won at TCC.

    Ouimet was there – for a short while, at least – when in the fall of ’34 the U.S. Amateur made its third visit to Clyde Street. Just three years removed from his second U.S. Amateur win and still just 41 (prime time back then), Ouimet was knocked out in the first round by Bobby Jones.

    That wouldn’t seem bad, except it was Bobby Jones of Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, and not the “real” Bobby Jones, who was four years into retirement.


    A serious identity crisis consumed members of The Country Club in the 1880s and raged on for parts of the next three decades. Race or golf?

    Horsemen were first on the scene as the competitive racing on their track was the source of immense pleasure. Golfers were a little later and in the minority, so there seemed to be an amicable existence.

    But as golfers increased and the course went from three to nine to 18 holes “the golfers were averse to having horsemen ride over their fairways and the riders claimed the golfers were not always careful to avoid hitting them,” wrote former club historian Elmer Cappers.

    It wasn’t until 1935 that a clear winner was declared when the last horse race was held. As a concession to club history, or perhaps owed to a membership that doesn’t like change, the track remained in place (it circled the first and 18th holes) until 1969.


    Hey, we’re not suggesting that the green at the 17th hole should be kissed a la Ben Crenshaw at the 1999 Ryder Cup, but if you’re going to embrace the history of major golf events here, then it starts with the penultimate hole.

    As far as design goes, the 17th – aka “Elbow” – is a short dogleg left that will not put any scare into competitors. It’s only 373 yards and short irons will be the club of choice for the majority of players who find the fairway.

    But history tells us this hole will be prime turf for drama.

    Francis Ouimet birdied No. 17 in Round 4 to help get into a playoff against Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. His stunning victory in Saturday’s playoff was nailed down with another birdie at 17.

    Two strokes behind Tony Lema at the 1963 U.S. Open, Julius Boros pulled even at 17 when he birdied and Lema made bogey. Jacky Cupit and Arnold Palmer could have won outright, only they made double-bogey and bogey, respectively, at 17 to join Boros in a three-way tie for first. Boros won the playoff (and, yes, he birdied 17 again).

    Curtis Strange wasn’t devastated by his ordeal with the 17th (he three-putted for bogey) even though it left him tied with Nick Faldo in the 1988 U.S. Open. That’s because Strange easily won the playoff, 71-75.

    Which all set up the Ryder Cup drama in ’99. Battling back from a 10-6 deficit through two days of team play, the Americans had a chance to win, but they desperately needed at least a half-point out of Justin Leonard’s match against Jose Maria Olazabal.

    The Spaniard had the shorter birdie try at 17, but somehow when Leonard slam-dunked his 40-footer into the cup, it sent the crowd, the American players and wives, and Crenshaw into a frenzy.


    For the second time in a month, a major championship will be held at a course restored by Gil Hanse and his righthand man, Jim Wagner.

    “It’s a completely different landscape than any place I’ve been,” said Hanse, who started consulting with TCC officials in 2009. “You can’t talk about The Country Club without mentioning the landforms, the ledges, and the puddingstone rock.”

    The rock outcroppings harken back to a day when architects didn’t have heavy machinery at their disposal, so they instead challenged golfers to play around or over the landforms.

    Renowned for its small greens and thick, lush rough, The Country Club puts a premium on hitting fairways and greens. In other words, it’s a quintessential U.S. Open stage. What Hanse was commissioned to do was find a few new tees, extend The Country Club another 200 yards (though at 7,264 it’s still relatively short), and oversee a tree-clearing project that required great care. It was needed for agronomic and aesthetic purposes, but Hanse was careful not to take away the blind shots that are a part of TCC’s character.

    There’s been a lot of talk about the 131-yard, par-3 11th hole that was in play when Ouimet won in 1913 but wasn’t when the U.S. Open was here in 1963 and ’88. Even with a wedge, players will be tested to find the small green, which has plenty of tilt.

    But it’s the beefy holes that will likely play a key role in this year’s trip to The Country Club.

    The par-4 third hole is 499 yards and bends left to right, only you never truly see the fairway. When you do stand over your approach to the green, you look at a pond in the back that is famous for being where 1956 Olympic gold medalist Tenley Albright honed her skating skills.

