To understand what the temperatures were like in 1999, the last time a big-stage golf event – the Ryder Cup – came to The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, you would have required two thermometers.
One, for the general New England sports fandom, wouldn’t have reached hypothermia, but it certainly wasn’t going to hit 98.6, either. It’s as if wide swaths of the sports citizenry weren’t quite tuned in and, hey, who could have blamed them?
Local sports morale wasn’t exactly rampant that year.
The winter teams had been miserable in 1998-99. The NHL Bruins lost in Round 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs to the Buffalo Sabres, and the Celtics won just 19 of 50 games in a lockout NBA season. Making matters worse, NHL Hall of Famer Bobby Orr was still retired and Rick Pitino was still the Celtics head coach, so misery was in full supply.
As for the fall club, the NFL Patriots had spent the spring trying to move to Hartford, Connecticut, and the summer trying to figure out its surfer dude of a coach, Pete Carroll. Kiss that season goodbye.
That left our Boys of Summer, the Red Sox, to pen another chapter in that great rivalry with the Yankees. Of course, to quote whichever baseball writer said it, “it was a rivalry like the hammer and the nail.” The BoSox being the nail, of course.
They would finish four games behind the Yankees in the division race that year, then get trounced, 4-1, in the American League final. In winning 11 of 12 postseason games, the Pinstripes won their 25th World Series since the Red Sox had last won one.
Which brings the ’99 Ryder Cup into the equation. In that Boston summer of sports lethargy, there was intrigue in this golf competition. Maybe it was generated by just a small segment of the “Inside Golf” crowd, but if you had used a second thermometer on them, it would have hit a fever pitch.
Skeptical? Don’t be. Instead, digest the sort of numbers that were generated by TCC committee members who might not have had excessive land to work with, but oh, their Rolodexes were plugged into Boston firms and financial institutions that dated to the days before Francis Ouimet won the 1913 U.S. Open.
Fifty-nine corporate tents at $275,000 per blew the PGA of America folks away but met the expectations of TCC board members. It’s been said that $63 million in gross revenue was generated, more than twice what the previous home Ryder Cup (1995 at Oak Hill in Rochester, New York) had done.
Factor in the sale of 30,000 tickets per day and it demonstrated that the Ryder Cup was a happening and a spectacle that folks just had to be a part of, no matter that they might have been clueless about this “dormie” business.
“Everyone and their mothers are inquiring about tickets.” – Alison Walshe
But the 1999 Ryder Cup also demonstrated that the great minds at TCC knew how to coordinate, sell, and put on a big golf show. Problem is this partnership with the PGA of America was a round-peg/square-hole issue.
Thus, The Country Club would return to the seeds it had helped plant 105 years earlier. It would not – as previously agreed upon – host the PGA Championship in 2005 (the PGA of America took it to Baltusrol). Instead, it would be tied to the USGA.
The 2013 U.S. Amateur went swimmingly, and if that championship proved that the USGA and TCC were still a great fit, just as importantly it showed that the area had a passionate golf clientele. Crowds were consistently good, and they didn’t need the spectacle of a Ryder Cup; the civility of a proper golf tournament more than suited their fancy.
Nine years later (and 34 since the last U.S. Open was held, in 1988, at TCC), there is a buzz to this year’s national championship. It feels more widespread and way more about all things golf than it did in ’99.
It’s hard to quantify, but Massachusetts’ Alison Walshe offered this: “I think it’s because golf is trending, and more and more golfers are interested in architecture and history, both of which are such a big part of The Country Club.”
Saturated in a perspective that comes with having played eight-plus years on the LPGA Tour, Walshe remains invested in the game, as a fan and as an occasional competitor. A strategic-relations manager at Hexagon Capital Partners, Walshe loves how golf is finding a comfort zone in a wider social lens, and this year’s championship at The Country Club is the latest example.
A wider cross-section of fans exists, and there’s an emphasis on diversity and inclusion within the USGA and TCC. “The talk about restoration (of the TCC course) and being a partner with the town of Brookline is all positive,” she said.
There is also that slice of the story that speaks to the hype, albeit in a manner that is disappointing to those who’d like to go. “Everyone and their mothers are inquiring about tickets,” Walshe said, laughing.
“It’s too bad, but in a positive way.”
At Hatherly Country Club in Scituate, Massachusetts – a lovely seaside course 35 miles southeast of Brookline that has a robust, golf-happy membership – head professional Chip Johnson has had to tell golfers that tickets are tough to find.
When reminded that Johnson had provided an ample supply the last time the U.S. Open was at TCC, he laughed.
“I told them that was in 1988,” said Johnson, who at 25 that year went through two qualifiers and finished T40 at TCC.
Different time, back when the game wasn’t “trending.”
Top: Tiger Woods at the Ryder Cup in 1999 (Photo: Stephen Munday, Getty Images)
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