CHESTNUT HILL, MASSACHUSETTS | Curtis Strange had no idea. Granted, he had his hands pretty full trying to win the first of his consecutive U.S. Opens and stave off an equally hungry Nick Faldo in an 18-hole playoff at The Country Club in 1988. But five times Strange made the long walk from the eighth green to the ninth tee, never knowing why they were set a couple hundred yards apart.
“I knew that they skipped some holes,” Strange said of the composite course used for championships at Brookline since 1957. “When you go to a golf course for a major, everything is so framed with people and grandstands. Every time we played up there, from practice rounds on, the people are there so you never see. I don’t even know where the hole was to be honest with you.”
The short downhill par-3 12th hole was always one of three holes from the main course excluded in the championship routing, replaced by three holes from the adjacent Primrose nine. But in 2022, for the first time in a U.S. Open at Brookline since Francis Ouimet’s landmark victory in 1913, the wee par-3 will take its place in the routing when the championship returns to The Country Club after a 34-year absence.
The USGA’s primary reasoning for including it? “This is a really neat golf hole – let’s use it,” said Jeff Hall, the USGA’s managing director, rules and Open championships.
“First and foremost, it’s a really wonderful little short par-3,” Hall said of the 131-yarder. “As you look at golf out there today, there’s probably not enough of those types of holes. To have one on that property and be able to use it where it would make sense logistically from a routing standpoint, we’re just very excited to have that opportunity.”
“This is a really neat golf hole – let’s use it.” – Jeff Hall
The 2022 composite course will feature a routing never used before in any of the previous 14 USGA championships, two Walker Cups or the 1999 Ryder Cup held at Brookline. Since the 1957 U.S. Amateur – when the USGA was seeking more yardage – a composite championship course has excluded three holes on the main course to stretch the total length by 450 yards.
“We’ve played all our championships since 1957 on composite routing that did not include the ninth, 10th and 12th holes,” said Brendan Walsh, the head professional at The Country Club.
By eliminating the short par-4 10th and even shorter 12th in favor of three long holes from the Primrose – as well as converting the short par-4 second into a long par-3 – it created imbalanced nines for the composite, with the front side measuring about 3,200 yards for the most recent 2013 U.S. Amateur played there while the back stretched to a stout 4,100 yards.
This time, however, the setup will skip the short par-4 fourth hole and replace it with the par-3 12th. They will also jigger the order a bit, wrapping up the front side by playing the par-5 14th “Quarry” hole and the Primrose ninth. The back side will start with the usual par-5 11th hole as a long par-4, with the 131-yard par-3 playing as the 11th hole in the championship. The Primrose 1-2 combination hole and 625-yard eighth will play as Nos. 13 and 14 in the Open before finishing on the familiar 15-through-18 closing stretch.
This routing will not only bring the first and 10th tees closer to the driving range (which is set up on the usual ninth and 10th holes), it will bring the nines more in balance with a par-5 and two par-3s on each side with the front measuring nearly 3,600 yards and the back 3,788. In addition to better accommodating two-tee starts that have become the norm since the last time the U.S. Open was played there, it also eliminates two awkward walks from the usual fourth green to fifth tee as well as the length of the downhill par-3 that was previously skipped.
Consequently, the world will finally get to see what they were missing with the newly Gil Hanse-renovated one-shotter that exudes old-school charm. Hanse has been tinkering with the historic course since prepping it for the 2013 U.S. Amateur won by Matthew Fitzpatrick. But it wasn’t until fall 2019 that he restored the short hole called Redan (despite not having any Redan features) to its glory.
“I think one of the more dramatic changes to the golf course will be the reclamation of the green space on hole No. 12, the downhill par-3,” Hanse said in a video explaining his plan before renovating the hole. “It will restore some wonderful hole locations, which will bring the green a lot closer to the edge.
“The green pad itself was constructed to house the entirety of the green and over years and years of evolution the green has shrunk, the rough has come in and the green has separated itself from the surrounding bunkers.”
While Brookline is flush with small green complexes, the par-3 had become a relative postage stamp at only 2,400 square feet after years of mowing practices. Hanse stretched the shoulders of the green back to the original parameters that were clearly visible on the elevated landform that falls off sharply behind and on the right. A trio of bunkers guard the left while a yawning cross bunker covers the front – all rebuilt by Hanse.
Walsh said the restored green is 4,500 square feet – nearly twice the size of what it had shrunk to – and ranges 30 yards deep with a plethora of new hole options closer to the trouble around the sharper perimeter. That’s what Hanse was aiming for by restoring the original shape and contours.
“The green expansion will make it an easier target to hit for the members. But by creating new hole locations closer to the edges will provide more difficulty and require more precision for the championship golfers,” Hanse said.
Said Hall: “Yes it’s a larger target but I think it’s a more strategic target now than it was previously.”
Hanse also expanded the tee pad to create more yardage options as well as different angles of attack. He lowered the front of the box to create two tiers with the front bunker now fully visible from the back of the box.
“The green depth and various tees there, even though it’s a short hole there’s a tremendous amount of flexibility with the setup of that hole,” said Hall. “I think it could play as short as 102 yards and as long as 140 yards. That’s pretty amazing flexibility for such a short hole.
“It’s going to be an interesting opportunity at shotmaking. They’ll all start from the same place and perhaps play the hole differently, whether club or flight or shape. The restoration has added to the strategy with the movement in that green and the little pockets in that green. It’s hard to believe you can have such a short scoring club in your hand and miss your target by 20 feet and potentially be a touch on the defensive.”
One of the big parts of Hanse’s master plan with the course was making the long holes long again for today’s professionals. So the short par-3 will provide a welcome scoring opportunity in a grueling back-nine stretch, falling after the 513-yard uphill par-4 “Himalayas” 10th and before a run of four holes that measure 478, 490, 625 and 515 yards until the 211-yard, par-3 16th.
“It could provide some excitement – Lord knows, once you play that hole and get up onto the 12th tee, you’ve got some good size holes,” Hall said. “So there’s a chance here and it falls perfectly in the way the golf course is routed. We all know when you get to a U.S. Open and you have a chance, you better take advantage of it because typically there aren’t many of them or enough of them to make up for other mistakes. You’ve got one here and I’m sure there are people who will walk off that hole with a number on their card and scratching their head thinking ‘How did that just happen?’ ”
Walsh says the members at The Country Club are not only excited to host its fourth U.S. Open but also “excited to have this hole in there” as it was in 1913 when local amateur Ouimet shocked British heavyweights Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in an 18-hole playoff.
Strange is happy to see another chapter on a course where he made history, even if the new layout might be a little disorienting. “I’m happy for the club and happy for the USGA,” Strange said. “The young players need to go back to places like that to be a part of that history.”
Hall believes The Country Club – one of five charter clubs that founded the USGA – is ready for its flagship championship return and is eager to see the reaction when people see its new presentation.
“I suspect it will surprise people,” Hall said. “Many of the holes they will recognize. It will take getting reacclimated. Brookline is still Brookline and we’re really looking forward to getting back there. … It’s a historic golf course; it’s one of our founding clubs; it’s important for us to go back there for a U.S. Open. There is magic in going back to The Country Club.”
Top: The 131-yard par-3 will slip into reconfigured composite routing as No. 11 for the 2022 U.S. Open. Photo and video: James Sylvia, MembersFirst
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