    Another 499-yard brute, the par-4 10th, is called “Himalayas.” The tee shot must carry an outcropping of rock down the right. Once you clear that, you must deal with another outcropping down the left. It played as a par-5 in the 1999 Ryder Cup.

    Rarely do you hear that par-5s are “brutes” for these PGA TOUR lads who are accustomed to hitting driver, 6-iron into 550-yard holes. But the 619-yard, par-5 14th at The Country Club likely won’t yield many eagles and, in fact, you might see a good many players miss the green with their third shot.


    The Country Club’s first national championship was the 1902 U.S. Women’s Amateur. It was fitting for a club that was described at the start of the 20th century as “very active with regard to women’s events.” The writer of those words was Ruth Underhill, winner of the 1899 U.S. Women’s Amateur.

    The 1902 Women’s Amateur ended in a successful defense for national champion Genevieve Hecker of West Orange, N.J.

    While the Curtis sisters – Margaret and Hariot – of Manchester, 30 miles north of Boston, drew the biggest crowds, it was Hecker who owned their hearts at the end. She defeated Louisa A. Wells of TCC, 4 and 3.

    Margaret Curtis was the medalist, however, for a second consecutive year after reaching the championship match in 1900. After losing again in the final in 1905, Margaret won the title in 1907, ’11 and ’12.


    You’ve probably heard a lot about this week’s U.S. Open. We know you’ve heard loads and loads about the 1913 U.S. Open. But here’s the thing: When this year’s championship is in the books, it will mean that as many U.S. Opens have been played at The Country Club as at the Myopia Hunt Club in bucolic South Hamilton, 35 miles north of Brookline.

    Myopia used to be “in the rota,” hosting the U.S. Open in 1898, 1901, 1905, 1908. The Country Club, on the other hand, debuted as a U.S. Open course in 1913 then waited 50 years for the next, 25 for the third, and 34 for this one.

    Just don’t think that The Country Club membership has shut the gates to competition, because it hasn’t. This will be the 17th USGA competition held at TCC and only Merion (18) has held more.

    At The Country Club, there have been six U.S. Amateurs (most recently in 2013 when Matt Fitzpatrick won), three U.S. Women’s Amateurs, a U.S. Girls’ Junior, and a U.S. Junior Amateur and two Walker Cups.

    TCC is the only club to host a Walker Cup and a Ryder Cup (the memorable ’99 affair).


    Allan Strange told his uncle, Jordan Ball, that it was a great idea, but he couldn’t go. “Every time I go, he doesn’t play well,” said Allan. But Uncle Jordan was determined, Allan relented, and so the two of them, plus two other friends, headed to Boston first thing Monday morning on June 20, 1988.

    They were going to be there for Curtis Strange’s U.S. Open playoff against Nick Faldo.

    Curtis’ identical twin, Allan had given the PGA TOUR a whirl after he got out of East Tennessee State, the same year his brother graduated from Wake Forest. Curtis’ career took off, Allan moved on and got into financial services, but those contrasting paths couldn’t change their spitting image.

    Which was a good thing because Jordan’s plan to attend the playoff was missing a key ingredient. “They didn’t have tickets,” laughed Curtis.

    But this was 1988, remember. Security was a lot looser and so Ball told Allan to get behind the wheel of their rental. When they got to the guardhouse leading into TCC, the security officer thinks it’s Curtis Strange and waves him, adding, “Have a great day, Curtis; beat his ass.”

    If the story ended there, it would have been brilliant fun. But Curtis gets twice the charge out of the story when he found out later that Allan enjoyed a few cold lagers as he stood around the putting green. Fans started to take note.

    “Imagine, they had to be saying to themselves, ‘Look at Curtis, he’s preparing like I do. He’s drinking a beer.’ ”

    The punchline to the story is more poignant. The brothers never did meet each other afterward. Too crowded, too frenzied. “But that night at the hotel, the phone rang around 1:30,” said Curtis. “It was Allan and we talked for an hour. It was nice.”

    Jim McCabe has covered golf since 1995, writing for The Boston Globe, Golfweek Magazine, and PGATOUR.COM. Follow Jim McCabe on Twitter.