Holding nextweek's National Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. certainly servesthe cause of golf history. It was there, exactly 50 years ago, that AmateurFrancis Ouimet, a 20-year-old former caddie who was raised across the streetfrom the club, won the Open title from the two big men of British golf, HarryVardon and Ted Ray, in a playoff. It was a case of little David knocking downtwo Goliaths, and his victory, to put it mildly, was an extremely popular one.It ignited an enthusiasm for golf in great numbers of people across the countrywhose previous notions about the game had been largely in terms of whiteflannels and blue blood.
In a sense, TheCountry Club has remained something of a monument to the history of golf. A newlocker room and a pro shop have been constructed since Ouimet's great day, butthe yellow clubhouse with its green-and-white canopy is the same. Even the oldhalf-mile racetrack, where, I am told, club members held race meetings up until1935, is still there, circling both the first and 18th fairways. The ancientelm trees are there also, including the one that droops over the 18th greenlike a defending dragon. (Before this year's Open is over, that tree is goingto cause many a golfer to contemplate the virtues of Dutch elm disease.) TheOpen course itself—it is a selection of the best 18 of the club's 27 holes—is abit antiquated, too. It hasn't changed appreciably in 50 years. But the designand standards of Open courses have, and there may be some criticism that TheCountry Club is not modern enough. Yet no one would suggest the Open should notbe held there on the 50th anniversary of Ouimet's memorable win. It is afitting setting.
The selection ofan Open course is always a difficult job. Even the greatest courses have theirweaknesses, yet the Open site must be able to maintain the prestige of atournament that stands as one of the two most important in the golfing world.(The other, I feel, is the Masters.) I, for example, certainly hope to winanother Open before I put away my clubs, but even if I do not, just having wonit once is an accomplishment that will carry meaning and satisfaction for methe rest of my life. The importance of the event dictates, therefore, that thegolf course it is played upon be one that minimizes the influence of luck andgives maximum value not only to good shots, but to nerve, planning and judgmentas well.
Ideally, an Opencourse should have several positive characteristics. It should have fastgreens, because these demand the greatest putting skill. The greens should alsobe firm, but not hard. This permits a good shot to hold when it hits, but ashot that is missed slightly will run over the green and a par can then besaved only by good chipping. The course should also require long hitting and,like Oakmont, accurate tee shots. But when a shot is hit into the rough theplayer should not be forced just to pitch back on the fairway and thus lose astroke. He should at least have a chance to reach the green. Above all, whenthe round is over, the player should have had to hit every variety of tee shotand approach shot more than once: draws, fades, low shots and high shots.
The CountryClub—which will play at 6,870 yards and par 71 for the Open—certainly containssome of these elements. But the primary problems it is going to pose are notexactly those I have just mentioned. Here are the course's three main areas ofdifficulty: the rough is deep and strategically planned, the greens are tinyand there is a succession of six long, tough holes capable of exhausting agolfer's resolution to win, especially during Saturday's 36 holes of play.
By tradition,Open committees are as proud of their thick rough as Bostonians are of theirthick clam chowder. This year the rough may be worse than usual—and I mean"worse" from my point of view, not the committee's. The deep grassflanking the fairways has been heavily fertilized and watered. It is likely tobe especially lush and clinging, unless somebody who commands a mower getsunexpectedly sympathetic. The rough will be used not only to tighten some ofthe very short holes (such as the 340-yard 4th and the 300-yard 6th), but alsoto force a little caution off the tees of other holes where caution would nototherwise be necessary. The deep rough will demand extreme straightness.
The size of thegreens is going to cause two problems, only one of them for the players. Greensare the habitual nesting place of tournament spectators, but Brookline's willbe able to accommodate only a very limited number of people around theircircumference. The crowding this is likely to cause, unless the ropes are keptwell away from the putting surfaces, will actually tend to lessen the penaltyfor inaccurate approach shots. Many such shots will be stopped by the gallerybefore they can bounce into serious trouble. The small target the greenspresent, however, is a problem that will outweigh this slight advantage. Theapproach shot to many of the greens will require a slight left-to-right fade,because this type of shot increases the chance of the ball stopping quickly onthe putting surface.
