Review: The Country Club (Clyde/Squirrel)

Course Name: The Country Club (Clyde/Squirrel)

Designer: Arthur Hunnewell/Robert Bacon/Laurence Curtis (1893, 6 holes), Willie Campbell (1894, 9 holes, 1899, 18 holes), Alex Campbell (1902, Lengthening), William Flynn (1927, Restoration), Geoffrey Cornish (1960’s, Renovation), Rees Jones (1985, Renovation), Gil Hanse (2010’s, Renovation)

Location: Brookline, Massachusetts

History: You can make the argument that no other course in America has a richer or more important history than The Country Club. This legendary Club was one of the first country clubs in America and was founded by prominent Bostonians on January 14, 1882. Golf didn’t arrive until 1893, when three members (Hunnewell, Bacon, and Curtis) successfully petitioned the board and created a 6 hole loop. Only one hole remains from this rudimentary design, the par 3 7th. In 1894, Scottish pro Willie Campbell completed the 9 hole design and more notably, The Country Club became a founding member of the USGA along with Shinnecock, Chicago, St. Andrews (NY), and Newport. By 1899, Willie Campbell had created 9 additional holes to make it a full 18. In 1902, the new pro Alex “Nipper” Campbell lengthened the course and it hosted its first national championship, the U.S. Women’s Amateur.

In 1927, famed architect William Flynn arrived at Brookline to design a third 9 holes and restore the original 18. His new 9, known as the the Primrose Course, contributes three holes to the current day Championship Course. Throughout the years, many architects have renovated the course in anticipation for national championships including Geoffrey Cornish in the 1960s, Rees Jones in the 1980s, and most recently Gil Hanse in the 2010s.

The Country Club is best known for hosting numerous national and state championships, most famously the 1913 U.S. Open, in which local caddie and amateur Francis Ouimet stunned the world by beating British heavyweights Ted Ray and Harry Vardon in extra holes. Ouimet’s victory is credited with popularizing golf in the US and is the subject of the movie The Greatest Game Ever Played. The Country Club’s second most famous moment came at the 1999 Ryder Cup when the US came back from 4 points down on Sunday at the “Battle at Brookline” with a 45-foot putt from Justin Leonard on the 17th hole. The Country Club is tied with Merion for most U.S. Amateurs (1910, 1922, 1934, 1957, 1982, and 2013) and has long been a champion of women’s golf, hosting the U.S. Women’s Amateur three times (1902, 1941, and 1995). Additional U.S. Opens hosted at The Country Club include 1963, 1988, and a future one to be held in 2022. Accolades for this storied Club include:

  • #36 Best Course in the World – Golf Digest (2018)
  • #37 Best Course in the World – Golf Magazine (2017)
  • #18 Best Course in America – Golf Digest (2019)
  • #22 Best Course in America – Golf Magazine (2017)
  • #26 Best Classic Course in America – Golfweek (2019)
  • #1 Best Course in Massachusetts – Golf Digest (2019)
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A plaque for Francis Ouimet near the 4th tee

Conditions: 9/10, Unsurprisingly, The Country Club is in excellent condition with firm, fast fairways, lush, thick rough, and beautiful bunkers. I have especially high praise for the greens, which are near perfect and run very briskly without a ballmark.

Value: N/A, This is a private course.

Scorecard:

Tee                                 Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Blue                               71           6624               73.6              139

Blue/White                   71           6428               72.2              136

White                            71           6341               71.8              134

White/Yellow               71           6104               70.7              131

Yellow                           71          6042               70.4              129

Yellow/Red                   71          5792               69.4              128

Red                                71          5568               73.5              130

Hole Descriptions: My expectations for The Country Club were sky-high as I passed through the gate guarded by a mannikin named “Woody.” Long considered the crown jewel of New England golf, I knew I was in for an incredible day. The parkland design features three sets of 9 holes – Clyde, Squirrel, and Primrose, but the members primarily play the Clyde/Squirrel Course, which is what we played. For U.S. Opens and other championships, the Primrose Course contributes three and a half difficult holes and subtracts three holes from the Main Course (9, 10, and 12). Similar to other top parkland designs I’ve played (Philly Cricket ClubQuaker Ridge, etc), the design was very fair and embodies the term “hard par, easy bogey.” The history and atmosphere at Brookline are absolutely top 20 and maybe even top 5 in America, and while I loved the course, I’m not sure it has the “wow” factor I expect from a top 20 course.

