The Country Club
Brookline, Massachusetts, United States of America

Seventeenth hole, 370 yards, Elbow; The most famous hole at The Country Club has played as great a role as any hole in the country in determining the outcome of matches. Most great holes challenge the golfer in at least two different ways and that is the case here. Vardon was undone when he drove into the fairway bunker that guards the inside of this dogleg left. His bogey coupled with Ouimet’s birdie gave the eventual champion a comfortable three stroke lead walking up the eighteenth. Countless others including Jacky Cupit have suffered similar fates by getting tangled up on the inside of the dogleg. Cupit’s drive skipped through the bunker, drew a horrible lie in the grass and weeds from where he pitched out, hit on and then three putted! His double bogey wiped away a two stroke advantage and he ultimately lost in a play-off to Boros. At the two-tiered green, great deeds have been accomplished including birdies by Ouimet and Boros on the 71st hole of their championships and Justin Leonard’s miraculous long putt that broke the heart of the Europeans in the 1999 Ryder Cup. The only guarantee at The Country is that the hole location will be on the top tier on the Sunday of a major event. Finding it might well be the most exacting shot on the entire course. Faldo thought he had managed to stay just on top of the 675 square foot plateau in the 1988 U.S. Open only to see his ball roll well back to the lower level. Curtis Strange then hit a wonderfully controlled nine iron to the small target before succumbing to three putts from less than twenty feet. The pressure is amazingly concentrated on this sub 375 yard hole. Pity that there aren’t more holes like this that play a prominent role late in the round at other courses. Holes of this length seem particularly adept at exposing frayed nerves.

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No wonder the hole is named Elbow. Do you play a long iron out straight ahead or challenge the dogleg off the tee? That very question has puzzled golfers for over a century. The right to left tilt of the long but narrow green is an important element to factor in as you play the hole.

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The inside of the dogleg left seventeenth is well protected by bunkers and rough. The shadow across the narrow putting surface denotes the beginning of a rise to a minuscule back plateau. Over is death.

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Other bunkers have been subsequently added to protect the integrity of the inside of the dogleg. Since becoming involved at The Country Club, Hanse has added eleven bunkers to the course. After staking them, he turns the task over to Bill Spence and his talented crew for the actual construction. The green crew’s in-the-dirt work provides a flawless, aesthetic cohesive quality to the bunkers throughout the property, something that didn’t always exist here.

Eighteenth hole, 435 yards, Home; No man can walk up this Home fairway and not be moved by the sense of history and all the great players and events that have preceded him. However, the hole itself is highly memorable thanks to its heavily contoured putting surface which flares up in the back and the massive cross bunker that fronts the green. Architecturally, the hole is also noteworthy for being so splendidly laid out over dead flat land (in fact, the fairway used to be part of the racecourse). The golfer must find the fairway from the tee because an approach from the rough is not likely to carry the cross bunker and hold the firm putting surface. While modern architects pride themselves on giving all levels of players a way to play a hole, this hole makes for a wonderfully uncompromising finish, the kind of old fashioned finish that one expects from a place like this.

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Over 120 years ago, the hillside beneath the iconic primrose colored clubhouse was populated by gentlemen and ladies watching horses gallop around a cinder racetrack.

Over 110 years ago, the hillside beneath the grand clubhouse was populated by gentlemen and ladies watching horses gallop around a cinder racetrack. Today, this view up a former polo field shows the dogleg left nature of the Home fairway with its massive green front bunker in the distance.

Today, this view up a former polo field shows the dogleg left nature of the Home fairway with its famous fronting greenside bunker in the distance.

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Up until the 1960s, the horse racing track was directly in front of the massive bunker that walls off the Home green. The Men’s locker room is in the building behind and there hangs a copy of the charter signed by Chicago GC, Newport, Shinnecock Hills, St. Andrew’s and The Country Club that created the U.S.G.A.

So there you have it – a walk around the Composite Championship Course in sequence with par noted as the course will play for the 2013 U.S. Amateur. The back nine stretches to almost 4,000 yards, which is quite the contrast to the golf first played across these hallowed grounds with a gutty. The need to place long drives in proper positions to open up the canted greens that are surrounded by rough and sand is as exacting a proposition as at any parkland course in the world. No doubt the club’s ability to substitute holes from Flynn’s nine is quite the luxury and has afforded the course the means to withstand the onslaught of technology in a most elegant and seamless manner.

Ouimet’s 1913 U.S. Open preceded Flynn’s work so all of the holes from the Clyde and Squirrel nines were used. It is worth noting that Ouimet won over the following sequence of today’s member holes: 1-8, 11,12, 13, 9, 10, 14-18. No matter the sequence of holes The Country Club has always remained true to its New England heritage.

Before finishing it is worth exploring the holes from the Main Course that are now left out for big men’s events.

Holes to Note from the Main Course

Second hole, 290 yards, Cottage; The members play this as a quaint little two shotter and it serves as the perfect foil between the brutish first and third holes. Big boys in big events see it as a 190 yard one shotter to a green set at an oblique angle to the tee. The author quite likes it as a short two shotter. Certainly, the shallow green is none too receptive and the hole falls across some lovely rolls.

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A hybrid off the tee might leave this deceptively tricky approach. Though it looks charming, several factors conspire against the golfer with this back left hole location. Specifically, the green falls toward the left rear into a newly created bunker. Today’s right to left wind helps a poorly considered approach shot find trouble.

