BROOKLINE, MASSACHUSETTS | On a cool, gray May Monday, the sound of moving equipment, the crack of hammers and the occasional sound of steel pipes banging together could be heard across the otherwise pastoral grounds of The Country Club, where the 122nd U.S. Open golf championship will be played in six weeks.
It has been 34 years since the American national championship was played here, a U.S. Open won by Curtis Strange, who beat Nick Faldo in an 18-hole playoff back when the USGA believed in settling championships that way.
The long wait for another U.S. Open at The Country Club, one of the five founding USGA clubs, is nearly over and the buildout is in full force, dotting the rolling and rock-strewn landscape with grandstands and hospitality chalets in various stages of completion.
It is a classically New England setting, the layout bordering on rugged in spots with its rocky outcroppings and rough-around-the-edges aesthetics, all set off by the sprawling yellow clubhouse that sits just to the right of the 18th green.
If there is a growing familiarity with U.S. Open venues – that will increase with Pinehurst, Oakmont and Pebble Beach as designated anchor sites moving forward – coming back to The Country Club is almost like a throwback moment because it has been more than three decades since it hosted the event. It’s been 23 years since the infamous 1999 Ryder Cup was played there.
Click on images of Francis Ouimet and caddie Eddie Lowery in 1913 (left), Julius Boros in 1963 and Curtis Strange in 1988 to enlarge.
For all of its history, TCC (a.k.a. Brookline) has hosted only three previous U.S. Opens: the legendary 1913 event when amateur Francis Ouimet walked out of his house and across the street to pull off one of the game’s great upsets; the 1963 U.S. Open won by Julius Boros; and the 1988 event won by Strange.
This time, the course will be slightly different, utilizing a Gil Hanse-updated layout that incorporates parts of a third nine into the championship routing while adding more than 200 yards to the 1988 U.S. Open version and reducing par from 71 to 70.
“The Country Club is an old-school golf course. It has small greens and very tight fairways. How do modern golfers adjust to that?” – Jeff Hall
At 7,264 yards, The Country Club isn’t overly long by modern standards, but it has never been about power golf, and that isn’t likely to change in June.
“The Country Club is an old-school golf course,” said Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director for rules and Open championships. “It has small greens and very tight fairways. How do modern golfers adjust to that?”
For fans of U.S. Open courses framed by thick rough, Brookline won’t disappoint. Though it’s been a relatively cool spring in the Boston area, the rough has come in nicely. The greens, which don’t have many sharp contours but have very few flat areas, already have the familiar thump of firm surfaces when a putter or a ball is dropped on them, and the fairways will be traditionally narrow.
A handful of significant changes have been made to the course since it last hosted the U.S. Open. Some were in place when Matt Fitzpatrick won the U.S. Amateur in 2013, but more adjustments have been made since.
“The bones are still there,” Hall said. “Gil (Hanse) was looking at, was it (adding) yardage for yardage sake or was it actually strategic? He found some spots where it made more sense.”
Click on images above of (clockwise, from upper left) Nos. 11, 5, 14 and 10 to enlarge.
The biggest is the addition of the short par-3 11th hole to the layout. It wasn’t used in the last U.S. Open – players actually walked past it to get to the next tee – but the decision was made to include it this year, and it’s a beauty. It will measure 131 yards and play sharply downhill to a slightly raised green that demands precision.
The par-4 fifth hole will play just 310 yards, but it’s uphill, with a cluster of bunkers that are sure to catch plenty of tee shots as players fire at the green. With birdies as precious as they tend to be in U.S. Opens, the fifth hole may be the best chance to be aggressive.
The 10th hole is a stunner, winding down and around exposed rocks before playing back up a hill to the green. It played as a 515-yard par-5 in 1988 but will be a 499-yard par-4 this year. Welcome to golf’s new age.
With its relatively tight footprint, this U.S. Open will allow slightly more than 30,000 people on site each tournament day … Opening day at The Country Club was held last Saturday, and the countdown clock to the U.S. Open is less than 50 days.
Then there is the 619-yard par-5 14th hole, the last third of it playing sharply uphill to a green so elevated that an extra-long flagstick is used for member play.
“It’s an adult golf hole,” Hall said.
With its relatively tight footprint, this U.S. Open will allow slightly more than 30,000 people on site each tournament day, and the club property is already covered by structures big and small. Opening day at The Country Club was held last Saturday, and the countdown clock to the U.S. Open is less than 50 days.
The game has changed since Strange won the U.S. Open here, with distance having become an even greater factor. It will be an advantage at Brookline, but only if players can consistently find fairways.
What hasn’t changed is the USGA’s maxim about the U.S. Open.
“The golf course is prepared and presented in a way that’s consistent with the U.S. Open. How the players play it is not for us to decide,” Hall said.
When the complaints start coming about how high and thick the grass is off the fairway, well, that’s part of the U.S. Open, too.
“When players start grumbling about the rough,” Hall said, “I remind them that we mow the fairways every day, sometimes twice.”
Photos: Courtesy USGA
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