It's not going out on a limb to say that Boston is a city full of history. Visiting the Freedom Trail is chock-full of sites from the Revolutionary War era, from Old North Church to Paul Revere's House, to the USS Constitution. Located less than seven miles from the Old North Church is another site of historic significance, though in this case, it's golf history--that site is The Country Club. Nestled in an upscale neighborhood in the affluent town of Brookline, The Country Club stands on 236 acres of flowing land with trees, ponds, rock outcroppings, hills, and valleys. It was established way back in 1882 as an equestrian and social club. Calling itself "The" Country Club was not arrogant or pretentious--it was simply a point of fact, because there were no others in existence in the United States. It wasn't until 1893 that golf was first introduced on the grounds, when a simple six-hole loop was built. A year later, the course was expanded to nine holes by its resident golf professional, Willie Campbell (the club would have 18 holes by the end of the century). Perhaps most notably, on December 22nd of that year (1894), The Country Club joined with four other like-minded clubs in America (Shinnecock, Newport, Chicago Golf Club, and St. Andrew's), to form the Amateur Golf Association, which would later change its name to the USGA. With deep roots supporting amateur golf, and as a founding member of the USGA, it comes as no surprise that The Country Club has hosted an incredible 16 USGA competitions, including six US Amateur Championships and three US Opens. The most famous of the US Opens is undoubtedly the 1913 competition, which saw Francis Ouimet defeat British champions Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. Ouimet, an amateur, lived right next to the club, on Clyde Street, at a house that still stands today:
#8, "Corner," Par 4, 378 Yards
The 8th hole goes straightaway but favors a fade, with jail all along the left side. Bunkers line the right side. It's a pretty classic design, where the high points are at the tee and green, with the tee ball playing a bit downhill and the approach playing back uphill. Keeping the ball straight is the key. After this hole, the composite routing starts to skip around and/or start playing out of order a bit. Full disclosure: this was my first par of the day...sorry to say.
#9, "Paddock," Par 4, 426 Yards
This long par four is the first hole that is completely eliminated in the championship routing. In fact, my understanding is that the 9th and 10th holes are turned into the driving range for major tournaments. It makes good sense for a number of reasons, first of which is that it's probably my least favorite hole on the course, so eliminating it is no major loss. Second, the proximity of this hole to the clubhouse makes it a logical location for a range. In addition, the day-to-day range is not large enough to serve as a practice area for a major championship, given that it's too short and squeezed by the 1st and 18th fairways so that it is too narrow to handle the traffic of a major championship. My issue with the hole itself is that the green is extremely small for a hole of its length and difficulty, and the approach to that tiny green is blind unless you carry your drive a long way.
After holing out on 18, we headed to the locker/grill room to sample the club's signature drink, The Fernando. At first, I was a little unsure what I thought, but it grew on me quickly to the point that I really wished I could have had another! However, I had a drive in front of me and one of the potent Fernando cocktails was enough. The Country Club is a really great course. History just oozes out of the ground at this place. The maintenance and setup of the course are a perfect fit for a New England gem with tall grass, rock outcroppings, and tiny greens making for a trough championship test. The members have an incredible golf course to enjoy every day, or at least the days that they aren't spending their time on other awesome activities at the club. I really enjoyed my day at TCC and am very grateful to DS and WH for making it happen!
The par four view:
#4, "Hospital," Par 4, 335 Yards
Take note of the tee box at the bottom of the hill. From there, it's a completely blind tee shot played way up hill. We didn't play from there, but from the top of the hill to more of a level lie, which was still a blind target. It's a short hole, and keeping it out of the bunkers on the left side of the fairway is the key. From there, it's a short pitch to an extremely tiny green.
#7, "Plateau," Par 3, 197 Yards
From the 6th green, you need to make an awkward walk across the 2nd fairway to get to the 7th tee. From there, it's a fairly long shot into one of the largest, if not THE largest green on the course. Some cool chocolate drops sit on the right side of the green and will make for an awkward lie for a shot that misses on that side. As I alluded to on the prior hole, this is the only hole on the front side that isn't a par four.
Looking back at the tee box on the bottom of the hill
So, the grounds are awesome, and a lot has happened at The Country Club. What about my experience? After changing shoes, we loosened up a bit on the range and hit some chips and putts at the short game area. Immediately adjacent to the putting green is the starters hut and the 1st tee. The Country Club isn't a terribly long golf course, so we decided we'd play from the Blue Tees, which are actually the second longest set of tees. The blue tees play to a par 72, rating and slope of 73.6 and 139, and measure 6,624 yards. If you take a step behind the blue tees and decide to play the black tees, you're actually only going back to 6,753 yards, but you're playing to a par of 70 rather than 72. This would be considered playing the tips on the Clyde/Squirrel nines. For what it's worth, the composite course can stretch to nearly 7,400 yards, which is pretty crazy for greens this small! I'll quote the blue tees below, and try to explain what changes get made from the Clyde/Squirrel course I played, to create the composite course.
