Great tournament courses are defined as much by familiar, fate-sealing successions of holes as they are by the champions they produce. The annual allure of Augusta National is inseparable from the ritualistic reminiscing of Golden Bell, Firethorn and Holly and the lore they’ve inscribed. Oakmont, Pebble Beach and Winged Foot have remained what they are because they represent golf archetypes, immutable legends forged by the purity of their formats.
No less important to American golf is The Country Club in Brookline, Massachusetts, a historic property that will host its fourth US Open in June 2022 to go along with six US Amateurs, two US Women’s Amateurs and a mythic Ryder Cup in 1999. But unlike other symphonies in the Major championship canon, The Country Club has never been a singular score or prescribed series of recited movements. Instead, it’s been a composition of musical passages arranged in changing orders, alternating stanzas to evoke different passions and shuffled rhythms. The beginning and endings have remained relatively constant, but the bars in the middle have been interpreted differently for nearly every important tournament that’s played there.
The Country Club expanded its first rudimentary six-hole course to a full 18 in the early 1900s, and in the 1920s William Flynn built a third nine. Members today have the option of three nines – the Clyde, the Squirrel and the “new” Primrose – though the original Clyde and Squirrel nines comprise what’s known as the Main course, or the preferred official 18-hole course that’s ranked 17th on US Golf Digest’s list of America’s 100 Greatest Courses.
When important tournaments come to town, however, holes from all three nines are employed, usually adding three holes from the Primrose nine (plus half of a fourth) to the Championship routing. Traditionally there’s been a relatively consistent grouping of Championship holes used for big tournaments, though their progression – how they are numbered and ordered – has changed from decade to decade, event to event.
The USGA has recently made The Country Club’s routing for the 2022 US Open public, and the layout will debut a combination and sequencing of holes never used before. The big news is the addition of the short par-3 11th to the championship, historically known as “Redan” and played day to day as the Main course’s 12th hole. In previous US Opens this small, downhill one-shot morsel has been bypassed – competitors would putt-out on the par-5 10th (considered one of the game’s great holes and played as the Main course’s 11th, and as the ninth in previous US Opens), then walk around the par 3 to tee it up at the next hole, a par 4 playing back in the direction of the clubhouse.
In 2022, this attractive hole, which Gil Hanse upgraded in 2020 by expanding the outer edges of the fall-away putting surface to capture more pin positions, will take the place of the par-4 fourth. That hole, an interesting par 4 with a blind drive over a rocky outcropping to a heavily canted fairway, had been in the rotation for every other US Open and important event. But in the modern age of supersized Major tournament productions, its location on the property’s extremity with advantageous egress and ingress makes it more valuable as a staging area and compound for media and network operations.
Contrary to a variety of reports, this is not the first time the Championship par-3 11th has been utilised in a US Open. When amateur Francis Ouimet, a 20-year-old former Brookline caddie, won the 1913 US Open at The Country Club, the course still consisted of just 18 holes and the par 3 in question was the 10th hole, director of golf Brendan Walsh confirmed to Golf Digest.
Tied for second with British professional Ted Ray and one shot behind the great Harry Vardon during the final round, Ouimet double-bogeyed the par 3, putting him one behind Ray, who bogeyed the hole, and three back of Vardon, who made par. Ouimet then played one-under the rest of the way home, which earned him a place in a three-way 18-hole playoff with Vardon and Ray the next day.
In the playoff, all three players were level-par heading into the 10th. Ouimet’s 3, against the 4s carded by Vardon and Ray, put him a stroke ahead, a lead he would never surrender on his way to one of golf’s most improbable victories.
The strength of The Country Club has never been one of those immutable formulations known to other clubs. Its unique routing, with several different nexus points that radiate holes outward in different directions, makes it the most flexible of all of the great American championship courses. Determining which way to continue play when arriving at them poses possibilities that exist at few other places, setting up the most fascinating of setup riddles.
What doesn’t change is the final movement from 15 through 18, a stretch as indisputably tough and historic as any in US Open golf. But the ability to queue up dramatic finishes by changing the tempo and music in the middle of the course is what keeps Brookline unpredictable. It will be entertaining to see if the 2022 arrangement can summon the same kind of suspense and intonation the course’s other variations have. At The Country Club, the intrigue lies in how the voyage is performed as much as where the movement ends.