The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, is a “founding father” of American golf and a longtime USGA venue, having hosted the 1913, 1963 and 1988 Opens, as well as many other American events. USGA. It has a rich golfing history, including playoffs at the previous three US Opens held there and 27 holes of terrific championship golf.
Since 1902, Brookline has hosted 16 USGA championships, as well as a few Walker Cups and, of course, the 1999 Ryder Cup, site of Justin Leonard’s 17th hole “putt heard ‘around the world.’ It also hosted 10 Massachusetts enthusiasts. Only Oakmont (17) and Merion (18) have hosted more USGA events, and once the 2022 Open is on the books, Brookline will be tied with Oakmont. Heady stuff.
History of the US Open at Brookline
In 1913, Brookline hosted the famous victory, in an 18-hole playoff, of 20-year-old Francis Ouimet, who lived next door to the Country Club and was a former caddy. He beat England’s Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, and although Ouimet wasn’t the first American to win our Open (it would be John McDermott, both the first American and still, at 19, the youngest ever winner of the US Open), the American golfing public was captivated by the story of the amateur youth on the wrong side of the track who trump the British professional titans in a dramatic playoff.
The New York Tribune ran this headline at the top of its front page:
Francis Ouimet, a young amateur, surprises the world of golf by beating veteran masters of the game and winning the Open title
Ouimet’s victory was very important. In fact, 1913 can rightfully claim to be the most important US Open of all time, given how it sparked interest in golf in America. As a result, it has of course been the subject of books and films, including “The Greatest Game Ever Played”.
Fifty years later, in 1963, Julius Boros, 43, won at Brookline in the playoffs against Jacky Cupit and the estimable Arnold Palmer. Palmer’s reputation as a very long but errant golf ball driver, and therefore not built for US Open success, was belied by his impressive US Open record of “only” one victory (1960 ) but 10 top fives and 13 top 10s, including his last at Winged Foot in 1974 at age 46. Passing the King when he was on his game, like he was in 1963 at Brookline, was no small feat.
Boros is rarely mentioned among the greats of the game, and it’s a shame he hasn’t received what I believe is his due by history (despite being in the World Golf Hall of Fame). Handsome Boros, a college baseball player and then a working accountant, didn’t turn pro until he was nearly 30 (my time has changed – today the only working accountants in golf are those who work tirelessly for the millionaire stars of the Tour). And yet, despite his late start, over the next 18 years he amassed a very enviable record.
His effortless swing was immensely powerful, and with his low-key approach to the game (he was the golfing equivalent of laid-back crooner Perry Cuomo) fueled his 18 PGA victories, three Majors and four Ryder Cup appearances. With 16 top fives in the majors and 21 top 10s, he made the bucket hat famous and showed up when things were most urgent.
Also, five years after Brookline, Boros won the 1968 PGA, at age 48. The oldest previous major winner was Old Tom Morris, 46, at the 1867 Open. Boros remained the oldest major winner until last year when Phil Mickelson annexed the championship PGA at 50.
The third and final US Open played at Brookline came in 1988 when Curtis Strange won his first US Open, fending off Nick Faldo in the playoffs, Strange having to go up and down for a dramatic par on 18 to force overtime.
Mark O’Meara finished tied for third in 1988, his best major result (with his T3 in the 1991 Open Championship) until 10 years later, at 41, when he dazzled by winning both the Masters and the Open and finishing T4 in the PGA. .
The 1988 US Open at the Country Club was significant. Strange, one of the fiercest competitors on the Tour, has won 17 times and had 12 top 10 finishes in the majors, but it’s safe to say he fell short given his talent and closeness to d other potential major wins.
His closest brushstroke to greatness was the 1985 Masters. Opening with an 80 and thus a surefire lock to miss the cut, Strange caught fire and despite the gruesome start enjoyed a three-shot lead with six holes to play on Sunday. It was then that he made some fatal and related decisions:
On the 13th and 15th holes of Augusta, he went for broke on his second shots, and both times his ball was last seen plunging into the water of Rae’s Creek and the pond overlooking on 15, respectively (his decision was the patron saint of Tin Cup). When the carnage subsided, Bernhard Langer had won his first of two Masters and Strange finished T2 alongside former Masters champions Raymond Floyd and Severiano Ballesteros.
To his immense credit, a few years later Strange shook off the Masters debacle and was at the peak of his powers, winning the US Open in 1988 and 1989.
