July 18, 2019 By: Keith Pearson — In less than three years, the eyes of the golfing world will once again be fixated on The Country Club when it hosts the U.S. Open for the fourth time.
Most people will be seeing the course for the first time since 1999 when it hosted the most memorable Ryder Cup of all time as the Americans overcame a six-point deficit in Sunday’s singles matches.
The course will look much different than it did then as hundreds of trees were removed from the property as part of Gil Hanse’s overhaul that started in 2009 leading up to the 2013 U.S. Amateur.
There are still plenty of tweaks and extensions to be made for 2022, but the most noticeable will be incorporating the 12th hole of the main course, a 130-yard drop shot par-3 into the Championship Course, which is a composite of all 27 holes – the 18 of the main course and nine-hole Primrose Course.
“The tees will be expanded and regraded to provide a better visual of the green from the tee, and the green will be expanded dramatically back to its original size which will yield some wonderful hole locations,” Hanse said.
The 338-yard dogleg left fourth hole will be the one removed.
It will be the first time since 1957 the par-3 has been part of a composite design. The club celebrated its 75th anniversary that year by hosting the U.S. Amateur and Jack Nicklaus was among the competitors. The 17-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, reached the fourth round that year and was the champion in 1959 and 1961.
Nicklaus returned to Brookline in 1963 as the defending Open champion – the first of his record 18 major titles and having won his first of six Masters two months prior to the event – but missed the cut on what has become to be known as the Championship Course.
The Golden Bear visited Brookline in 1984 hoping to be selected as the consulting architect for the ’88 Open and toured all the holes trying to find the best 18 for the 75th anniversary of Francis Ouimet’s victory. Nicklaus wanted to find a way to get the 12th in there.
“He likened it to the seventh hole at Pebble Beach,” said Don Callahan, the TCC head pro from 1967-1999 and now an instructor at the Butch Harmon School of Golf near Las Vegas. “Short, but no one says the seventh hole at Pebble is too short to be in a championship golf course.”
Ultimately, Rees Jones was selected for the job and the work he did on The Country Club opened the door to other renovations to places like Bethpage, Congressional and Baltusrol, earning him the nickname “the Open Doctor.”
It wasn’t until the leadup to 2013 Amateur when the discussion of getting the 12th hole into the mix returned.
“We were real close to doing it (for the Amateur) and decided not to at the last minute because of the logistics involved in tee signs, maps and spectators and all that sort of thing,” said Bill Spence, the longtime director of grounds at The Country Club who retired in Feb. 2018 and is now a consultant. “I think it was at that time by (USGA executive director and now CEO) Mike Davis the notion of incorporating 12 into the Championship Course became a very serious consideration.”
During a formal visit with Davis, Hanse and club officials the decision to make the change was made.
“When we looked at how much further back the fifth hole had been stretched, it crossed my mind that in the championship routing the players almost walk back the entire length of the fourth hole to get to the back tees on Hole 5,” Hanse said. “This type of disconnect is not good for a walking golf course and certainly a traditional test of golf like TCC.
“So it crossed my mind that it would be a better walking, flowing golf course if you came off of 3 and went directly to the back tee on 5, which is proposed to be lengthened for the U.S. Open. By installing the 12th hole into the routing, we also eliminated another long disconnect with golfers bypassing this hole and having to walk from what was Champ 9 to Champ 10.”
The vertical drop from tee to green is about 30 feet. Players who hit the green will give themselves a good chance to make birdie, while those who miss will be hard-pressed to escape with par with bunkers on the left and in front, a steep hill off the right side and a penalty area over the back.