The Country Club: Old world charm, new world demands

While this U.S. Open venue drips with history, the course has a sporty new look that is built to test today's modern players

  The Country Club
Course architect Gil Hanse brought the par-3 11th hole, not used in previous U.S. Opens, into play as part of subtle tweaks in advance of the 2022 U.S. Open.

Welcome to the Old World. For all its high-tech emphasis on golf ball technology, launch monitors and space-age materials, the game often shows itself off best by playing on classic ground.

The Country Club, in the leafy Boston suburb of Brookline, fits the bill perfectly. It’s been a legendary stage for golf since the late 19th century, was home to the most important single round of golf ever played in America. And was also the stage for one of the greatest comebacks in U.S. Ryder Cup history.

With its small greens, gnarly bunkers, occasional blind tee shots and unpredictable recovery, The Country Club presents the world’s finest golfers with a set of options that vary markedly from the stylized suburban manicuring of an everyday PGA Tour stop. Patience and thoughtfulness are necessary elements, along with a very sound swing under pressure. Luck, too, will play a role. Which is also how the game has always been played.

History weighs heavily here. The Country Club was among the five founding members of the U.S. Golf Association back in 1894. In 1913, a 20-year old former caddie at the club, Francis Ouimet, who happened to live across the street from the 17th hole, beat the best that British golf had to offer in Harry Vardon and Ted Ray and won a U.S. Open that helped popularize the game to the masses.  Subsequent U.S. Opens in 1963 (won by Julius Boros) and 1988 (Curtis Strange) also went to playoffs. But it was the 1999 Ryder Cup that brought sports-loving Bostonians out in throngs akin to a Patriots football game to watch the American team mount a furious rally from 4 points down on Sunday to defeat the Europeans — one that culminated in Justin Leonard sinking a 45-foot putt on the 17th green — perhaps with the ghost of Ouimet cheering him on.

The golf course — 7,264 yards in length and par of 70 — occupies a typically craggy New England landscape, replete with tumbling slopes, exposed rock, the occasional pond and lots of native fescue and wildflowers. The course evolved from its original six-hole design in 1893 to assume its modern configuration as a 27-hole layout by William S. Flynn and Howard Toomey in 1927.

The Championship layout comprises 15 holes from the Main Course and three holes from the Primrose Nine. This time around there’s been an adjustment from previous major championships, however.

The previous Championship par-4 4th hole has been taken out of the routing. In its stead sits the lovely little drop-shot par-3 11th hole, only 131 yards. Architect Gil Hanse, who has been consulting at TCC since 2007, says "the routing eliminates a double-back hike and brings into a play a wonderful short par-3 that you used to walk by on the way to the 11th hole. Now they’ll play it. It makes for a smoother flow."

Restoration of that previously neglected hole entailed the same kind of long-term management to which the rest of the golf course was subjected to: tree management to reclaim the lateral scale of the place, greens expansion to recover lost hole locations, and rebuild of the bunkers to bring their leading edge closer to the approach line and their top side more carefully integrated into the safe zone that sits right behind (or above) it. Greenside bunkers were tied in closer to the expanded putting surfaces. Fairway bunkering was stripped of rough on the approach side, with many of these hazards moved downfield to accommodate the greater distances of today’s elite golfer.

The greens at TCC are small by the standards of modern majors, averaging only 4,388 square feet — this following expansion by about 20 percent in the last three years. That’s much smaller, for example than this year’s other major championship sites: Augusta National’s greens average 6,435 square feet; Southern Hills for the PGA Championship ran 5,047 square feet; and for the British Open at St. Andrews, the 11 greens (seven of them doing double-duty) average 22,176 square feet as putting surfaces — or 13,552 square feet for each of the 18 holes.

The Country Club's expanded greens integrate beautifully now with the greenside bunkers and the mowed down surrounds. A small, marginal miss will lead to a dicey recover. With their mowed down entrances on the approach side for drives and approaches, the sand plays a far more prominent role than before.

Not that everything out there is self-evident. Players and their caddies, few of whom are familiar with the newly restored course, will need to pay special attention to alignment on the tee shots since — depending upon the players’ height and their distance carry — as many as five landing areas are blind from the tee. Several fairways play like chicanes, with players facing an option of carrying a massive hill or playing to the side and relying upon accuracy with a 3-wood or fairway metal off the tee to secure an advantageous position.

Among the decisive holes will be:

Hole 5, par 4, 310 yards: Drivable for most in the field, though uphill. The tight fairway slopes hard from the right, with out-of-bounds on that side. Laying up off the tee is no guarantee of safety. The domed green is small, only 3,918 square feet and tightly bond by sand. Approaches running long will leave a very slippery downhill recovery.

Hole 6, par 3, 192 yards: Likely to play highest over par of any hole out there thanks to a wildly undulating green that, despite being the largest on the course (6,556 square feet), offers very little support for a middle-iron approach off the tee.

Hole 14, par 5, 619 yards: Brutally uphill, climbs 40 feet from primary landing area off a new tee constructed for the occasion of what used to be the 12th hole due to the new routing. Drives not finding the fairway might well have to lay up short of a wall of bunkers mid-way on the second shot, leaving a third, entirely blind, of over 200 yards.

Old school golf, but with a touch of exacting modern demands. Welcome to The Country Club, home of the 122nd U.S. Open.

Card of the Course
The Country Club — Championship Course
Hole 1: Par 4, 488 yards
Hole 2: Par 3, 215 yards
Hole 3: Par 4, 499 yards
Hole 4: Par 4, 493 yards
Hole 5: Par 4, 310 yards
Hole 6: Par 3, 192 yards
Hole 7: Par 4, 375 yards
Hole 8: Par 5, 557 yards
Hole 9: Par 4, 427 yards
Out: Par 35, 3,556 yards

Hole 10: Par 4, 499 yards
Hole 11: Par 3, 131 yards
Hole 12: Par 4, 473 yards
Hole 13: Par 4, 440 yards
Hole 14: Par 5, 619 yards
Hole 15: Par 4, 510 yards
Hole 16: Par 3, 202 yards
Hole 17: Par 4, 373 yards
Hole 18: Par 4, 451 yards
In: Par 35, 3,698 yards
Total: Par 70, 7,254 yards