The name may sound a little arrogant and for golfers in the know, there’s no need to explain that THE Country Club was the first of its type in the USA. It’s set in the charming heart of New England but to be precise it’s located in the suburbs of Brookline, Boston Massachusetts.
The Country Club was formed way back in 1860, but it took another thirty years before golf arrived here in the shape of a simple 6-hole layout, which was soon extended to 9 holes by Willie Campbell. In December 1894, the Country Club became one of the five founder members of the American Golf Association, which was subsequently renamed the United States Golf Association. The other four charter members were: Newport Country Club, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club, St. Andrew's Golf Club (Yonkers, N.Y.), and Chicago Golf Club.
By 1910, golf had caught on in the Boston area and the course was extended to a full 18 holes. Little did they know that three years later, a defining moment in American golf would take place in the shape of the 1913 US Open, which saw amateur Francis Ouimet – a young, unknown twenty-year-old and a former caddy at the Country Club – defeat the legendary professionals, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in an exciting 18-hole play-off. Ouimet’s victory injected huge interest in golf in the United States and it gave hope to ordinary Americans by proving that normal people could achieve success alongside those who were more financially fortunate.
The 27 holes in play today at The Country Club were constructed at different times with input from numerous architects. Francis Ouimet won the US Open on the original course (Clyde & Squirrel), but the modern-day championship layout consists of fifteen holes of the original eighteen, with four holes from William Flynn's Primrose nine-hole loop (two Primrose holes are combined to make one tough and long tournament par four).
The club was originally founded in 1882, and claims to be the oldest country club in the United States. In my research I have found some of these claims to be quite entertaining. For example, my home course in Franklin, Tennessee, Old Natchez claims to have been founded in 1882. Regardless, The Country Club is rightfully quite proud of its storied past. It is listed on the USGA's list of the first 100 clubs in America and is one of the five charter clubs of the United States Golf Association. Today it is one of the largest clubs in the northeast, with well over 1000 members. It is also quite infamous for having some of the smallest greens in golf. It is located in Brookline, Massachusetts, which was the birthplace of John F. Kennedy.
As referred to earlier, the original club was focused on equestrian and other outdoor activities as a result of the Myopia Hunt Club being relocated to the hinterlands of South Hamilton, Massachusetts. The golf course was not built until 1893. The first six holes were laid out by three club members. In 1894 Willie Campbell was named the club pro and he expanded the initial six holes to nine. It was not until additional land was acquired that the course could be expanded to 18 holes in 1899. For several years conflicts arose between golfers and other club members over land use. In fact, the first and eighteenth holes where overlapped with a race track!
Today the course played by members consists of two nines called Clyde and Squirrel. In 1927 another nine holes were added, called Primrose. The new nine was designed by William Flynn.
At The Country Club the Open Course is a composite of the three nines. Three holes and a half of a hole from the Primrose replace 3 holes from the Clyde to create a course over 7000 yards. Work is being done to make the course even longer, with a 600 yard plus par 5.
The Country Club is most famous for the 1913 US Open which was won by the US amateur Francis Ouimet. The saga has gained new popularity with the 2005 film “The Greatest Game Ever Played.” Francis Ouimet grew up on Clyde Street, which is across from the 17th green. Francis started caddying at The Country Club when he was nine and taught himself the game. He became one of the best amateur golfers in the state. However, when he was a junior in high school his father insisted that he do something useful with his life and he dropped out. In one of the twists in the tapestry of life, Francis ended up working in a sporting goods store owned by none other than George Wright.
I am sure some of you are wondering who the heck George Wright was? Well, George would be the Bo Jackson of his era. He was born in Yonkers, New York. His father was the club pro at St. George Cricket, hence George and his older brother, who are both in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, started out as cricket players. Harry Wright was the original manager of the Cincinnati Red Stockings and George, who was 12 years younger, was his shortstop. George is also credited with laying out New England’s first public golf course, Franklin Park, in 1890. While I am sure George’s motives were pure, his company Wright and Ditson Sporting Goods imported and sold golf clubs. What a stroke (no pun intended) of luck, genius or both having Francis Ouimet as an employee!
The 1913 US Open was held at The Country Club. The favorites were both from England, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. After 72 holes, 36 on Saturday and 36 on Sunday, there was a three way tie at 304, between Vardon, Ray and the twenty year old American amateur Francis Ouimet. The high drama was short lived as Ouimet dominated on Monday. He shot a 72 to Vardon’s 77 and Ray’s 78. Francis Ouimet became the first amateur to win the US Open. The classic David and Goliath battle where the hometown underdog persevered over the dark forces of evil captured the imagination of Americans everywhere. Ouimet’s win is generally credited with creating the first golf craze in the United States. Over the next ten years the number of golfers and golf courses purportedly more than tripled. Significantly, many of these new courses were public, thus expanding the game’s affordability. Oh, and George Wright was able to sell more golf clubs, too! Many of you have seen the iconic picture of Ouimet and his caddy, ten year old Eddie Lowery. Amazingly, you can barely see Francis, but Eddie is literally front and center.