Ninth hole, 425 yards, Paddock; This is the first hole played on the members’ course completely eliminated on the Open layout. From an elevated tee, the drive is into the side of a hill from where the golfer is left with a blind approach to a green that falls away. A twenty-foot drop off is only three paces behind the green. Given the firm playing conditions that Spence attains, the golfer who has missed the fairway knows that he must land his approach some 10-20 yards shy of the green. Anything stronger and the ball will scoot across the green and plunge into the deep grassy hollow.

Tenth hole, 325 yards, Maiden; 
Agronomically, the course is the healthiest it has ever been. A strong argument can be made that the course is also at its peak design-wise as measured against any other point in its nearly 13o year history. One reason is the work that Hanse did to this hole, moving the tee some thirty-five yards closer to the ninth green, improving the hole visually and strategically.  According to the Chairman of the Men’s Golf Committee, Chris Kryder, “#10 represents the first major change to any hole since the completion of the Primrose in the 1920s. When we began implementation of the Hanse plan in 2008, this was really a lynch-pin because it accomplished two fundamental goals. We were able to improve the weakest hole on the main course, and simultaneously open up acreage for expansion of short game practice. Given the location of this change, the aesthetic improvement was enormous. Gil has noted that the (former) first tee/tenth tee/practice green complex, cramped and cluttered by non-specimen trees and such visual barriers as chain-link fence and brick drinking fountain, provided a ‘very poor introduction to a world-class golf course.’ We now have a cohesive and stunningly beautiful beginning. And #10 has become a fine, short par four – integral to the pattern of ‘great shorts’ complementing ‘hard longs.’  The term ‘old-fashioned’ has good connotations (e.g. molasses cookies) and bad (e.g. getting spanked by a ruler at school). The Country Club has a decidedly old fashioned feel to it and that is purely in the positive sense. Hence, it is almost a relief to find this very old school hole among the twenty-seven. While some might call it a “drive and a kick”, the hole gains status based on a manufactured mound that blocks the view of the putting surface from the fairway and confounds the approach. According to Wayne Morrison and Tom Paul in their Flynn opus,” The Nature Faker,” Flynn had a role in giving this green its decided left to right cant. A curious design element exists at three of The Country Club’s shortest two shotters, namely the second (played as a two shotter on the Main Course), fourth and here: all three fairways expand to become the widest among the twenty-seven holes. In so doing, the player is given options, which serves to create indecision. For that reason, the author admires the unusual design tactic!

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What shall the golfer do from the tee? Play a hybrid safely to the right of the fairway bunker? Perhaps, a three wood to carry the bunker for the sake of finding the widest part of the fairway and leaving only a short pitch? Regardless of the tack off the tee, the object of the second is to hit one’s approach below and right of the day’s hole location.

Twelfth hole, 130 yards, Redan; The author laments most the exclusion of this drop shot par three for big men’s events. There is nothing terribly fancy about it and it is certainly in reach for all golfers but the wee 2,260 square foot green proves an elusive target. This hole has not been used for big men’s events beginning with the 1963 U.S. Open. However, it played a pivotal role in the 1913 U.S. Open, the most historic championship held here. Hard as some may find to believe, this hole extracted  ’4s′ from Ray and Vardon in the epic playoff. Only Ouimet had the chops to par it. Further, there might not even have been a play-off if Ouimet hadn’t double bogeyed it in the fourth round!

The tiny 2,260 square foot green is a 'hit it or else' proposition!

The tiny 2,260 square foot green is a ‘hit it or else’ proposition and may fulfill the root definition of Redan as a fortress but golfers have a stricter definition of what constitutes a Redan.

No doubt about it: the ninth, tenth, and twelfth holes of the members course are not throw-aways but veryfine golf holes in their own right. The Composite Course picks up required muscle when the wedge approach shots to the tenth and twelfth holes are replaced by two long, bruising holes from Flynn’s Primrose nine. Still, for everyday play, the members’ course deserves to be known far and wide based on its own merits. In particular, the give and take within the course (for instance, the half par fourth and sixth holes nicely complement the difficult third and fifth) ensures that the members always look forward to their next go around the course. The downside! The fact the Ouimet won on a different course than Boros who won on a different course from what the amateurs will play in 2013. This creates an uncertainty as to what one means when he expresses deep admiration for The Country Club. Like the members at Royal Melbourne who possess various Composite courses, it’s a good problem to have!

People talk about a new Golden Age of architecture, one that commenced in the 1990s. These modern courses feature wide fairways and wild green contours and lots of short grass surrounding the putting surfaces. They are all well and dandy but if anything, they help one appreciate The Country Club all the more. Challenge players with well-routed holes past interesting landforms, fast and firm playing conditions and small greens and that course will identify the best. Great courses produce great winners and there was no greater win than Ouimet’s in 1913. Interest in golf in America surged after his championship and no one has meant more to the game in America than Francis Ouimet. An entire country rallied around this humble man who forever set the standard for gentlemanly conduct to which we all strive.  His exploits as both a great golfer and human being will be forever heralded.

So it has been now for 100 years since his win and The Country Club continues to bring forth the very best that the game has to offer. It is after all The Country Club, no qualifier necessary.

The Brits do things especially well from time to time. One example occurred in 1951 when they selected the man born in this house to be the first non-Brit to Captain the Royal & Ancient Club at St. Andrews.

The Brits do things especially well from time to time. One example occurred in 1951 when they selected the man born in this house to be the first non-Brit to Captain the Royal & Ancient Club at St. Andrews.

The End