As would be expected of a town as old as Boston there is a plethora of great golf. At the time of this writing there are four Top 100 ranked courses in Boston and the surrounding areas as well as numerous other great courses that merit carving out time for a visit. The most famous of all the great Boston golf courses is surely The Country Club located in the town of Brookline. There has been one Ryder Cup, three Women’s U.S. Amateurs, three U.S. Opens and five U.S. Amateurs contested over the golf course at The Country Club since 1902. In 2013 the U.S. Amateur will return to make an even half dozen times the event has been played there.
The Country Club’s roots go back to 1882 when it was originally founded for various and sundry leisure activities. At the time equestrian activities were the chief entertainment form of the day and golf in America was but a mere twinkle in C.B. Macdonald’s eye. In 1892, a short ten years later, The Country Club’s Executive Committee found themselves voting in favor of forming a committee on golf and selecting three club members lay out a golf course. The golf committee was granted the right to spend the necessary amount . . . but could not exceed $50. Wow! According to an online inflation calculator that would be roughly $1,200 in todays dollars. That’s not a whole lot to work with.
The original golf course opened in 1893 and the $50 budget was enough to lay out six holes. The following year the course added three more holes which expanded it to a nine hole course. In 1895, Just two years after the original course opened, The Country Club was one of the five original founding clubs of the United States Golf Association (USGA) which is still the ruling body for American golf today. I think its safe to say that golf caught on fast at The Country Club.
I’m not exactly sure of the course’s evolution timeline after 1895 but today the club boasts a full 27 holes which are called the Clyde, Squirrel and Primrose nines. Day to day the Clyde and Squirrel nines comprise the primary course, but for the major events like the U.S. Open and Ryder Cup a championship composite course is used. This composite course includes three holes from the Primrose nine and drops one hole from the Clyde and two holes from the Squirrel. The dropped holes are Clyde’s 9th and Squirrel’s 10th and 12th. The pickup holes from the Primrose are the 1st which actually plays to the 2nd green, the 8th and the 9th. There are only a very few special events each year when the composite course can be played by the membership.
It should be noted that The Country Club was the first of its kind in America. As the original,the name “The Country Club” was not some tongue in cheek smug declaration of the club as the one and only or single best country club in the land. At the time the club was founded the name was but a simple and factual statement of what it was . . . a club located in the country, or at least what was the country at the time. All the other “country clubs” in America are just borrowing from the name of the original. I wonder where we would be today if the founders had called the club The Field Club? Would America be filled with clubs having names like Riverside Field Club or Hidden Valley Field Club. Who knows, but it certainly seems clear to me that The Country Club in Brookline was the model from which so many others drew from including the borrowing of the name.
The most famous story from The Country Club is that of 20 year old local amateur Francis Ouimet and his 10 year old caddie Eddie Lowery in the 1913 US Open. Against all odds, Ouimet managed to defeat the two top British professionals of the day, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, in an 18 hole playoff to capture the 1913 US Open Championship. To put this into modern perspective, that would be the equivalent of a kid from San Francisco showing up to the US Open next year (2012) at The Olympic Club and beating Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in a Monday play off. If that were to happen, I think its safe to say it would be the upset of the century. The photo below is Ouimet and Lowery. Ouimet’s victory has been chronicled in both a movie and book known as The Greatest Game Ever Played.
The second most famous story from the hallowed links of The Country Club is the 1999 Ryder Cup. On the final day of matches the Americans won an unprecedented 8 1/2 points to clinch a victory of 14 1/2 to 13 1/2 points. It was the biggest come from behind victory in the history of the Ryder Cup and was capped off with Justin Leonard draining an impossible long putt on the 17th green which ended up being the key to the victory. It is also worth pointing out that the shirts that the US team wore that day may go down in history as the ugliest golf shirts ever . . . that’s a HUGE statement considering all the ugly shirts the game of golf has seen.
Unfortunately, Boston is a town that I am not familiar with at all. I had passed through town once when I was about 17 on my way to Maine and then went to a couple of concerts at the Boston Garden back in the Fall of 1993, but other than that I’d never really had occasion to visit “bean town”. As far as my Top 100 quest goes, Boston was a veritable wasteland for me. The closest thing I had to a contact in Boston is a college buddy’s wife who grew up there, but unfortunately my Top 100 quest outlasted their marriage. Under the circumstances, The Country Club was one of those courses I was letting percolate to see if anything came up.