Ouimet never reached this lofty pinnacle again. He chose not to turn professional as he was driven by his father’s admonition to do something useful with his life. . However, in a bizarre twist, the USGA stripped Ouimet of his amateur status in 1916. They felt that Ouimet was leveraging his golf fame to aid his sporting goods business. This may seem absurd by today’s standards. At the time, if you were a caddy, once you reached 16 the only way you could continue caddying was by declaring yourself a professional. Sadly, it was this same type of logic that cost Jim Thorpe his Olympic medals. Unlike Thorpe, Francis Ouimet was able to see an injustice overturned in his lifetime and after World War I the USGA reinstated Ouimet’s amateur status.
The Francis Ouimet Scholarship Fund was started by a group of Ouimet’s friends in 1949. The intent was to provide college scholarships to students who had worked as caddies. Since inception over $20M in scholarships have aided 5000 students. I am delighted to say that my sister, Graeme, is a Ouimet Scholar. In her youth she was one of the first female caddies at Marshfield Country Club.
Back to The Country Club, the 1963 and 1988 U.S. Opens were also held there. These were to commemorate the 50th and 75th anniversaries of the 1913 Ouimet victory. More recently The Country Club hosted the 33rd Ryder Cup. This competition was memorable for many reasons and forgettable for the amazingly ugly outfits that the Americans wore. Actually, the shirts were so ugly, they are impossible to forget. Going into Sunday’s competition the Europeans were leading 10-6. The American team rallied on Sunday, winning the first six matches to take the lead. Jim Furyk beat Sergio Garcia to give the American team 14 points. When Justin Leonard dropped his 45 foot bomb of a putt on 17, pandemonium ensued and the exuberant American team mobbed the 17th green. However, if Jose Maria Olazabel sank his putt, the Europeans would still be alive. Olazabel ultimately missed and the rest is history. Unfortunately, the Americans were accused of poor sportsmanship. Based upon the Rules of Golf nothing was ever cited but the Europeans are insistent that the Americans violated the spirit of the game. I have only one thing to say, “Ole!” The American victory was the closest possible score in Ryder competition, 14 ½ to 13 ½, except for a tie. Alas, it was also one of the last public appearances for Payne Stewart who would die in a plane crash within a month.
A friend of mine, Scott DeBolt, utilized his significant influence to wangle me a tee time at The Country Club. In anticipation, I was there before sunrise. As people started wandering in, the starter and caddy master, a classic curmudgeon named Bill, asked who I was playing with. I explained the situation and Bill said I must be mistaken and he insisted that I must have a tee time at Putterham Golf Course, which was right down the street. Thanks to the marvels of technology I showed him the email chain. He huffed and puffed, said he knew nothing about it and I would have to wait until he got confirmation. Fifteen minutes went by and Bill came out and said the head professional and head greens keeper did not recall approving the tee time request. I calmly said okay and went to work on the phone. I made a couple of calls, my peeps made a couple of calls and while I was on the phone working it, calls started coming into the starter’s shack. I heard Bill stammering and apologizing on the phone and now I knew I was in!
Bill begrudgingly came out of the starter shack and introduced me to my caddy, John. To his credit Bill apologized for the confusion. I asked if we were up and he said the words I had been waiting for, “The tee is yours.” I hit a decent drive, fatted my second shot, hit a good pitch and lipped my putt for a bogey. The second hole is a short par and one of the easiest holes, if you keep it in the fairway. Which, I didn’t. This was my first encounter with the rough and it became obvious the only real play was to wedge it out and take my medicine. Another bogey. The third hole, named Pond, is one of Arnold Palmer’s favorites. It is a long par 4 that bends between hills on the left and rock ledges on the right side with a pond behind the green. Years ago they supposedly harvested ice from this pond in the winter. Also, Tenley Albright practiced her figure skating on this pond en route to her gold medal at the 1956 Winter Olympics.
Over the next five holes all of my approach shots ended up just off the green. I had been warned about the size of the greens and I would pay the price. While the greens had some of the smallest aprons I have ever seen, the kicker was how penurious the rough was. It was a good three inches deep. For a player of my caliber I was just hoping to get the ball on the green and sometimes I did not succeed.
