Click on images of No. 16 (above, left) and No. 9 to enlarge
Assumptions are always precarious, but in the case of NBC’s coverage of the 122nd U.S. Open, which commences in a little more than three months from now, it’s a safe bet that nostalgia will be a component.
The Country Club in the town of Brookline, Massachusetts, just a few miles from downtown Boston, will host for a fourth time. That is where, of course, the most significant U.S. Open of them all was played – Francis Ouimet’s stunning 1913 playoff victory over Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.
Brace for rich sentimental scents of a Francis-and-Eddie Lowery saga that might be the most timeless of all our great American sports stories.
Only should you truly long to embrace the roots of our national golf championship, you should shift your attention 31 miles northeast of The Country Club, stir up the emotion you have for a treasure that is frozen in time, and study the unspoiled story that is the Myopia Hunt Club.
Carved into farmland in the quiet town of South Hamilton, pop. 7,500, Myopia was the Oakmont and Pebble Beach of the early rota. Only eight clubs, in fact, have hosted more U.S. Opens than Myopia’s four. And if you want to point out that it hasn’t been held there since 1908, why quibble about a 114-year hiatus?
Let’s just agree: When it comes to aura and authenticity, the Myopia Hunt Club stands today as proudly committed to what it was when Bobby Jones said more than 80 years ago: “I always thought one of the charming features of Myopia was its lack of artificiality.”
“I don’t know if it was built before the Revolutionary War or not, but it sure feels like it.” – David Normoyle
That grabs your attention as you drive along an entryway that is unlike anything elsewhere in golf. Then again, there’s much about the Myopia Hunt Club that is unlike anything elsewhere in golf, but take it from David Normoyle, the intro nails it.
“You go past the oldest polo field in the country, then you can hear the hounds in the kennel,” said Normoyle.
Yes, we’re talking hounds for fox hunts that still take place on special occasions. But relax; there’s no killing of live foxes. The hounds merely chase scents that are left for them
“Then you go over an ancient stone bridge and that’s when you see the clubhouse painted yellow. I don’t know if it was built before the Revolutionary War or not, but it sure feels like it.”
Normoyle is one of the foremost historians in golf, a Californian and former USGA fellow who earned a Masters from the University of Cambridge. Picture Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw handling land preciously; that is Normoyle with golf history.
So, if the entry moves his spirit, you know you’re in a sort of time tunnel. “And we haven’t even gotten to the golf course,” he said.
Ah, yes, the golf course. The exquisite prose that John Updike, a member, wrote about golf was often inspired by his travails over the Myopia holes. A generation earlier, Jones called it “one of the most interesting courses in America.”
Praise enough to be Herbert Corey Leeds’ epitaph.
Reputable enough as a Harvard graduate, world-traveler, sailing champ, and renowned expert on bridge, Leeds figured what the heck, he found time to design Myopia and also the routing at Palmetto Golf Club in Aiken, South Carolina.
“And there’s so much of his historic fabric, that they haven’t messed with it,” said Kevin Mendick, another club historian (Brae Burn CC) who has written extensively about Leeds.
So pleased he was for how his “Long Nine” tested the U.S. Open field in 1898 – “Victory on a course like that of Myopia belongs to the man with wrists of steel and shoulders of iron” read the Boston Post story – that shortly after Scotsman Fred Herd won with 328 on trips of 84-85-75-84, Leeds beamed.
“This was as fully a fine test of golf in the game, (but) we will have a proper links of 18 holes,” said Myopia historian Denny Ryus, reading Leeds’ quotes from club archives.
Thus, for U.S. Opens that followed in 1901, 1905 (both won by Willie Anderson) and 1908 (won by Fred McLeod), golfers got 18 holes at about 6,335 yards. And guess what? The original “Long Nine” is still there in some form, and while the full 18 now stretches to about 6,555 yards, not a whole lot else has changed.
Which is the way they like things at the Myopia Hunt Club.
Click on images of Fred McLeod (above, left) and Willie Anderson to enlarge.
“It is,” said Ryus, “authentic.”
That authenticity is captured in the archives of those U.S. Opens, where players were restricted to eight clubs at a time when the choice of ball went from the gutta to the Haskell.
Walk the ground and you swear you can feel the anguish of those beguiled by Leeds’ brilliance. Most especially the Smith brothers, who won three U.S. Opens between them but never at Myopia.
Alex Smith in 1901 was five strokes clear of Anderson in their playoff, only to play his last five holes in 27 and get edged by Anderson, who played them in 21.
Again in 1905, Alex was at 156 and five better than Anderson through 36 when he posted 80-80 for 316 on Day 2 and got beaten by Anderson’s 76-77 for 314.
In 1908 it was Alex’s brother, Willie Smith, who failed the Myopia test. At 159 he led McLeod by five, but the North Berwick-trained McLeod came home in 81-77 to force a playoff, which he won handily (77-83) thanks to seven 4s over his final eight holes.
Four national championships hosted in 11 years. Two went to Anderson, one of just four men with four triumphs in the national open. The 1901 win remains the highest winning score (331) in U.S. Open history. Competitors included Leeds and Donald Ross, Charles Blair Macdonald and Laurie Auchterlonie. In 1908 a purse of nearly $1,000 was split between those who finished top 10.
Only nowhere in the clubhouse is there a memento, a replica trophy, a medal, a plaque. There’s nothing to see. Yet there’s everything to feel.
“Myopia,” said Normoyle, “oozes with the very thing you can never buy – history.”
Vintage photos: Courtesy USGA; All other photos: Courtesy Myopia Hunt Club.
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