BROOKLINE, Mass. – The Country Club, the site of this year’s US Open, had almost not staged the major tournament at all, until the club realized there was something to the adage of being the smallest house in the nicest neighborhood.
The Country Club is on the United States Golf Association’s short list of most valued institutions, one of five clubs that joined together in the 1890s to form the association. It was arguably the site of the most significant moment in American golf history – the 1913 US Open won by amateur Francis Ouimet in a playoff match against famous British professionals Ted Ray and Harry Vardon.
But the club is tucked away in an exclusive neighborhood in suburban Boston with little room to meet the growing demands of modern big tournaments. The PGA of America awarded the club their 2005 championship, but they decided that would be too much and pulled out.
Explaining the decision in 2002, John Cornish, chairman of the 1999 Ryder Cup matches at the club, said: “We were faced with the need to reduce the reach of services, local businesses and the media. The club presented this to the PGA and agreed with the PGA that the changes would not be in the best interest of the PGA Championship.
The USGA was not convinced that the Country Club could host a modern US Open. John Bodenhamer, the association’s championships manager, said on Wednesday that “this Open almost didn’t happen.” The 1988 Open was held at Brookline, for the third time in 75 years, but Bodenhamer was skeptical that a fourth would be on the course.
“The footprint was small,” Bodenhamer said. “It was in a residential area. There were just too many hurdles to overcome in what we do and what you see out there now.
Bodenhamer said the USGA’s position changed in 2013. That year, the US Open was held at Merion Golf Club outside of Philadelphia. It also has a small footprint and is in a suburban residential area. But the tournament proved to be a success and soon Bodenhamer contacted Country Club officials to see if there was any interest in holding a US Open. There was.
In July 2015, the USGA made it official: the Country Club would hold its fourth US Open, in 2022, and would host a USGA event for the 17th time. Only Merion, with 19, has been the site of more, and the Open is expected to return there in 2030.
“It’s a throwback from the US Open,” Bodenhamer said. “I think when you go around this place and see they haven’t moved a lot of dirt with donkeys. They had a little dynamite, but that was it.
There are rocky outcrops, blind shots, small greens and the punitive US Open rough. There is a short downhill par-3 that has not been used in a US Open since 1913. There is the famous left dogleg of the 17th hole, scene of Vardon’s bogey during the 1913 playoffs and Justin Leonard’s long birdie putt at the 1999 Ryder Cup as part of the return of Team USA.
“I promise you something magical will happen on number 17,” Bodenhamer said. “It’s just necessary.”
Australian player Cameron Smith called the Country Club “my favorite US Open venue I think I’ve been to. I love that, buddy. He is competing in his seventh Open, which has included stops at Pebble Beach in California, Oakmont near Pittsburgh and Shinnecock Hills and Winged Foot in New York.
That’s the message Bodenhamer said he’s been getting all week.
“The players love this place,” Bodenhamer said. “The ghosts of the past matter. You can’t buy history. You can only earn it. And the Country Club has it.