Putting that achievement in historical context, here are the only consecutive US Open winners (note that this list is without Jack and without Tiger):
2017-18: Brooks Koepka
1988-89: Strange Curtis
1950-51: Ben Hogan
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1937-38: Ralph Guldahl
1929-30: Bobby Jones (a)
1911-12: John McDermott
1903-05: Willie Anderson
Strange’s foil in 1988 was Faldo, and while it’s easy to believe Sir Nick was always the cold-blooded killer we remember from his six major wins, he didn’t claim his first until 1990. So, in a real sense, Strange caught Faldo on his way. Faldo eventually evolved into as ruthless a competitor as you can find in any sport, and for sure in conversation with Michael Jordan and Tom Brady as formidable competitors who thrived on the tribulations of their opponents ( see, for example, 1996 when Faldo started the Masters final round six shots to playing partner Greg Norman and yet won by five shots, shooting a searing 67 against Norman’s epic slump 78).
Simply put, Strange’s victory over Faldo in these playoffs looks more impressive through the prism of history.
Brookline: the journey
With a “committee-designed” course – head pros Willie and Alex Campbell (no relation) and also, fascinatingly, several club members – The Country Club dates back to 1882. An American golf Brahmin, in 1894 it was one of the five founding clubs to form the USGA. Old school, indeed.
Another interesting fact about the Country Club is that there is no continuity in the holes and courses played from one Open to the next. The course played in 1913 is today called the main course, although the holes then were played in a slightly different order than they are today.
At the 1963 Open, the powers elected to use its “composite course” were drawn from the 27 holes available at the Country Club. The composite course was first used in the 1957 American Amateur at Brookline, and morphed only slightly in 1963 and then 1988 (with the fine hand of Rees Jones involved).
At the 2013 US Amateur (won by Matthew Fitzpatrick, a name we could hear this year over Father’s Day weekend), the same composite holes were used, but with different distances and pars . The redesign was the work of Gil Hanse, who was retained by the Country Club in 2008. The USGA demanded few changes, but Brookline decided some routing changes were in order. The Club believes that the routing changes allow for better circulation for both players and spectators.
By way of background, Hanse fell in love with Merion’s par-3 13th hole, which has a bowl for a complex green. (This is also where Phil Mickelson failed on the last lap as he chased Justin Rose.) With that in mind, the 4th hole, a short par-4 on the Composite layout, was something Hanse wanted to replace; he felt it was a formidable hole, but spectator access was problematic.
Instead, Hanse recommended replacing it with a short 131-yard par-3 and inserting it as the new 11th hole. Oh and this hole has not been used in a Brookline US Open since the 1913 Ouimet event where he played the 11th hole of the tournament.
What’s special about it? The Country Club thinks it’s a little romantic to play a short par 3 even for present-day bombers, and there’s also the idea that the hole should also be enjoyable for members. Hanse doubled the size of the green (incidentally, Hanse increased the size of most greens, trying to bring them back to how they played in the 1930s).
The new 11th is designed as a “redan” green design with true outlines, and the hole has an elevated tee box of 131 yards. But this green only has a step in the name. Although it looks like a redan-like fortress, it does not look like the redan holes that have been made famous by North Berwick, Shinnecock, National Golf Links, Yale Golf Course, etc.
It is preceded by a deep bunker in front and two more on the left side. The USGA has the ability to shorten or lengthen the hole and adjust approach angles.
That said, at this pitch-and-putt distance, what exactly is the challenge for the pros? Hanse thinks bigger targets aren’t necessarily easier, and with the ability to put the pin in tough spots, a birdie-hungry player may be tempted. Miss the green, and there are steep drops with deep, hard rough. And the first fifth of the green is actually sloping a way of the tee.
So, birdies are possible on this hole, but it won’t be easy to make par. But perhaps more importantly, isn’t it exactly romantic to breathe new life into a hole that hasn’t been seen in US Open play since Ouimet, Vardon and Ray trod it? for the last time ? For history buffs, note that Ouimet parried the holeshot in the playoffs while the two Brits bogeyed, giving Ouimet the lead he never relinquished.
Commenting on Brookline’s approach to the tournament this year, Stephen Pellegrino, a member of the Country Club and vice-president of the US Open 2022, assures that “no one has discussed the idea of trying to present the course for let the winning score be ‘X.’ We just want a fair test for the best players. He notes that even with the expansion of the greens the greens are relatively small compared to other championship venues. In fact it is believed that apart from Pebble Beach (whose area average green is smaller than at Brookline), these will be the smallest greens in recent US Open history.
Pellegrino notes that the composite course was called the “open course” from 1988 to 1998, then the “championship course” when the Ryder Cup arrived in 1999. In a nod to the strong and deeply rooted relationship between the club and the USGA, The Country Club returned the name of its composite course to the open course.
At 7,264 yards and par 70, the Country Club is no monstrous brute. But it says here that it will make a very worthy champion and of great golf and drama.