Once reached, thegreens will be difficult to putt, but not nearly so difficult as they were atOakmont last year. A very cold winter and a very dry spring have slowed theirpreparation considerably and some have been reseeded, but they should all beready by the Open. The Country Club's greens undulate gently. They will offerfew straight putts, but no putt is going to be very long. The good putters willhole a great many more putts here than they did at Oakmont. The trouble isgoing to be getting to the putting surface.
So much for twoof The Country Club's testing features. The third is that stretch of six holesI mentioned, and any detailed analysis of the course should start with them.The trouble area in question starts at the 9th (505 yards, par 5) and ends atthe 14th (530 yards, par 5). Here, along with the heavy rough and small greens,are trees, sand, water, steep hills and a lot of distance to be covered.
The tee of the9th hole is placed high above a fairway that flows down around a steep moundinto a long, flat valley. The green sits behind three traps at the top of acrest at the other end of the valley. With a favoring wind the long hitterswill be able to reach this green in two shots, but the short hitters neverwill. They will have to play their second shots safely below the green, so asto avoid the tight trapping, and hope to catch their birdie by pitching upclose, a tough task if the pin is tucked near the front edge of the green.
The 10th is along hole (435 yards, par 4) that doglegs slightly to the right through anarrow channel of trees and then slopes down to a green that is so small youcould mow it with scissors. A long hitter can gain an extra advantage on thishole, because his tee shot will reach far enough to kick down the hill. Thegreen slopes very sharply from back to front, so all approach shots should behit into the front of it, minimizing the possibility of going over the back,where the return shot to the green is tricky.
The 11th (see mapabove) is the most dangerous hole on the course. I expect that several strongchallengers will bury (or submerge) their chances here on the final day. Itdoglegs sharply through the trees to the left, thus requiring a quiteaccurately hit tee shot. But even the player fortunate enough to place hisdrive in the fairway will be greeted by a horrifying sight when he gets to hisball and looks up at the distant green. Remember how small the 10th green was?This one is smaller. Directly in front of the green is a menacing pond about 20yards wide, and at its back and left side are trees, bushes and large boulders.To this add the length of 445 yards and you have a golf hole. A player whomisses the fairway off the tee probably will have to play his second shotsafely short of the pond. But even this is risky. There is a trap just in frontof the pond on the right that could catch such a layup shot. An explosion outof the trap, across the pond to that miniature green is something I do not wantto think about, and hope I never have to.
The 12th hole, apar-4, is more of a par-4½, because the short hitters will not be able to reachit in two at all and the long hitters will have trouble holding it if they doreach it. The fairway is divided into two sections, the second portion startingabout 320 yards off the tee and sitting a good 15 or 20 feet above the first.In addition, the fairway doglegs to the left around a corner of traps andtrees. Anyone trying to get on in two shots runs the risk of hooking into thetrees on the left and putting himself into position for a bogey—or worse. Thetee shot must be hit very hard and kept on the right side of the first sectionof fairway to cut down as much as possible on the amount of hook needed tobring the second shot safely into the green.
The 13th will beone of the tougher driving holes of the tournament. The fairway rolls straightout from the tee and then drops down abruptly, about 265 yards out, toward alarge pond located on the right side of the fairway. A long hitter can easilyreach the water, so the drive must be kept well up to the left. It is a goodplace to hit a conservative tee shot.
The climax of thesix critical holes, and also the last chance for the long hitter to wrest someadvantage from his length, is the 14th (see below and cover). Because of anabrupt mound in the fairway about 240 yards out from the tee, the big hitterwill get about 20 or 30 yards extra roll when his ball kicks down the far side.This will be denied the shorter hitters, because their tee shots will hitdirectly into the upward slope of the hill and not roll at all. The longhitter's added distance will open up for him the possibility of reaching thegreen in two shots. But though there may be 30 or 40 players in the fieldcapable of getting there in two, only a few are likely to hit a sufficientlyhigh long shot to keep the ball on the green when it lands. There is trouble onall sides if that big second shot is hit badly. The green is small, tightlytrapped and partially surrounded by trees. A long shot that goes over or offeither side could leave the man who hit it scrambling furiously just to make apar 5, something quite different from the eagle 3 that could reward a greatsecond shot. This is a tremendous shot to consider risking when you have justcome through five of the toughest holes on the course, yet it is precisely thekind of demanding shot that an Open course should have.