The seventh hole is a 195 yard two tiered green par three. It is well protected with bunkers on both sides and it is the only hole that remains from the original six hole course that was laid out in 1893.
As we made the turn, I reflected on how I did. Overall, I hit the ball pretty well, didn’t hit a lot of greens and was lucky to shoot a 43. Regardless, I was looking forward to the back nine. Number 11, Himalayas, is a classic golf hole. It is similar to number three with exposed granite ledges daring you to try to carry them and with a brook bisecting the fairway about 180 yards from the uphill green.
Once again I hit a good approach shot only to end up in the greenside rough to set up my double bogey.
Number twelve really surprised me. It is a short downhill par three that inexplicably is called Redan. It is anything but a redan green, Upside Down Cereal Bowl would be a more appropriate name. Another super hole is the par 5 14th, called the Quarry. The 14th has some uniquely situated moguls that need to be circumnavigated before one even has a chance to deal with the most severely sloped back to front green on the course. Boy was I happy that the pin was in the back.
When we got to 18, I was determined to finish strong after being brought to my knees time and time again by the greenside rough. I hit a good drive but still had 190 yards to the pin which was right behind the greenside bunker. John said the magic words, “You didn’t come here to lay up.” I go for it with my trusty $17 used Adams five wood. I hit it pretty well, but both John and I knew it had to go. We cheered it on to no avail. Splat, right in the lip of the bunker. As much as I would like to say I made a great up and down for par, I cannot. I finished with an ignominious triple bogey.
Colin Braithwaite is the author of “A Good Walk Unspoiled”
One of the many fun aspects of this site is the variety of opinions one finds. There is, however, little variety in the reviews of The Country Club. Not one of the site’s reviewers found it worthy of six balls, making it one of two of the site’s top 50 U.S. Courses to earn that distinction (Southern Hills being the other).
This review will not change that and here's why:
-The green complexes are dull. While many (2,4,5,6,9,10, 11 and 18) are tilted to make for big breaks, only three (7,12 and 17) have any contours to really challenge the player’s green reading ability..
-There’s little variety in the par 3s. Having only 3 doesn't help and two of these (7 and 16) often require the same club.
-For a traditional course, the player is forced to approach the greens aerially too often. Some of these are the result of elevated greens. Others are because of bunkers fronting the putting surfaces. But in a number of cases (2,6,9,10,16) there is room in front for a running approach, but what could be fairway is maintained a rough, eliminating the running approach.
I can think of a half dozen courses within 30 miles I’d rather play.
The course does have a fine collection of par 4s, but the real highlight of a visit is the clubhouse, a museum to the club’s storied history. You may take a moment to climb the stairs to see one of the original stimpmeters, invented by member Edward Stimpson after the 1935 U.S. Open at Oakmont. Of course, the club doesn’t tell you the full story—that Stimpson was a member at nearby Wellesley Country Club when he devised it.
One of the features that you find throughout the course are the glacial rock formations that holes are routed through and around, such as the par five 11th hole, aptly called Himalayas. You hit your tee shot on this hole from a high, elevated tee to a crevice in the rock canyon on the left side of the fairway. Midway between the bottom of the canyon and the elevated green is a creek that runs through the bottom of the hole. Not the type of hole you see every day and one that really uses the geography present to maximum advantage.
The terrain for the 18 holes is quite hilly and used to good effect, although it is not a terribly difficult course to walk. I know I am beating a drum on this topic, but I am again struck by how the world's great golf courses contain so many blind shots, which I really like. The #1 handicap hole, the third, is another case in point with a blind second shot to the green. The course also has a Redan hole, the short 12th, although it is a non-traditional version of the Redan. The hole plays from an elevated tee sharply down hill and is only 130 yards. Although it's not a typical Redan hole, I thought it was very good and guarded by a plethora of bunkers in the front.
The greens at The Country Club are all small. Along with Inverness and Pebble Beach, among the smallest in championship golf. Another unique feature of the course is the small chocolate-drop style mounds that are present around some of the greens. They force you to play from an uneven lie as a penalty for a missed green. If you get a chance to play, I recommend wandering around the buildings around the oval driveway before or after your round. They are all old and impressive.
John Sabino is the author of How to Play the World’s Most Exclusive Golf Clubs
The Country Club appears to be a small village of yellow clapboard buildings with white trim. It has a traditional looking clubhouse and locker room. It has a guardhouse but no guard; it does, however, have a stuffed uniform sitting in the guardhouse that at first glance looks like a guard. I don’t know if this is intended to have the “scarecrow” effect or if it’s someone’s idea of a joke. I found it hilarious. Larry Berle.