The US Open that almost never happened

BROOKLINE, Massachusetts. – The country club, host of this year’s US Open, was close to not hosting a major tournament at all, until the club realized that the saying “smallest house in the most beautiful area” makes sense.

The Country Club is on the short list of the most respected institutions of the United States Golf Association, one of five clubs that merged in the 1890s to form the association. It was the site of perhaps the most important event in American golf history, the 1913 US Open. won by amateur Francis Huime in the playoffs over the famous British professionals Ted Ray and Harry Vardon.

But the club is tucked away in an elite neighborhood in the suburbs of Boston with little room to meet the growing demands of today’s big tournaments. The PGA of America awarded the club the 2005 championship but decided it would be too much and withdrew.

Explaining the decision in 2002, John Cornish, the club’s chairman for the 1999 Ryder Cup games, said: “We were faced with the need to reduce services, local corporations and the media. The club presented this to the PGA and agreed with the PGA that the changes would not be in the best interests of the PGA Championship.”

The USGA was not convinced that the Country Club could host a modern US Open. John Bodenhamer, the association’s chief championship officer, said on Wednesday that “this Open almost didn’t happen.” 1988 Open Championship was held in Brooklyn for the third time in a 75-year period, but Bodenhamer was skeptical that there would be a fourth on the course.

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

Bodenhamer said the USGA’s stance changed in 2013. That same year, the US Open was held at the Merion Golf Club outside of Philadelphia. It is too, has a small area and is located in a residential suburban area. But the tournament proved successful, and Bodenhamer soon contacted Country Club officials to see if there was any interest in hosting the US Open. There was.

In July 2015, the USGA officially announced: The Country Club will host its fourth US Open in 2022 and host the USGA event for the 17th time. Only Merion, at 19, has been a bigger place, and the Open should return there in 2030.

“It’s a throwback to the US Open,” Bodenhamer said. “I think when you walk around this place and just see, they didn’t move much dirt with donkeys. They had some dynamite, but that’s it.”

There are rock outcrops, blind shots, small greens and punitive US Open rough. There is a short par-3 downhill that has not been used at the US Open since 1913. The famous curve remains. 17th holethe scene scared Vardon in the 1913 playoffs and Long bird kick by Justin Leonard in the 1999 Ryder Cup as part of Team USA’s comeback.

“I promise you that something magical will happen at No. 17,” Bodenhamer said. “It’s just necessary.”

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

This message, according to Bodenhamer, he received all week.

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