In historical significance, The Country Club takes a back seat to no other. It was, in fact, the very first “country club” in the U.S., dating to 1882, and this suburban Boston club was one of the five founding members of the U.S. Golf Association. And it has been the scene of some of the greatest moments in U.S. golf history.
First chartered in 1860, The Country Club in introduced golf in November 1892, with the creation of a six-hole layout by Willie Campbell of Musselburgh, Scotland. Several years later, Campbell added another three holes. By 1910 Campbell expanded the course to 18 holes.
Three years later the club hosted the 1913 U.S. Open, the greatest upset in golf history. It was the dawn of a new era in American golf, when a 20-year-old local lad named Francis Ouimet, beat the reigning superstars of the day, Englishmen Harry Vardon and Ted Ray.
For those who cherish tradition, it is worth noting that much looks the same today at The Country Club as it did in 1913. The Colonial/Greek Revival clubhouse, adorned in a shade of yellow called “primrose,” conveys a sense of permanence.
Oddly, for all of its history and charm, the championship course at The Country Club was considered very good, but hardly great, until architect Rees Jones restored it in 1985. He rebuilt and expanded the greens, relocated the bunkers, rebuilt the tees, lengthened the course and incorporated different types of grasses.
For major events, the first eight holes of the “Composite” course are lifted from the regular course. The only alteration is to the 2nd hole, a miniscule 289-yard, slightly uphill par 4 for members that becomes a 185-yard par 3.
The 9th and 10th from the regular course are dropped, and the 11th becomes the 9th, one of America’s best par 5s. The perfect drive will favor the left side, away from a towering, cliff-like rock ledge, but thick forest will punish the slightly pulled drive. Golfers who catch the rough will have to decide whether they can carry a creek 150 yards from the green. Finally, an approach from any distance must find a putting surface that is small, elevated and fiercely protected by bunkers and rough.
The short par-3 12th from the regular course is dropped and the regular 13th, a muscular 439-yard par 4 with a severe back-to-front sloping green, becomes the 10th, which begins the meat of the course.
At first blush, the 11th is a rugged 453-yard doglegs left with an approach over a pond. In reality, the hole is a combination of two holes on the Primrose nine, the short par-4 1st and the petite par-3 2nd. First used for the 1957 U.S. Amateur, the idea to combine the two holes came from the wife of Charlie Pearson, a club member and USGA vice president.
If there’s one hole on the tournament course tougher than the 11th, it’s the 12th, a par 5 converted into a nasty par 4, uphill to an elevated, blind green. No, 13, a 433-yard par 4, is actually the 9th on the Primrose. After that, holes 14 through 18 are the same on both courses.
The most historic hole at The Country Club is the 381-yard 17th, which has been the graveyard of many contenders. In 1913 Vardon came to the 17th tee just one stroke back of Francis Ouimet in their epic playoff. Vardon tried to cut off some distance by taking a shortcut to the left but found a small bunker. All he could do was wedge out on his way to bogey 5, and when Ouimet birdied, Vardon’s cause was lost.
In the 1999 Ryder Cup, the 17th green was the scene of Justin Leonard’s improbable, comeback-clinching 40-foot putt against Jose Maria Olazabal, instigating the controversial eruption from Leonard’s teammates around the green, prior to Olazabal’s putt. The ensuing celebration was one that The Country Club hadn’t seen since 1913.