The Country Club
Brookline, MA, USA
While The Country Club enjoys a glorious placeat the heart of golf’s developmentwithin America, its influence within the field of golf course architecture is less obvious.
On the one hand, in 1882, it became the first American clubformed in the country for the pursuit of outdoor activities. In 1894, it was one of fivecharter clubsto form the Amateur Golf Association of America (later re-named the United States Golf Association). Finally, in 1913, famewas thrust upon it by hosting the U.S.Open, which, by virture of the victory by the unknown American Francis Ouimet over two British legends, sparked an interest in golf in the United States that has never abated.
On the other, The Country Club’s influence in the development of American golf course architectureis more subtle, in large part becausethe 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 holeswere laid out in March, 1893 by Messrs. Hunnewell, Curtis, and Bacon. Then, the Scot Willie Campbell was hired as the professional in 1894 and helped oversee the expansion of the course to nine holes that summer.
For the nextseveral years, the vast majority of the members of The Country Club remained focused on their equestrian pursuits and tolerated the golfers,despite their clamoring for more land. The slow progress in furthering the challenge of this nine hole course prompted member Herbert Leeds to pursue creating a more engagingcourse elsewhere, and the members at the Myopia Hunt Club are forever glad that he did in 1896.
By 1899, the course at The Country Clubhad 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 today). The Country Club hosted its first U.S.G.A event in 1902, the Women’s Amateur, but the invention of the Haskell ball laterthat year meant that the original eighteen hole courseneeded to be further lengthened and expanded. A professional architect was still not brought in but rather two more members, this time, Messrs. Windeler and Jacques, drove the acquisition of an additional 30 acres of land.In 1908, three more holes, today’s holes 11-13 of the 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 won.
Finally, to complete the puzzle, in 1927, William Flynn added the Primrose nine, of which three and half holes are borrowed for today’s major events.
Despite such a start or because of such a start, the course at The Country Club remains unique among American courses to this day. Common with other Massachusetts courses like Charles River and Eastward Ho! that make the most of theirdistinctive 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.
While itsfamous Composite or Open course has been the scene of historic events, it isn’t the one that the members play on a regular basis and thus, it isn’t the one profiled here. Rather let’s look at the course as the members regularly play it.
Holes to Note
3rd hole, 450 yards, Risk/Reward; Along withthe onesat Royal County Down and National Golf Links of America , this is theauthor’sfavorite third hole in the world. The one of a kind topographysetsa grand stagewhereby there is anseventy yard range that golfers of varying skillscan aim for – from far right by the tiger in an effort to carry the rock ledge and shorten the hole to well left, thereby making the hole a three shotter. No player is forced into playing the hole in a particular manner but rather, the golfer is left to his own to figure it out. Such an attribute represents the zenith of golf course design and yet ironically,similar with The Old Course at St. Andrews, no one man is responsible for this outcome.
4th hole, 335 yards, Hospital; A hole full of possibilities. With the lastseventy yards of the fairway leading downhill onto the open putting surface, today’stiger is tempted to have a goat the green from the tee. However, the green is tiny – a mere 2,100 (!) square feet – andany recovery shot, especially from the rough, is difficult to get close. Such holes are fascinating how theyaffect the better player’s mind who becomes frustrated when his expected birdie fails to materialize. Just like the 10th at the West Course at Royal Melbourne, the holelends itself to a team match play format, whereby one man is sure to have a crack at the green.
7th hole, 195 yards,The Oldest Hole; Iroincally, this is both theonly hole that remains from the original 1893 six hole course and the hardest hole in relation to par at the last U.S. Open here (1988). Its fascinating double plateau green is set at a 45 degree left to right angle to the player on the tee, making a high fade clearly preferred. When the hole is on the front plateau, the golfermust land the ball short of the green and it is in this area – the area right before the greens – that Green Keeper Bill Spence and his crew particularly excel, as the ground is always ideally presented. Its uniform and firm conditions allow the golfer to bounce the ballonto this green, as well as the 1st, 3rd, 4th, 5th, 8th, 9th, 14th, and 15th holes. Given that the holes were designed 90-107 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 today unless Spence did such an excellent job in this oft overlooked area right before the greens. Course after classical course in the United States is compromised when the water overlaps from the fairway sprinklers and the greenside ones, creating conditions that are too soft in front of the greens; not so at The Country Club.