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The US Open that almost didn’t happen

BROOKLINE, Mass. — The Country Club, host of this year’s US Open, came close to not hosting the main tournament, until the club realized there was something to the adage of being the smallest house in the best neighborhood. of bad.

The Country Club is on the United States Golf Association’s short list of most beloved institutions, one of five clubs that came together in the 1890s to form the association. It was arguably the site of the greatest moment in American golf history: the 1913 US Open won by amateur Francis Ouimet in a playoff over celebrated British professionals Ted Ray and Harry Vardon.

But the club is tucked away in an upscale neighborhood in a Boston suburb with little space to accommodate the growing demands of modern big tournaments. The PGA of America awarded the club its 2005 championship, but decided it would be too much and withdrew.

Explaining the 2002 decision, John Cornish, chairman of the 1999 Ryder Cup matches at the club, said: “We are faced with the need to reduce the reach of services, local corporations and the media. The club submitted this to the PGA and agreed with the PGA that the changes would not be in the best interest of the PGA Championship.”

The USGA was not convinced that the Country Club could host a modern US Open. John Bodenhamer, the association’s director of championships, said Wednesday that “this Open almost doesn’t take place.” The 1988 Open was held at Brookline, for the third time in a 75-year period, but Bodenhamer was skeptical there would be a fourth on the course.

“The footprint was small,” Bodenhamer said. “It was in a residential community. There were too many obstacles to overcome in what we do and what you see now.

Bodenhamer said the USGA’s position changed in 2013. That year, the US Open was held at Merion Golf Club, outside Philadelphia. It also takes up little space and is in a residential suburban neighborhood. But the tournament proved to be a success and soon Bodenhamer contacted Country Club officials to see if there was any interest in hosting a US Open. There was.

In July 2015, the USGA made it official: the Country Club would hold its fourth US Open, in 2022, and host a USGA event for the 17th time. Only Merion, with 19, has hosted more, and the Open plans to return there in 2030.

“This is a retroactive US Open,” Bodenhamer said. “I think when you go through this place and just look, they didn’t move a lot of earth with the donkeys. They had a little bit of dynamite, but that was it.”

There are rocky outcrops, blind shots, small greens and the punitive US Open raw. There’s a short, downhill par 3 that hasn’t been used at a US Open since 1913. There’s the famous dogleg left 17th hole, the scene of Vardon’s bogey in the 1913 playoff and Justin Leonard’s Long Birdie Putt in the 1999 Ryder Cup as part of the return of the American team.

“I promise you something magical will happen at No. 17,” Bodenhamer said. “He just has to do it.”

Australian player Cameron Smith called the Country Club “my favorite US Open venue that I think I’ve ever been to. I love it mate.” He is competing in his seventh Open, which has included stops at Pebble Beach in California, Oakmont near Pittsburgh and Shinnecock Hills and Winged Foot in New York.

That’s the message Bodenhamer said he’s been getting all week.

“The players love this place,” Bodenhamer said. “The ghosts of the past matter. You can’t buy history. You can only earn it. And the Country Club has it.”

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