The U.S. Open Championship will come to The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., next June for the first time since 1988, when Curtis Strange won the first of his back-to-back titles, defeating Nick Faldo in an 18-hole playoff.
A lot has changed in 34 years: if there’s a tie after 72 holes, it won’t be decided in an 18-hole playoff, and the field will encounter a course that has been lengthened by more than 250 yards. But yardage alone doesn’t tell the story of the changes to the layout that – in one form or another – has hosted 16 previous USGA championships, starting with the 1902 U.S. Women’s Amateur.
“You’ve heard us say that the ghosts of the past matter, and The Country Club is one of the five founding clubs of the USGA,” said Jeff Hall, managing director of Rules and Open Championships. “But you don’t get to host a U.S. Open just because you’re a founding club. It’s got great history and it will be exciting to expand on that history in June.”
In 1913, the club provided a seminal moment in the game’s annals: Francis Ouimet’s shocking U.S. Open playoff victory over English titans Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. Next June, competitors will play a hole that hasn’t been used in a U.S. Open since then. In the 1963 and 1988 U.S. Opens, players skipped the par-3 hole that will play as No. 11. The last time it was used in an Open, Ouimet took control of the playoff with a par as both of his foes bogeyed.
Hall is delighted to bring back the 131-yard hole defended by four bunkers and a fronting brook.
“Let’s face it, it’s a wedge for these guys, and yet there will be some players walking to the 12th tee having just marked a ‘4’ on their card and wondering what happened,” said Hall, who has been involved in U.S. Open setup since 2006. “I’ve got nothing against a big par 3, but they don’t have to be 225- or 230-yard brutes to require execution at the highest level.”
Any discussion of The Country Club begins with the knowledge that, having debuted in 1882, it has evolved greatly over its 140 years. In fact, golf was not even in the mix when it opened its doors, the lion’s share of the acreage at the time devoted to polo and horse racing – the racetrack oval roughly encircled the present-day first and 18th holes.
In 1963, TCC and the USGA debuted a U.S. Open routing that incorporated several holes from the club’s nine-hole Primrose Course, and Julius Boros (70) earned his second Open title and third major victory over Jacky Cupit (73) and Arnold Palmer (76), who lost three 18-hole playoffs in a five-year span.
To accommodate the return of the par-3 11th hole in June, the par-4 fourth hole will be taken out of play. Four other holes have notable changes: two take new positions in the routing, and two swap par. The holes that will play as Nos. 8 and 9 were No. 14 and No. 13, respectively, in 1988. The swap balances the nines and facilitates the Nos. 1 and 10 tee start needed for Rounds 1 and 2 (the two-tee start wasn’t a factor in 1988; it debuted in the 2002 U.S. Open).
The holes that swap par are No. 10 (from 5 to 4) and No. 14 (from 4 to 5). The 14th played as a 450-yard par 4 in 1988 and has been transformed to a 619-yard par 5. The 10th was a 510-yard par 5 in 1988 and is now a 499-yard par 4. Both of those reconfigured holes made their USGA debuts in the 2013 U.S. Amateur, won by Matthew Fitzpatrick of England.
“The changes add a degree of difficulty over what we had in 1988,” said Hall. “On No. 14, if you miss the fairway from the tee, you may be forced to lay up, which leaves you with a blind, uphill third shot of 160 to 165 yards.”
Six of the holdover holes from 1988 will play marginally shorter, with the biggest difference being 10 yards (the par-4 seventh goes from 385 yards to 375 yards).
“[Architect] Gil Hanse has done some work that allows us to keep the long holes long, and the shorter holes will still be demanding,” said Hall. “Like any U.S. Open, you’ve got to have control of your ball. It’s going to be fascinating to watch.”
Hanse has done work on several U.S. Open courses, including 2020 host Winged Foot Golf Club and The Los Angeles Country Club, which will host in 2023. Through previous projects, Hanse crossed paths years ago with Dave Johnson, director of grounds at TCC.
“I started here in 2018, and what began as an effort to help the greens drain more quickly resulted in Gil expanding the green surfaces and restoring the bunkers,” said Johnson. “The biggest benefit is creating – or recreating – some hole locations that many of the members had never seen.”
Hanse used images taken when TCC hosted the 1934 U.S. Amateur to reestablish lost features and bring greens closer to bunkers, in many cases removing rough between them. The uphill second hole, at 215 yards, is a subtle, yet visually dramatic example of Hanse’s work.
“You could not see any of the green from the tee previously, just a flag sticking up in the air,” said Johnson. “We added a small fairway approach area and lowered the front of the green by about 6 inches to blend it into the approach. Now when you stand on that tee, you see the entire front of the green.”
“We also lowered the floors of most of the bunkers on the course, sort of scalloped them out so you can see into them,” said Johnson. “They’re not any bigger, but it makes access into them easier and it matters a lot from the golfer’s perspective.”
Perspective and history are omnipresent at The Country Club, which will have hosted at least one USGA championship in 12 of the 13 decades since 1900.
“Look at the people who have won here,” said club historian Fred Waterman. “Francis Ouimet went on to win a pair of U.S. Amateurs. Lawson Little won two U.S. Amateurs and a U.S. Open. Julius Boros won three majors. Curtis Strange won two U.S. Opens and Jay Sigel won five USGA championships. The best courses find the best players.”
It’s a formula that keeps bringing the USGA back to Brookline.
Ron Driscoll is the senior manager of editorial content for the USGA. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.