When I started laying out my travel plans for the year my friend from Texas, Kyle, suggested that we make a go of trying to do a Boston trip, so I started poking around a little bit to see if I could uncover anything. I had one very loose connection to The Country Club which did not materialize so we began working on setting up games at the other Top 100 courses in the area. Right in the middle of planning our Boston trip I received an email from a gentleman by the name of Hans who had been following me on my website. Hans’ email stated that he was a member at The Country Club and that he would like to invite me to join him for a game with another golfer he was hosting who is also on a Top 100 quest. I get emails from visitors to my site all the time, but rarely do they contain an invitation directly from a member to play a Top 100 course. Even more rare is an invitation to one of the ultra exclusive Top 20 courses.
So Hans’ invitation to join him happened to fall on a day precisely between a wedding I was attending and the day I would leave for my trip to Oakmont Country Club. Obviously I was disappointed to miss out, but Hans said if he was available during my trip in July that we could play at that time. As the Boston trip grew near I tossed out a couple of dates to Hans but we quickly learned that there was a conflict with The Country Club’s annual low handicap member/guest tournament, The Devens. Too bad, I hated going to Boston and not getting a chance to play the premiere course.
During the course of the season I was hot on the trail of buying some new irons and I’d had my eye on a set of the Titleist AP2s. One day while I was looking on the Titleist website I stumbled across some information about their custom fitting program at their facility in Acushnet, MA. I thought, hey, I’m going to Massachusetts soon, maybe Acushnet is near Boston. A quick trip to MapQuest revealed that Acushnet was not much more than an hour away from Boston. After some scheduling gymnastics with US Airways, Titleist and Hans we managed to adjust the trip so that I could do a custom fitting at Titleist AND play The Country Club the day before The Devens tournament began. All’s well that ends well!
On the day of my flight to Boston I showed up at the airport the requisite amount of time in advance only to find that my flight had been delayed. Apparently there was bad weather in the Boston area and the whole East Coast was running a bit behind. Eventually we were loaded onto the plane where we sat for 20 minutes before an announcement was made that it was unclear if the flight was going to leave at all. Rather than keep us waiting on the plane they decided to unload us. I took this as a bad sign and thought it would be best to take my fate into my own hands by re-booking my flight for first thing the next morning. It would mean that I was going to miss my fitting at Titleist, but I would make it in plenty of time for our game at The Country Club. It was a shame to miss out on the fitting, but in reality I didn’t really need a new set of irons, so it probably worked out for the best.
Once my flight landed the next morning Kyle picked me up and we killed some time with an early lunch and a couple of beers before heading over to The Country Club. The entrance to the club is pretty modest with a small yellow guardhouse manned by the ever present security guard “Woody”. Once we drove through the entrance we found ourselves on a road crossing the fairway of the 15th hole before winding up to what I believe is best described as a small campus. In addition to the main yellow clubhouse there are a series of other buildings that contain operations such as the pro shop, the locker room and a curling facility. Yes, curling. Apparently it’s very popular in the northeast . . . I had no idea. I didn’t get a photo of the front of the clubhouse, but the photo below shows a portion of the clubhouse and was taken from on the golf course.
We parked our car in a lot around back of what I think was the curling facility and made our way over to the starter shack where we were directed to the practice range. After hitting balls for a while Hans arrived along with our 4th player, Jeff, and we headed to the putting green where we waited for our turn to tee off. Once we were on the tee we decided to play from the white tees which is a very friendly 6,309 yards and plays to a par of 71.
The 1st hole is a long dogleg to the left that played 441 yards from the white tees with a par of 4. The photo below was taken from the tee. The preferred drive would be down the middle or favoring the left side. the brown fescue grass on the right is pretty gnarly and can easily result in a lost ball.
Below is a photo of the 1st green.
The 2nd hole is a quirky little par 4 that we played from 284 yards. Interestingly, this hole plays as a 190 yard par 3 from the tips. For the blue and white tees where it plays as a par 4 the smart play is a simple 200-220 yard shot. The ideal line is over the right side of the bunkers and left of the large tree.
If a good drive is hit the player will be left with just a short wedge shot into the green. From the edge of the fairway in the photo below to the green is just a 50-60 yard shot.
Below is a photo of the 2nd green. Take note of how small it is. A lot of the greens at The Country Club are unbelievably small by modern standards.
After the short and quirky 2nd hole we come to the long and quirky 3rd hole. This one plays 429 yards from the white tees with a par of 4 and requires a well placed drive in order to have a view of the green for the second shot. The photo below was taken from the tee and the best line for the drive is 10 yards to the right of the bunker.
Players who hit their drives to the correct spot will be rewarded with the below view into the green. Drives that strayed too far to the left or right will have blind shots created by the mounds in the foreground below.
Below is a close up view of the 3rd green. Again, note how small it is. If you click on the photo below you can see the pond behind the green and a wooden structure off to the right of the pond. During the winter when the pond freezes over this is where the club sets up a hockey rink. I’m not sure if it is customary in New England for clubs to include hockey in their winter activities, but I thought this was really cool.