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A closer look at that picture shows the balcony where the US Ryder Cup team celebrated its victory...right outside the upstairs windows from the locker room:
Shortly after hosting the 1922 US Amateur Championship, the club decided to hire William Flynn to perform a major renovation of its existing 18 holes, and also to build a third nine to increase the golfing grounds to 27 holes. This renovation, completed in 1927, was the last major work on the routing that still exists to this day, though small tweaks have been made here and there. The three nines, called the Clyde, Squirrel, and Primrose nines, challenge members on a daily basis, but when major tournaments come to the club, it's a composite blend of all three courses that the participants play. The majority of the championship routing comes from the Clyde and Squirrel nines, but a few greens, tees, and full holes from the Primrose nine get used too (more on that later). It is that composite routing that was used for Curtis Strange's 1988 US Open victory, and probably more memorably for the 1999 Ryder Cup, won in comeback fashion by the United States.
Obviously, I came to The Country Club to play golf. However, I would be remiss to leave out some of the other things that make it so unique. When you make the turn into the club, you are first greeted by a yellow guard shack. While the shack is probably intended to ward off uninvited guests, it has limited impact in that pursuit, due to the inhumane nature of its occupant. No, it's not a mean or impolite individual...in fact, it's not an individual at all, but a two-dimensional rough appearance of one, affectionately called "Woody." The sign below his guard post sends the message:
#12, "Redan," Par 3, 131 Yards
The first par three on the back nine is also the last hole from the Clyde/Squirrel nines that gets skipped in the composite routing. It's a little flip wedge, but a really fun hole due to the downhill nature and the judgement the player needs to make in shot selection. Trouble is all around the green, so you'll need to be precise with your little wedge shot. While I'm glad they leave #9 out of the championship course, it's too bad that #10 and #12 get eliminated, because they're both really fun holes. What's more, the players need to pass #12 to get from #11 to #13 (which play as their #9 and #10), so they're already walking the hole. By the way, there's nothing about this hole today that resembles a typical Redan hole.
#13, "Stockton," Par 4, 438 Yards
After playing #10, #11, and #12, which all provide scoring opportunities, the 13th fights back a bit. The hole is a soft dogleg to the right with trees lining either side. While you can't see them from the tee, there are two fairway bunkers on the right side, so keep your drive to the left. A pond encroaches on the right side, short of the green, but really shouldn't come into play Take a moment to look behind you and to the right a bit from the tee box, as Tom Brady's house is right there, overlooking the 4th hole of the Primrose nine. As of the time this review was written, Brady, and his wife Gisele Bundchen, have still not been granted membership at The Country Club, though it's not from a lack of trying. The members here do not like attention, so being a celebrity does nothing to strengthen one's application for membership.
#10, "Maiden," Par 4, 334 Yards
The Country Club has a great collection of short par fours, and the 10th is no exception. It's a shame that this hole gets excluded from the championship routing, but it is what it is. The drive just needs to get into position. From there, it's a pitch to a blind target, which needs to carry a mound of tall grass. Really a fun hole, but with four and six already on the composite routing, I can understand why they wouldn't want a third hole less than 340 yards. However, this might be the best of those short holes, so it's a shame that it's left out.
While the practice range is actually quite small, with restricted flight golf balls for shots with long irons or woods, the short game area is quite large. Perhaps I should have gotten the message that the short game is what separates the men from the boys at The Country Club, due to the extremely small and well guarded greens throughout. Here is some of the practice area with the pro shop and men's locker room behind it:
#18, "Home," Par 4, 418 Yards
The final hole at The Country Club is a definite test. The small green sits perched up above the landing zone for drives with a large and deep bunker right in the front. A long and high approach needs to be played to carry those bunkers and stay on the green. The good thing is that the entire back of the green is a backstop, and will send balls back to the front half. Shots that miss long will be very difficult to recover from because that slope on the back of the green will make it difficult to stop a ball on the green.
After passing by Woody, and then crossing the 15th fairway, you arrive at what appears to be an early 1900s era village. You'll drive through a circle with buildings all around you, housing various entertainment pursuits that members can enjoy. The club has tennis (indoor and outdoor...platform and regular), curling, skeet shooting, swimming, and even ice skating during the winter months in addition to fine and casual dining in the main clubhouse and locker room/pro shop building. Rather than calling this a Country Club, a more crass term might be an amusement park, with the golf course being its roller coaster ride! A member could probably spend a full week at the club and do something completely different each day. From the club's website:
Behind the 3rd green--where the ice skating gets done during the winter. Why not?
#17, "Elbow," Par 4, 370 Yards
The 17th is probably most famous (or infamous) for being the home of Justin Leonard's long uphill putt that caused a huge celebration by the American team on the green, much to the dismay of the European side, who questioned the etiquette in trampling the line of Jose Maria Olazabal's ensuing putt. The hole itself is a fairly short one, with a fairly hard bend to the left. The tee ball needs to get out into play and stay out of the bunkers or tall grass. From there, the approach is to a small target in the form of a two-tiered green. It's possibly the most undulating green on the course, which makes Leonard's putt even more impressive.