Two major features stand out from my round at The Country Club. The first is small greens. Brookline’s greens are easily the smallest I’ve ever played and are surrounded by thick rough and bunkers. There’s a lot of variety in hole length here, but truthfully it doesn’t matter much when you’re chipping greenside on most holes. This is absolutely a design where the golfer with the best short game and strategy beats the bomber every time, and this has borne out in its U.S. Open history. The second feature which really struck me was how much change the course goes through all the time. While I was playing, the groundscrew was adding and subtracting areas to greens and making other alterations to the course. In truth, The Country Club has been in flux since it opened to stay relevant for national championships, but I found this interesting because I imagined a course with a reputation for being conservative would be reticent to such changes. I know at my course, taking down one tree is a fight, but The Country Club’s lack of a central design figure (Willie Campbell is no Ross or Tillinghast) has successfully allowed it to adapt since 1893.

The opening hole is the longest par 4 on the course at 441 yards. This difficult dogleg left is lined by the practice green to the right and range on your left so you can guarantee there will be eyes on you as you tee off. Two bunkers line the left side of the dogleg  between 220 and 250 yards and longer hitters can carry them. This green runs back-to-front and is surrounded by three bunkers on either side.

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The straightaway 1st – “Polo Fields”

The 2nd hole is the first of several very short par fours at just 285 yards. This hole plays as a difficult long par 3 in U.S. Opens, but for the members is a nice opportunity for birdie. This wide fairway ends at about 220 yards and the hole runs uphill and to the left after this point. Two giant bunkers guard well short of this tiny table-top green while deep greenside ones line short and left.

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The 2nd – “Cottage” is more natural as a par 4
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The beautiful approach at 2

At a strong 429 yards, the number 1 handicap 3rd hole is my favorite at The Country Club and undoubtedly one of the best fours in the world. This is an extremely quirky design, playing straight downhill on the drive to a wide fairway that narrows into a funnel between two giant mounds. From this common landing area, the hole plays flatter to a tiny green surrounded by numerous hazards. Bunkers occupy either side of the green, while additional bunkers litter each side for the final 70 yards. A pond lines the right side of the fairway about 70 yards short of the green and another pond looms long for those who misclub. Just a fantastic golf hole and one you won’t soon forget.

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The 3rd teeshot welcomes an aggressive play
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The unique fairway at 3 reminds me of Eastward Ho!’s 6th
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The pond behind the 3rd green is used for ice skating and curling in the winter

If quirk is your thing, then you’ll love the par 4 4th, another short hole at just 324 yards. This unique hole features two separate teeboxes that greatly affects the way you play the hole. The lower, original teebox plays at the bottom of a hollow and plays straight over a giant mound of fescue, making the drive completely blind. A second teebox, added by William Flynn, plays level to the mound and allows you to go for the green with driver. We played the lower teebox, and I must say it’s one of the most intimidating teeshots you’ll ever face, even though you’re hitting iron. This hole is named “Hospital” and I wonder if that’s a clever reference to fate of those who don’t carry this cliff. The fairway here is initially generous but narrows at about 210 yards with bunkers on the left. This approach demands precision, as the green is one of the smallest on the course lined by six narrow, deep bunkers.

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Apparently Francis Ouimet was terrified of this teeshot and I don’t blame him
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The tenuous approach at 4

The 5th hole continues alternating long and short par fours at a strong 419 yards. This dogleg right plays over numerous mounds and requires a leap of faith as you try to carry them. A pair of bunkers ends the fairway about 60 yards short of the green, while two deep bunkers lines just left of the green. This is one of the more severe greens on the course with a serious right-to-left tilt.