While The CountryClub has many strengths, it also has a few possible weaknesses—ones that arefound on many golf courses. The first such weakness is that it is unbalancedwith respect to distance. The front nine is possibly too short and the backnine too long. The front half measures only 3,225 yards, and the short holesare not tight enough to make them challenging. In fact, on two of them, the 4thand the 6th (see below), the long hitters in the field will be just about ableto drive the green. This nine also contains only two tough holes—the 3rd andthe 7th, though spectators may be surprised how sneaky the 455-yard first andthe 190-yard 2nd prove to be. On this nine the field is going to be looking fora chance at a fast start, and a lot of players will get it. The object willthen be to hold on through the last nine. This incoming nine, despite fourrelatively short finishing holes, measures a long 3,645 yards. No doubt thelocation of the club's 27 holes made it impossible to do anything different,but this lack of balance is rare in an Open course.
Secondly, I fearthe Open committee has altered two holes in such a way as to weaken their shotvalues rather than enhance them. The second hole was originally designed by thearchitect as a 300-yard par-4. This is the way it is played by the clubmembers, and as such requires nothing more than a drive and a short pitch shotto get on. The green, designed to suit the hole, is therefore quite small andwell trapped. It has been built to receive short wedge shots. Yet for the Openthe tee has been moved forward and to the right slightly, and the hole willplay as a par-3. Thus we will be hitting long irons into this green, though itwas not constructed to take them. Many times in a situation like this a reallygood golf shot is not rewarded sufficiently because the green cannot hold it. Agreat shot will pay off, but a good one may wind up in the same spot as a badone.
The 12th hole,which I mentioned earlier, has been altered by moving the tee markers forward,turning a short par-5 hole into the present 470-yard par-4. All of us in theOpen have played 470-yard par-4s before. There is nothing wrong with that. Buthere again is a green built to hold a third shot—a wedge—that will be gettinghooked woods or long irons hit into it.
Finally, therelative shortness of the four finishing holes is a break with the precedentestablished by most of the courses used in previous Opens. In pastchampionships the closing holes have usually been so tough that the tournamentleader at that point on the final round has been happy to make pars on them,fairly confident that hardly anyone else in the field will be able to gainground. The fact that The Country Club is not built that way may create a veryexciting finish. Past Opens have usually been lost with bogeys on the last fewholes; this year's Open could possibly be won on these holes with birdies. Thuseven a competitor who comes to the 15th tee two or three shots back has a goodchance to close with a rush and win the championship.
The 15th is astraightaway hole of 420 yards, with nothing but rough endangering a poor teeshot. The green is well trapped, and though moderate in size is still one ofthe biggest on the course and should be reachable with nothing more than asix-or seven-iron. The 16th is a 175-yard par-3, with a gigantic bunkerslashing across the right front. Since probably only a five-iron will be neededhere, the trap poses no severe problem. The 17th hole doglegs slightly to theleft around a pair of bunkers placed 250 yards out from the tee, but the holeis relatively short (365 yards) and anyone in the field will be able to playsafely to the right of the hazards and still reach the green with nothing morethan a short iron. This hole should be the most frequently birdied of the lastfour. It has its danger. There is the temptation to drive across the traps atthe corner of the dogleg. Practically everyone likes to take the shortest wayhome, but anyone doing so and hitting a slightly weak tee shot may very wellcatch the traps—and a bogey too.
The 18th holedoes have character—in fact, it is a character—and is bound to provide someconversation for the millions who will see it on television. It starts with anuninteresting tee shot. The fairway, laid out over the racetrack's infield, isflat. But the green sits up on a plateau about six feet high, so any player whomisses the fairway and has to hit his approach shot from the rough will find italmost impossible to hold the green. Just in front of this raised green is alarge trap, and on the right that large elm tree presses in. The green itselfis not only small but very firm, and its front half slopes away from thefairway. To stay away from the tree on the right the approach shot—normally aseven-or eight-iron—should be hit from the left side of the fairway. It shouldbe hit quite high with a left-to-right fade so that it will hold the green. Itis a most dainty shot to have to hit close to the hole if there is, let us say,a U.S. Open Championship at stake.