The 4th hole is a another short par 4 that we played from 324 yards. As seen in the photo below the drive is a blind shot on this hole. The ideal line of play is to the right of the bunker. It opens up on the right side of the hole and there is more room for misses to the right than it would appear.
Below is a view of the shot into the 4th green. I seriously cannot believe how small these greens are!
We get another healthy par 4 at the 5th hole. This one played 419 yards from the white tees and featured another blind drive. The photo below was taken from the tee box. The best line here is to hit the drive right over the two guys standing on top of the hill.
Below is a view from the red tees that gives a little better view of what the hole actually looks like.
The photo below is the green for the 5th hole. The bunkers in the foreground are much further from the green that it would appear and players that find those bunkers will have a very difficult up and down.
Below is a view from behind the 5th green. Note the slant from the back to front of this green. It also has significant right to left movement as well. With the back hole location I had a seriously crazy putt on this green from the front edge where my approach shot landed. Fortunately with a little help from my caddie I was able to get my first putt much closer than I ever would have guessed I could. The caddie program at The Country Club is absolutely top notch and something the club is quite proud of. Walking is required for anyone without a disability and everyone takes caddies. The membership’s fervent support of the caddie program has allowed the club to build a caddie yard loaded with true professionals that give the members and their guests the most from their golf experience. The guys we had were absolutely fantastic.
The 6th hole, pictured below, is my favorite of the short par 4s on the front side and plays 280 yards from the white tees. Rather than pull the driver and blast my drive up close to the green I elected to hit a “safe shot” with my utility club which managed to find the tall fescue grass on the left. So much for the safe shot.
The approach at the 6th hole plays directly uphill and the photo below shows how close I was able to get to the green and still not be able to actually see the putting surface.
And here is a closer view of the 6th green from the left side.
Finally, at the 7th hole we reached a par 3. I was beginning to wonder if The Country Club had any par 3s or 5s! At 179 yards this hole requires a mid length iron from most players. Below is a photo taken from the tee.
And here is a view of the 7th green from a side view.
The 8th hole, pictured below, is a nice little uphill par 4 that we played from 371 yards. Its best to avoid the left side of the hole. While balls can be found over there, it can be pretty tough to get it back in play from the trees.
The photo below is a view of the green for the 8th hole. Missing short doesn’t cause too much trouble, but to the left or right and a well executed sand shot will be required.
The 9th hole is a stout little par 4 that we played from 418 yards. This hole is one of the ones that is dropped for the championship composite course. The hole is all uphill, so it plays much longer than what the card says. The photo below was taken from the tee box. Note the rumples in the fairway which can make for some fairly uneven lies.
Below is a view of the green for the 9th hole from 40 yards out. Again missing short is not so bad here. There is a bunker to the left that is not visible in this photo.
The photo below is of the green at the 9th hole. This has to be the smallest on the course. I couldn’t even believe how small it was. I thought the 9th hole was a good one and was surprised that it was not included as part of the composite course. Turns out the reason for its exclusion is that the routing works much better for players to move directly from the 8th green to the 11th tee.
The 10th hole is another one of the holes that is dropped for the championship composite course. From the white tees we played this from 290 yards. A little 200 yard shot is all that is needed to get into a prime spot for a chance at birdie.
The approach to the 10th green is just a little half wedge shot, but it is blind with just the top of the flag visible from the fairway.
Below is a view of the green from the top of the fescue covered mound that obstructs the view of the green from the fairway.
The 11th hole is a great par 5 that we played from 503 yards. The photo below was taken from the tee box and the ideal line is to run the drive down to the opening between the two fescue covered mounds. From there reaching the green in two becomes a possibility.
Below is the approach shot into the green after a lay up second shot. Note the creek that crosses the fairway. When laying up a player must decide if they would like to leave their layup short of the creek or hit a longer shot that will carry to the other side.
And another view of the approach after a longer lay up second shot that carries the creek.
I really like this photo taken from the 11th green looking back up the hole. When Kyle and I pulled in and drove through the 15th hole the first comment he made was that he liked the “texture” of the course. This photo is a great example. You have your green grass, the brown fescue, the elevation change and the rock formations. The course really does have great visual interest and “texture”.
The 12th hole is a short drop shot par 3 that we played from 119 yards. This is the final hole that is dropped for the championship composite course.
At the 13th hole we have a 397 yard par 4. The photo below was taken from the tee box and again the drive is a blind shot.
Below is the shot into the green at the 13th hole. There is all kinds of trouble short so it is best to make sure to reach the green on the approach shot.