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The strategic par 4 5th – “Newton”
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The approach at 5

At just 280 yards, the half par 6th hole is the shortest par 4 at The Country Club. With OB and a trio of bunkers lining the right, this reachable hole plays uphill the entire way towards a minuscule green. Four giant bunkers guard just short, and I imagine are a common destination for those trying for the green.

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The par 4 6th – “Bakers”

There are only three par threes at The Country Club and you have to wait until the 7th hole to reach the first one. At 179 yards, this is the longest and also the best of the trio. The only remaining hole from the 1893 design, this one-shotter plays over open terrain to a larger green guarded by cavernous bunkers and steep slopes on either side. Many of the greens at The Country Club are subtle, but not this one, which features a double plateau and several tricky undulations.

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The long par 3 7th – “Plateau”

The 371 yard 8th hole is a nice tree-lined par 4 running downhill from the teebox to an undulating fairway lined by trees on the left and a trio of bunkers down the right beginning at 230 yards. This approach runs back uphill to a heavily back-to-front sloped green lined by four deep bunkers on either side.

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The downhill par 4 8th – “Corner”
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Walking up the 8th green

The first hole to be left off of the Championship Course is the par 4 9th. At 418 yards, this straightaway hole is probably the most forgettable hole on the course with an open teeshot to an uphill fairway lined by bunkers on either side around 200 yards. A relatively flat green is lined by three bunkers left and a steep slope behind that leads to a parking lot.

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The uphill par 4 9th – “Paddock”

At just 310 yards, the par 4 10th is another short hole that’s a bit too easy for a U.S. Open. Despite its short length, this is an incredibly quirky design that can lead to big numbers quickly. Your drive must first navigate a field goal of trees to a tight fairway lined by prominent bunkers on the left at 120 and 165 yards and right at 175 yards. Trees begin down the right after the bunker and may block the green, even from the right fairway. The left is the preferred miss with the only real issue being rough on this side. At about 215 yards, the fairway ends with a giant bunker and rough guarding short of a tiny green. In true old school fashion, the front of this green is almost completely obscured by a mound. This is certainly an interesting hole, but I’m not sure how I feel about it.

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The view from the 10th teebox
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A look at the unique hazards surrounding the 10th green

The Country Club only features two par fives, but they certainly aren’t lacking in quality. The 11th hole is not only one of the best holes on the course, but easily one of the best par fives I’ve ever played. At 503 yards, this hole reminds me of the fantastic 4th at Bethpage Black as a long, winding, uphill double dogleg. The teeshot plays downhill over a pond split down the middle with a neat walking bridge. Nicknamed “Himalayas,” this hole is notable for its glacial rock forms which prominently narrow the fairway at about 240 yards. Those short of the rocks will have a blind second shot, while longer hitters will be able to aim left over them. The lay-up here plays back uphill over a creek about 150 yards short of the green. While reachable for some, this green sits at the far right corner on a pedestal guarded short by numerous deep bunkers.

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The par 5 11th
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Walking up to the secluded 11th green
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A look back down the 11th fairway

The short par 3 12th is the third and final hole left of the U.S. Open course, but I hear this might be changing in 2022. I sincerely hope this is the case, as it’d be a joy to watch the pros struggle with this little devil. At just 125 yards, this is a true do-or-die hole in the same sense as the 7th at Pebble Beach or 3rd at Wannamoisett. Distance control is a must to find this tiny green, but the fact that the hole plays downhill makes this a bit more challenging. Curiously nicknamed “Redan,” this green features a primarily back-to-front slope and is surrounded by beautiful bunkers short and left. There are more 5’s than 2’s here.

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The signature par 3 12th

The par 4 13th is another strong hole playing straightaway at 400 yards. Heavily tree-lined, this hole requires a forced carry of about 130 yards to an uphill fairway that plateaus at about 240 yards. A hidden crossbunker down the right at 240 yards is to be avoided and was only recently added by Gil Hanse. The approach here is one of the most beautiful on the course with water down the right and a back-to-front sloped green guarded by two bunkers short.

