The Country Club
Brookline, Massachusetts, United States of America

America's first country club wasn't initially founded with golf in mind and it is still the site today for numerous other worldclass pursuits apart from golf. The pond behind the 3rd green was used by Tenley Albright in preparing for her figure skating gold medal.

America’s first country club wasn’t initially founded with golf in mind and it is still the site today for numerous other worldclass pursuits apart from golf. The pond behind the 3rd green was used by Tenley Albright in preparation for her figure skating gold medal performance.

The Country Club enjoys a glorious place at the heart of golf’s development in America. In 1882, it became the first club formed in America for the pursuit of outdoor activities. In 1894, it was one of five charter clubs that formed the Amateur Golf Association of America (later re-named the United States Golf Association). Finally, in 1913, fame was thrust upon it when it hosted the U.S. Open, which was won by the unknown American Francis Ouimet, He bested two British legends  and sparked an interest in golf in the United States that has never abated.

Conversely, The Country Club’s influence in the development of American golf course architecture is more subtle, in large part because the design never had a strong central figure like Fownes at Oakmont, Macdonald at National Golf Links of America or Crump at Pine Valley. Indeed, the evolution of the course is a hodgepodge.

The first six holes were laid out in March, 1893 by three keen members Messrs. Hunnewell, Curtis, and Bacon. These holes started near today’s fifteenth and lo0ped counterclockwise around the clubhouse. While none of the holes or features are in play today, golf was underway! The Scot Willie Campbell was soon hired as the professional and he altered and expanded the course to nine holes. Even so, over the next several years, the vast majority of the members of The Country Club remained focused on their equestrian pursuits and only tolerated the golfers who clamored for more land. The slow pace of progress in creating a greater challenge prompted member Herbert Leeds to move on and create a more engaging course elsewhere. The members at the Myopia Hunt Club are forever thankful that he did so in 1896.

By 1899, the course at The Country Club had expanded to 18 holes, thanks in part to the acquisition of an additional 17 acres (the newly acquired land is where holes # 3-6 reside). The Country Club hosted its first U.S.G.A event in 1902, the Women’s Amateur, but the invention of the Haskell ball later that year meant that the eighteen hole course would need to be lengthened and expanded. No professional architect was employed and members, Messrs. Windeler and Jacques, spearheaded the acquisition of an additional 30 acres of land. In 1908, three more holes, 11-13 of the current members’ course emerged from this rock strewn, unwanted jungle that bordered the back of the club’s property. It was on this course that Francis Ouimet forever changed American golf. Finally, the puzzle was completed in 1927 when William Flynn added the Primrose nine, which contributes three and half holes to today’s championship venue.

Despite such a start or because of such a start, the course at The Country Club remains unique among American courses. Common with other Massachusetts courses like Charles River and Eastward Ho! that make the most of their distinctive New England topography, The Country Club doesn’t remind the golfer of any other course. Its greens are among the smallest targets in golf, and are almost one third the total size of the greens at Yeamans Hall, for instance.

The horse stable near the main clubhouse is indicative of the country pursuits that the members initially enjoyed.

The horse stable near the main clubhouse is a tangible reminder of the country pursuits that its members initially enjoyed.

If you have it , flaunt it. The Country's prudent tree policy in recent years has opened up magical vistas across the course, proudly displaying its superb rolling New England topography.

If you have it, flaunt it. The Country’s prudent tree policy in recent years has opened up magical vistas across the course which proudly display the superb rolling New England topography.

The famous Composite or Championship course is the one that people are most familiar with through television and it is profiled below. However, it isn’t the one that the members play on a regular basis – that one is referred to as the Main Course. Later we will look at the three holes from the 6,600 yard Main Course that are excluded from the championship layout. They are quite good and deserve recognition.

Holes to Note from the Composite Course

Third hole, 450 yards, Risk/Reward; Along with those at Royal County Down and National Golf Links of America , this is the author’s favorite third hole in the world. The one of a kind topography sets a grand stage on which there is a latitude of seventy yards  to accommodate  golfers of varying skills  –  far right for the tiger who tries to carry the rock ledge and shorten the hole to well left and making the hole a three shotter. No player is forced to play the hole in a specific manner, rather the golfer is left to his own concept. Such an attribute represents the zenith of golf course design and ironically, no one man is given credit for its design. It came into form between 1898 and 1900, which was after Campbell had left the club for Franklin Park.