And here is a view of the 13th green. Not the tiniest green on the course, but still pretty small.
One more view of the 13th green.
The 14th hole, pictured from the tee below, is a par 5 that plays 510 yards from the white tees. Again, I loved the undulating terrain of the fairway which makes drawing a good lie for the second shot a stroke of luck.
The approach into the 14th green is slightly uphill and requires a little extra club. Below is a photo taken from the right side of the green.
At the 15th hole we have a lengthy par 4 of 417 yards from the white tees. Note the road crossing the hole which is the entrance/exit to the club. Hans told a great story about his final round in the Spring Fourball tournament several years ago where he was playing really well and was in contention to win. When he came to the 15th hole his drive ended up very close to the road. As he was about to hit his approach into the green the silence was broken by a car horn honking which startled him and caused a duffed his shot. Furious, he shot a glare at the offending car only to see his mother in the driver’s seat smiling, waving and yelling “Hi Hans!!!!”. Mom just got excited to see her baby boy and wanted to say hello. At that point all you can do is laugh. Luckily he still went on to win two holes later and his name now resides forever on the clubhouse wall.
Below is a photo of the approach shot into the 15th green. The bunker in the foreground is a good 20 yards from the putting surface and makes for long bunker shot that requires a good deal of touch in order to get the ball to the green and then hold it.
The 16th hole, pictured below, is a mid length par 3 that we played from 169 yards. A miss to the right will likely result in a opportunity for a sand save.
The 17th hole is a 363 yard par 4 that doglegs to the left. The best line here is to hit a drive down the middle or favor the left side of the fairway just a little bit.
Below is a photo of the infamous 17th green where Justin Leonard make the impossible putt to help clinch the 1999 Ryder Cup. I wish I had gotten a better photo of this green because it is a fairly small and narrow affair with considerably more undulation in it than most of the greens at The Country Club.
The 18th hole, pictured from the tee below, is a 396 yard par 4 from the white tees. The hole doglegs to the left so the ideal line is down the left side of the fairway. There are bunkers out there so its important to be sure to play out to the right of the bunkers.
Below is the approach into the 18th green. The bunkers fronting this green are very deep and the green is not visible from down in the bottom of the bunkers. The building in the background is the locker room and men’s grill. There is a great little patio outside where members can watch the action on the 18th green.
After we finished the 18th hole we headed to the locker room bar to have something that I had been looking forward to all day, a “Fernando”. Fernando is the long time bartender for the men’s locker room bar and he has developed a nice little concoction that has been named after him. I’m not exactly sure what Fernando puts in his drink, but from what I could tell it is some sort of variation on a rum float. Regardless of what is in it, the drink is spectacular and the perfect beverage after a round of golf on a summer day. Generally speaking I’m a Transfusion drinker, but I have to say that the Fernando is truly something special.
After we sat out on the patio enjoying our Fernandos, Hans suggested that we grab our bags and take a walk over to the Primrose course so that we could see the 3 holes that are included on the championship composite course. Never ones to turn down the opportunity for more golf we gladly obliged. Unfortunately after two Fernandos, I wasn’t really interested in taking photos, so I don’t have any photos to share.
The three Primrose holes that are used for the championship course are definitely U.S. Open worthy holes and a suitable test for the elite players competing in USGA events. During championship play the 1st hole on the Primrose is used as a bit of a composite hole in its own right. Players tee off from the 1st tee box to the 1st hole fairway. However, instead of playing to the 1st hole’s green the second shot is played to the green of the par 3 2nd hole. It’s a bit of an unusual configuration, but makes for a great par 4 hole.
The 8th hole on the Primrose which plays 461 yards and to a par of 5 for day to day play changes to a long par 4 when it is used for the championship composite. It has a big uphill for the second shot and is a tough golf hole for even the best players.
The final Primrose hole used in the championship composite is the 9th hole. This one is a long par 4 that plays 425 yards down the hill with a pond on the right side of the hole.
Once we finished up on the Primrose we headed back to the clubhouse where Jeff and Hans parted ways with Kyle and me. Fortunately, before he left Hans armed us with his member number and told us to stay as long as we wanted and get whatever we needed from the bar. Kyle and I enjoyed the patio along with a couple more Fernandos and soaked in the atmosphere as much as we could. You never know when you will get to return to a place like this so we took in as much as we could before we left.
To sum up The Country Club I can make a simple statement . . . I LOVED it. With the rolling terrain, the complex textures and just the right amount of quirk this is the type of course that gets me excited for a game of golf. Leaving the grounds I could only hope for two things. One, that after the U.S. Amateur being held at The Country Club in 2013, we will see another U.S. Open not far behind, and two, that I’ll get another chance to visit sometime soon.