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The blind par 4 13th – “Stockton”
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The picturesque approach at 13

After a quick detour through the Primrose Course, the final five holes are the same for both the Main Course and U.S. Open rota beginning with the par 5 14th. At 510 yards, this is the longest hole at The Country Club and another nice hole. This broad, sweeping dogleg left features mounds of rough lining both sides of an undulating fairway. While the drive is fairly inviting, this approach narrows considerably towards an elevated green guarded by a tremendous false front. I am embarrassed to say I never actually completed this hole despite being 70 yards out lying two after having the ball roll back to my feet at least five times.

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The par 5 14th – “Quarry”
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The very challenging approach at 14

The 15th is another terrific hole and one of my favorites on the course. Playing downhill and straightaway, this 417 yard beaut traverses a rocky terrain on the teeshot to a generous fairway lined by OB left and the majestic yellow clubhouse on the right. The Club’s driveway bisects the fairway at 270 yards and longer hitters may want to think twice before nailing driver into a Bentley or BMW. This approach plays flat and open into a larger, relatively flat green guarded by bunkers on three sides.

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The par 4 15th – “Liverpool”

At 169 yards, the 16th hole is the final par 3 on the course, and undoubtedly one of the weaker holes. This medium-length one-shotter plays alongside the entrance towards a small green guarded by four bunkers short and on either side.

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The par 3 16th partially hidden by shadows

The excellent 17th hole will live in the history books forever as the deciding hole in the 1913 and 1963 U.S. Opens and 1999 Ryder Cup. This slender 365 yard dogleg left isn’t the longest hole in the world, but it’s bunkered terrifically with four giant bunkers (AKA Vardon’s bunkers) down the inside elbow of the dogleg ranging from 190 to 260 yards. Those who stray right will find thick rough and fescue. This green is one of the narrowest on the course guarded by a tall tree to the right and multiple deep bunkers on both sides. Try to recreate Justin Leonard’s putt so you have an appreciation at how impressive it was!

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The par 4 17th “Elbow” provides golfers many strategic options off the tee
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17 from the corner of the dogleg
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A close-up of the 17th approach

At 396 yards, the difficult closing hole is another where a right-to-left ballflight is preferred. This gently treed dogleg left turns slightly at about 230 yards with hidden bunkers down the left. From here, the approach must carry a cavernous principal’s nose bunker short to a small circular green that runs hard back-to-front. The green surrounding gives off an almost amphitheatre feel perfect for major tournaments.

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The 18th hole – “Home”
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From the 18th fairway
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The well-guarded 18th green

General Comments: The Country Club certainly lives up to its name, as there is so much more than just golf for members to enjoy. It’s a leading social club of Boston, and just a quarter of its 1300 members golf. The campus itself is more akin to an Ivy League school than traditional clubhouse, with many stately yellow and brick buildings reminding you you’re in New England. Members enjoy skeet shooting, squash, swimming, tennis, ice skating, and numerous other amenities year-round. The Men’s Locker Room is more or less a mausoleum to American golf with plenty of memorabilia including the original stimpmeter. Practice facilities include a driving range wedged between the 1st and 18th holes, and a large putting and practice green adjacent to the 1st tee.

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The range at The Country Club

The Country Club (rightly) gets a reputation for its intense privacy and exclusivity, but I was pleasantly surprised at how much of a true family club it is. The commitment to women’s golf is particularly strong, and this is unusual for a club from its era. Brookline’s roster includes Tom Brady and Gisele Bündchen, who famously were denied entry for many years before finally being admitted in 2015. The greatest quarterback of all time lives on the course and apparently Gisele is the primary member. I had the pleasure of meeting Fernando during my visit, the longtime bartender who makes the world-famous “Fernando” cocktail. I highly recommend this rum float-like drink if you get the chance.

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A look at the buildings surrounding the 18th green

Verdict: The history, atmosphere, and amenities at the The (original) Country Club are second to pretty much no one, while the excellent parkland design provides an engaging routing with plenty of variety and standout holes. As length renders many classic courses obsolete, the strategic bunkering and tiny greens here make this a true championship venue that has withstood the test of time. This goes without saying, but an invitation to this ultra-exclusive Club is still one of the most cherished in American golf – just as it’s been for over a century.


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