BROOKLINE, Mass. – The Country Club has seen much golf history, including 15 USGA championships. On August 12 it will add to its lore, joining Merion Golf Club in Ardmore, Pa., as the only two clubs to have hosted the U.S. Amateur, the oldest golf championship in the country, six times.
“This course has great character and charm,” said Ben Kimball, the director of the U.S. Amateur Championship for the USGA, at the recent Media Day. “As you walk the course and study the lines of the fairways, you can easily tell that it was built by hand, with picks and shovels. They couldn’t just blast away at the rocks; they had to work with the lay of the land.”
This results in several holes that feature dramatic rock outcroppings, and a championship routing that for the past eight USGA championships has incorporated four holes from the club’s Primrose Course, a nine-hole layout that was designed by the esteemed William Flynn and opened in 1927, joining the original Clyde and Squirrel nines. The composite championship course debuted for the 1957 U.S. Amateur – in the club’s 75th year – as the “Anniversary Course.”
The Country Club hosted at least one USGA championship in every decade of the 20th century, most memorably Francis Ouimet’s 1913 U.S. Open victory, and most recently the 1995 U.S. Women’s Amateur. In 1963, when Julius Boros captured his second U.S. Open in a playoff, it produced a winning score of 293, three strokes higher than for any Open of the past 78 years.
“The Country Club has had a lasting impact on the USGA, and it has a great roster of champions,” said Kimball. “For this year’s Amateur, we have 1,000 volunteers, and about 400 of them are club members. We have had tremendous support in our effort to provide a terrific golf event.”
The Country Club has undergone many changes since it hosted the memorable 1999 Ryder Cup Matches, including renovations and upgrades guided by architect Gil Hanse, extensive tree removal, and the lengthening and strengthening of some holes in preparation for the U.S. Amateur.
“For the first time in a USGA championship, the course par will be 70, not 71,” said Kimball. “The ninth and 14th holes have been converted into par 4s for the Amateur, and the 12th hole will play as a par 5 instead of a par 4.”
Those three holes are part of a mid-round gauntlet of seven holes that Kimball calls “the hardest stretch of holes in a U.S. Amateur in recent years.” Thanks in large part to that daunting array, the inward nine at The Country Club will measure a staggering 3,962 yards. After hearing Kimball’s assessment, defending champion Steven Fox joked, “I think breaking 80 sounds like a pretty good score.”
USGA officials are preparing the course to be difficult but fair.
“We are mindful of not letting the green speeds get too fast, especially during qualifying when we are trying to get 312 players around the two courses,” said Kimball, who said the target speed is 10.5 to 11 on the Stimpmeter. “You will see the speed increase as the week goes on; the test will continue to get tougher as the better players prevail through the championship.
No. 9 is a 505-yard par 4 that features a rock outcropping on the right side of the drive zone and a brook in front of the elevated green that is representative of The Country Club’s putting surfaces, which are among the smallest in championship golf at an average of 3,200 square feet. No. 10 (476 yards) requires an uphill tee shot and a precise approach. No. 11 (443 yards), an amalgam of two holes from the Primrose Course, is a sharp dogleg left with a demanding tee shot and an approach over a pond.
No. 12 (623 yards) formerly played as a demanding par 4 but is now a three-shot hole that will require a blind, uphill approach shot for all but the longest hitters. Nos. 13-15 are all sturdy par 4s (438, 508 and 491 yards, respectively) with the first of them having water in play in the drive zone and the middle hole another converted par 5 with a false-front green.
The Country Club’s classic finishing trio of holes retain their historic length, but Nos. 16 (179-yard par 3) and 17 (371-yard par 4) feature more demanding bunkering. The 17th is one of the most famous holes in golf: Francis Ouimet birdied it in both the fourth round of the 1913 U.S. Open (to join the playoff with Harry Vardon and Ted Ray) and in the next day’s playoff. The bunker that sits at the corner of the dogleg-left par 4 is known as the Vardon Bunker because the great champion’s hopes ended there in 1913. Eighty-six years later, Justin Leonard clinched the 1999 Ryder Cup for the USA on that green with a long birdie putt, setting off a raucous celebration. No. 18 (433-yard par 4), which finishes on a hillside near the clubhouse, was the scene of a thunderous ovation for Curtis Strange as he completed his own playoff victory over Nick Faldo in the 1988 U.S. Open.
“As you progress through the round, the teeth of the golf course really start to come out,” said Kimball, who then referred with a smile to the atypical first and ninth tee start for stroke-play qualifying at The Country Club. “For those players who will start their round on the ninth hole, I wish them the best of luck.”