To get ready for this month’s US Open, the members at The Country Club decided to take a trip through time — about 90 years in the past.
The 130-year-old course needed a few enhancements to get ready for the championship, as do most courses picked to host majors — a few new tee boxes, some bunker work, and so on.
But in poring over old photos from the 1930s, TCC members noticed something: The course’s notoriously small greens weren’t quite as small. As happens at most golf courses, the greens had shrunk over the decades because of mowing patterns and other natural events.
“Golf courses are a living thing, and they grow and change over time,” said TCC member Stephen Pellegrino, chairman of the greens committee. “Brookline has always been known for small greens, but we noticed the greens were once larger than they were in, say, 2013-15. They weren’t massively bigger, but noticeably bigger.”
Famed architect Gil Hanse was hired to restore TCC to challenge today’s big hitters. But instead of lengthening the course, the majority of the work focused on enlarging the greens to more closely resemble their original sizes.
Fifteen of the 18 holes have been enlarged over the past few years — all but holes 8, 10, and 12 on the championship course.
While the larger greens give the golfers larger targets, they also open up new hole locations.
“Not only are there hole locations that are new, there are hole locations that hadn’t existed before we did the green expansions,” Pellegrino said. “They might have been either in the rough or right on the edge of the green. And those are the pin placements that really challenge the best players.”
For those who love the history of the game, don’t worry — Hanse didn’t turn TCC into a muni track. The Country Club’s greens still average about 4,200 square feet after the renovations, said Brendan Walsh, TCC director of golf since 1998. That’s compared with 4,500 feet at Torrey Pines and 6,667 feet at Winged Foot, site of the last two US Opens. Augusta National averages 6,435 square feet. Pebble Beach (3,500 square feet) is the only course used in major play with smaller greens.
TCC’s greens also have significant undulations that can leave golfers with fairly impossible downhill putts.
“I try to coach people to leave themselves on the ‘offensive’ side of the hole, to make sure they are coming up the hill as much as they possibly can,” Walsh said. “You’re almost better off at some of these holes to hit out of a bunker up a hill, or even chipping up the hill, vs. being on the green past the hole.”
Most of the green expansion and restoration was relatively minor, but three holes stand out.
The first is No. 3, where Hanse expanded the green in the back to create an “infinity edge” leading up to the skating pond behind the hole. With trees removed, there is approximately 120 yards of space behind the green, making it tougher on the golfers to judge distance on approach shots.
Another is hole No. 11, a 131-yard, downhill par-3 into a tabletop green that has not been used in championship play since 1913. The tabletop used to feature a tiny green surrounded by rough on all sides, but the rough has been mowed down and now the tabletop is essentially all green. While the target is larger, it is now much easier to run the ball off the green and into deep rough or a bunker.
“Some pin locations there wouldn’t have been remotely possible before the restorations,” Pellegrino said.
And No. 18 has been expanded to provide for better drainage, with a greenside bunker repositioned as well.
“Now water sheds naturally, which is the way it would have back in the early 1900s,” Pellegrino said.
Read more US Open stories
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- Your guide to the US Open: What to watch, how to tune in, and more
- The Country Club’s devilish 17th hole is bound to play a role in this US Open
- Let’s wade into this deep US Open rough, inch by terrifying inch
- With a pro caddie to guide us, we played The Country Club. Here’s the hole-by-hole report.
- Will the US Open’s big hitters go for the green on The Country Club’s reachable par-4s?
- Cracking the code at Brookline’s venerable and fiercely private The Country Club
Ben Volin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.