The tiger may attempt to carry the rock ledge on the right

The tiger may attempt to carry the grassed rock ledge on the right online with the golfer in white in the distance. If successful, he is left with a short iron into the green. If unsuccessful, pain and woe in the form of knee high grass on the far side of the ledge will bring the over-confident golfer back to reality with a thud.

However, the rest of us will have this (scintillating) view for our approach, and be reaching for some kind of hybrid to mid iron.

However, the rest of us will have this (scintillating) view for our approach, and be reaching for some kind of hybrid to mid iron.

 

The third green is tucked in its own secluded pocket on the property.

The third green is tucked in its own secluded pocket on the property.

Fourth hole, 335 yards, Hospital; A hole full of possibilities. With the last seventy yards of the fairway heading downhill to an open putting surface, today’s tiger is tempted to have a go at the green from the tee. However, the green is tiny – a mere 2,130 (!) square feet – and recovery shots, especially from the rough, are difficult to get close.  Such holes are fascinating in how they affect the better player who becomes frustrated when his expected birdie fails to materialize. Just like the tenth at the West Course at Royal Melbourne, the hole lends itself to a team match play format, when one man is sure to have a crack at the green.

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This view is from the original (lower) fourth tee. Ouimet was terrified of this tee shot which might well have been the most feared in America until the rule change that allowed for unplayable lies. During the 1913 U.S. Open, if a contestant hit it into the bank, he had no choice but to play it as it lies. And play it … and play it! During stroke play, a miss off the fourth tee dashed any hope of placing well.

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Ouimet walked up these steps from the lower tee. Hopefully, the club will reinstate the lower tee for occasional use.

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In the late 1920s, William Flynn oversaw the addition and construction of today’s elevated fourth tee.

 

Hanse masterfully massaged the land to feed into these fairway bunkers.

As part of his work since 2007, the club’s architect of record Gil Hanse masterfully massaged/sloped the land short of these bunkers so that tee balls feed into them. Thus, they play bigger than they look.

Big hitters that carry the right greenside bunker might get enough forward pitch from the ground to find that their tee ball has reached the putting surface.

Big hitters that carry the right fairway bunker might get enough forward pitch from the ground for their tee balls to reach the putting surface.

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Conversely, pushed shots, either from the tee or from the fairway, will find a string of bunkers eating into the side of the tiny pushed up green pad. Never overly big, the bunkers at The Country Club don’t always flash toward the middle of the putting surface. Awkward lies/stances are served up more often than bunkers elsewhere. That’s as it should be with hazards being hazardous!

Fifth hole, 495 yards, Newton; One of the quintessential holes at The Country Club, the fifth highlights the key design components that are featured throughout the course. These include the incorporation of distinctive landforms, bending the fairway, and fashioning the green so that its cant reflects its immediate surrounds.

The aim from this new tee constructed in 2011 is over the exposed boulder

The aim from this new tee constructed in 2011 is over the exposed boulder in the far hillside. Any farther left and the drive ends up in the rough.

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This photograph poorly conveys the back right to front left cant of the green that feeds into the slope behind. Putts that break four to six feet are often had here. The photograph does better at illustrating an important maxim for play here: take a caddy! The tilted greens at The Country Club are nuanced and have befuddled good putters for generations.

Seventh hole, 195 yards, The Oldest Hole; Ironically, this is both the best preserved Campbell hole from 1894 and the hardest hole in relation to par at the last U.S. Open (1988). Its fascinating double plateau green is set at a 45 degree left to right angle to the tee, making a high fade preferable. When the hole is on the front plateau, the golfer must land the ball short of the green and it is in this area – the grounds just short of the greens – that Green Keeper Bill Spence and his crew prepare especially well. The turf is uniform and its firm condition enables the golfer to bounce the ball onto this green here, as well as the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, 14th, and 15th holes. Given that the holes were designed over 100 years ago when the ground game was king, there would be a complete disconnect between how the holes were intended to be played and how they play without Spence’s excellent work on this oft overlooked area. Too many classical courses in the United States are compromised when water from the fairway sprinklers overlaps the greenside ones to create soft aprons and approaches – not at The Country Club.

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The course is not noted for its one shot holes; indeed, it only has three. This is the best, praiseworthy and featuring the oldest double plateau green in the United States. Today’s hole location is on the forward portion.

 

Note how much more exposed (and inspiring!) the seventh hole is today compared to its more conventional and parkland appearance above in 2002.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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