This, then, isthe course we face next week. If it is not a typical U.S. Open course, who isto say that the tournament should be played each year on the kind of course wehave now come to consider as typical? The Country Club has a personality anddistinction of its own. It is going to present a unique kind of challenge tothe majority of the field. It will favor a straight, if not inordinately long,driver who can work his approach shots into the little greens with the properfinesse. Many of the players on the tour have become accustomed to playing aright-to-left game with their irons. This means that they may have to adjustfor the Open this year. Not all players will be able to do it successfully. Ihave always preferred hitting the ball left to right. But I am still going tohave to make certain changes in my game to meet The Country Club'schallenge.
Despite outwardappearances and talk you may hear about the course being comparatively easy,this matter of adjusting iron games plus other difficulties 1 have mentionedwill keep The Country Club's prestige intact. It is fine fun to talk about a275—which would break the record for an Open by one stroke—but a 280 is morelikely to win.
The second hole is a long, tight par 3 that has beencreated by moving the tee of a short par 4 so that it is opposite The CountryClub's abandoned racetrack (upper left). The very small green is surrounded bybunkers, a road, sand and deep rough, and the wind direction will determine howthe hole should be played. With a breeze blowing out from downtown Boston(background), the long-iron tee shot must be played conservatively to the rightfront of the green regardless of where the pin is. With the wind in his face,the player can hit straight for the flag and still have a good margin forerror.
The immensely long 12th hole may be the toughest holeon the course to par, and it is almost impossible to birdie. The hole is notonly a dogleg, but it also features a two-level fairway. The player must try tohit his tee shot down the right side of the fairway so that he will not have tohook his second shot too sharply around the corner. For most of the field thiswill be a fairway wood, hit across the trap at the corner with the hope that itwill stick on the small, well-trapped green. The right is the safer side onwhich to miss the green with the approach. From there, par can be made with agood chip. Missing to the left means the ball will be trapped or in the treesand par will be difficult.
The pond on this picturesque hole is not quite asdangerous as it looks, but it does make this one of the most difficult teeshots on the course. The long hitter unlucky enough to push his drive too farto the right can deliver it to a watery disaster. Fortunately, there is room onthe left side of the fairway, and the pond can be avoided. Only a severe hookwould take a tee shot into the trees bordering that side. In the event of astrong left-to-right wind, a player should consider using a three-wood insteadof a driver. You may see many players do this, especially if the fairways arehard. Even after a spoon, no more than a middle iron will be needed for theshot to the green.
Sagging elms, gaping traps and a small, firm greenmake the 18th a strenuous and potentially dramatic finishing hole. The fairwaywill be narrowed by high rough on both sides, so the tee shot must be kept verystraight and should favor the left side. This opens up the approach shot to theraised green. The hole is not long, but the approach, even with a short iron,must be perfectly hit to hold the green. An iron from the right side of thefairway is likely to become tangled in the elm tree guarding that side of thegreen. A shot from the rough on either side will have little chance of stoppingquickly, because of excessive over spin on the ball. One point in favor of theplayers is that the green's small size means the gallery will be packed tight.Therefore, if the approach shot is too strong it may be stopped before it rollsinto deep trouble.
190 Yards Par 3
470 Yards Par 4
420 Yards Par 4
385 Yards Par 4
The 11th is the most perilous hole on the course. The drive must be threaded down a narrow fairway, and a long approach shot hit over a large pond into a small green.
445 Yards Par 4
The 14th offers the long hitters their last good chance to make up strokes on the rest of the field, but it also gives them a chance to get in some serious trouble.
530 YARDS PAR 5
The 6th is a sample of Brookline's easier holes. The short hitter needs only a wedge for his birdie try; the long hitter will aim for the trap on the left and explode out.
300 Yards Par 4