#2, "Cottage," Par 4, 289 Yards
Here's the first hole where the tips and composite course take a turn. The tips are actually well in front of the blue tees and make the hole a par 3. It is those tees (The par three tees) that are used in major championships, which measure 190 yards. From the blue tees, the hole is a short dogleg left with a pretty mindless tee shot. The shot simply needs to get into position for the approach shot. Anything from 150 yards to 200 yards would be completely fine. Not the best drive-and-pitch hole I've ever seen. I'd like this hole better as a par three, though it's not my favorite hole either way. Here is the par three view:
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#5, "Newton," Par 4, 432 Yards
The line off of this tee is just to the left of the rock on the hill. From there, the hole bends a bit to the left and leaves a fairly long approach shot toward Newton Street and into a green that slopes from right to left.
#11, "Himalayas," Par 5, 513 Yards
In the championship routing, the player walks from the 8th green right to this tee, bypassing the 9th and 10th holes, and playing this hole as #9. It has some similarities in look to the 3rd hole, winding through hills, dales, and rock outcroppings all the way to the green. The line off the tee is at the utility towers in the distance. From there, the key is just to keep your ball on a level lie. There is a creek that you need to carry on your second shot. If your second shot is played from a bad lie, it definitely can come into play, but should be easily carried if you're in a good spot off the tee.
#1, "Polo Field," Par 4, 450 Yards
It's pretty intimidating to hit an opening tee ball at The Country Club, right next to the putting green. Add to that the fact that you can't hit a full driver with regular balls on the practice range (woods need to be played with restricted flight balls). Then there's the icing on the cake that the hole is a 450-yard par four (495 yards from the tips) and you've got quite a nerve wracking tee shot. The hole bends to the left with the driving range on the inside of the dogleg and a drumlin on the outside. You'll see the skeet shooting area to the right as you walk up the fairway. From there, members shoot at plates of clay over the first fairway and driving range (but only during the winter months when golfers aren't out there!). The name "polo field" comes from the fact that this hole originally served as part of the horse track and polo field for the club. Because of that, this is the flattest hole on the course. If you can hit the fairway safely off the tee (or even if you can't), it's a long approach into a small green. Get used to that!
#6, "Bakers," Par 4, 310 Yards
Turning the corner from the 5th hole, the 6th is a short par four that goes uphill to a fairway that slopes left to right--it is probably the easiest hole on the front nine. It's also the sixth straight par four to start out your round, and one of eight par fours on the front nine (unless you're playing the tips, since the 2nd hole would play as a par three). From the back tee (shown first below), the tee ball actually flies over a back portion of the 5th green.
#14, "Quarry," Par 5, 534 Yards
After playing the last hole, which is #10 on the championship routing, competitors leave the Squirrel nine for a bit, and play a three-hole loop on the Primrose nine. That loop consists of the 1st hole on the Primrose, though that hole is played to the #2 green. From there, they go to #8 and #9 on the Primrose, before returning hopping back on to the Squirrel nine for the remainder of the round. Once they're back to the Squirrel nine, they play the rest of the holes as their numbered too, so their #14 is #14 on the Squirrel nine...makes things simpler the rest of the way. The 14th is a par five with a slight bend to the left, running along the back side of the clubhouse complex. To the right side is the pool, which is shielded from golf balls by a huge net. Most clubs just hang a net from some quasi-telephone poles....not The Country Club. Their net is hung from a huge span which resembles the mast of a sailboat. Big hitters could probably hit this green in two, but for the rest of us, it's an uphill pitch to a green with a false front.
#16, "Clyde," Par 3, 186 Yards
The last one-shotter on the course is a tricky shot to a small and well-guarded green. I was surprised, both on this hole and the next hole, how small the area is around the greens to be able to handle galleries so late in the round. I guess they must build grandstands that take advantage of the limited space, but it has to feel awfully claustrophobic in a US Open!
#3, "Pond," Par 4, 451 Yards
The only unfortunate part about this hole is how early it comes in the round, because it's probably the best hole at The Country Club. It's a fantastic par four with a fairway that weaves through a harshly undulating piece of property, and then finishes delicately in front of a pond. For what it's worth, that pond, with the warming building on the right side is where ice skating is done in the winter. For the typical player, the drive needs to be aimed out to the left (to the right of the left-hand fairway bunker) to a flat area to hit the second shot from. If you miss the fairway, you'll likely have an uneven lie for the second shot. From that spot, the hole technically bends to the right a bit. A great hole, for sure.
#15, "Liverpool," Par 4, 432 Yards
We learned the hard way on this one that it's important to know what tee pad you're on. While the scorecard says that the blue tees play from 432 yards, the day we played the blues were on the same pad as the black tees, which actually measures 495 yards...a pretty huge difference. The hole played into a fairly steady breeze, and from those 495 yards, no player in our group was even able to carry their drive to the fairway! From the right tees, we would have been able to reach a fairly wide landing area. From there, the second shot is played over the entrance road, so make sure nobody is driving across the hole before pulling the trigger on your approach shot.