C.B. Macdonald’s “Scorecard” for identifying the ideal golf course leaves little room for one to interpret a route to one’s own whims, especially when the Father of American Golf Architecture lends as much credence to “nature of the soil” as he does the combined “Best length of holes” and “variety and arrangement of length.” The average non-architect will focus on the latter two, especially when beginning a round at The Country Club. “Best length indeed,” you may think to yourself, placing your tee at the 450-yard dogleg left, and hoping not to embarrass yourself in front of the starter at one of America’s premier privates. “Best length INDEED.”
The next 17 holes matter more, both in terms of redeeming yourself and in terms of quality (the opener is perhaps the weakest at Brookline). For every crusher, there is a short Par 4 to assure you, a guest, that you have a chance here. No. 10 is almost as fun as the hole that follows; playing just 311 from the standard tees, the real trick is to best position yourself for a wedge. This wedge will loft uphill to an old-fashioned green that tilts zanily from back left to front right. It almost makes you feel bad for the pros, that they won’t get to experience this as part of the Composite championship course in 2022. Then again, they don’t take well to chicanery (read: fun elements) such as this. As a new update for the U.S. Open, they’ll be skipping No. 4 as well, where the back tee plays shorter in terms of yardage, but teeing over a sheer wall of native grass and rock feeds the paranoia of just how far you can go before you meet sand, fescue, or all of the above. Pros do not like blind shots (I do). One blind shot they won’t be able to avoid is No. 16, where the bunkers fronting the medium-length Par 3 rise up to allow viewing the flagstick, and not much else.
Your correspondent’s adoration for the shorter holes isn’t simply a reflection of how poorly he played on the longer holes. The more beastly Par 4s earn their acclaim, especially at No. 3, where the fairway funnels between a pair of fescued hillocks before presenting a long approach to an obstacle course of bunkers. The closer also questions whether GIR is GIR (grounded in reality). These holes draw attention to the purely American concept of “par,” and whether mid-handicappers such as myself should obsess over it. A two-putt five on either of these fours is a noteworthy mark on the scorecard. That feeling of noteworthiness is more readily available, and the longer holes more appreciated, when the player has the opportunity to score elsewhere. This is the essence of “variety and arrangement of length,” by Macdonald’s word. The antithesis would be a Bethpage Black, which grants little reprieve for little golfers trying to enjoy classic architecture.
Coming into The Country Club, the lack of alternative lengths (two Par 5s and three Par 3s) may sound like a stale round. Given the strength of “variety and arrangement of length” presented by the respective Campbells—Willie and Alex—Brookline could have thrown 19 two-shotters at us and gotten away with it. Well, almost.
We haven’t touched on the club’s greatest hole, the Par 5 eleventh, which is a sight to behold. The hole’s oft-photographed rock formations define the unique geography of Boston, and especially Brookline. Good design is possible anywhere, theoretically. This is not. Enjoy the details of the site, even if that’s while picking for your ball among the thick vegetation edging the bunkers...we still need to research for what species of moss was growing along the No. 18’s greenside bunkers. Horticultural goosebumps.
Date: August 04, 2019