Here we are now, three years out from the 2022 U.S. Open, and we can’t think of a better time to start commenting on the course that the competitors will see*.
*= Look, BPBM isn’t exactly that influential so this will probably be the last chance we get to play The Country Club before the U.S. Open / ever, so we’re going to go ahead and write a post about it. And yeah, we’ll probably run it again in the weeks leading up to the actual 2022 U.S. Open. Here’s our angle: We’re reporting on the 2022 U.S. Open before it was cool to report on the 2022 U.S. Open.
That said we do have a bit of a not-so-hot scoop provided by our playing partner (well-regarded within the world of golf blogdom and course analysis): The routing of the 2022 event itself.
It doesn’t take much research to know the Open will be played on a “composite course,” including a blend of holes from the traditional Clyde/Squirrel nines, as well as three constructed from the William Flynn “Primrose” nine. No championship—from Francis Ouimet’s iconic 1913 Open win to the 2013 U.S. Amateur—has been held purely on the William/Alex Campbell original 18. But the “Composite Course,” as those in the know like to call it, has changed across time. The current understanding of the route kicked off with the 1957 U.S. Am, removing Nos. 9, 10 and 12 from circulation.
The next big event, 2022, will be different: No. 12 will return to play, while No. 4 drops out instead. And this unveils a crappy, inevitable truth about watching Majors at classic golf course, versus playing golf at classic golf courses. At least from a professional’s perspective.
For the sake of a stroke play championship, of which the U.S. Open is the stroke-playiest, it’s probably a good move. No. 12 is a fraction-wedge, downhill Par 3 to a small green. Although not quite as scenic as No. 7 at Pebble Beach, it will play very much the same—but with more bunkers and gnarlier rough (Brookline’s rough is gnarly in the literal sense).
But for the rest of the round, and most of the professional golf calendar, it sucks.
Variety is the easiest way, in principle, to create a great golf course—but much tougher in practice, of course. It becomes even more challenging when attempting to stage a professional golf event. “Variety” is tough to enforce when greater distances are borderline essential. The composite course(s) at The Country Club sacrifice Clyde/Squirrel’s greatest assets to live up to the USGA’s needs—and in doing so reveal the limits of strokeplay.
Hole Nos. 1, 3, and 5 at Brookline measure 1,310 yards from the mid-handicap tees. Given that misleading sample, it’s reasonable to believe Brookline will play like Bethpage (for saps like me): long, cruel, repeat. But of course, it doesn’t. Well, for us normal folks at least (side note: We played to par on the opener, in a short-lived campaign to look like we knew what we were doing).
Nos. 2, 4, 6, and 8 are incredible short Par 4s, which become increasingly less incredible during professional play. The exception is No. 6, which will appear probably somewhere in the 340-range come 2022. Arguably the easiest hole on the course, it plays dramatically uphill to a fairway that swoops aggressively left-to-right. That “swoop” doesn’t impact anyone of any distance, however, and should play as a must-birdie—unless the USGA has something up it’s sleeve.
No. 2 also remains in play, but it’s converted to a Par 3. This makes sense: It plays as a three for the back-tee club members as well; Maxing out at 285 yards due to spacial issues, this slight dogleg left couldn’t conceivably compete with the game’s best as a Par 4, and so it’s lowered to 190 for the big guys (commoners will typically lay up and then cover a short forced-carry to the green for a good birdie look. No big deal).
Nos. 4 and 10 are where Campbell’s intentions truly begin to erode, and with them the potential for exciting golf.
No. 10’s exclusion from the routing for 2022 comes as no surprise: It hasn’t been featured in play since pre-1963. Due to its (and No. 9’s) proximity to the clubhouse, it traditionally converts to a driving range during events. It’s a decision that makes sense logistically, and those tend to be the only factors that matter.
“Maiden” takes its name from the infamous dune at Royal St. George’s (now deceased), which blocked the view of golfers coming over it into the No. 6 green. Brookline’s rendition is not so dramatic and not even a Par 3. Rather, it plays 334 from the tips, forcing a layup followed by a dramatic wedge up the hill to a green that slopes aggressively from left-to-right (similar to the green of the more famous “Himalayas,” which is the next hole in line). Although the flag is visible from the teebox, the green itself is not, because of a fescued mound. Two small bunkers sit to the left, a large bunker sits right, and balls high and left will not be able to stick the green. Two pitches will ensue. These foresights are less valuable when taking a pitching wedge, blind, into a green just 20-yards deep.
Our own pitch to the USGA: Set the tees at the 310, the mid-handicapper range. The hole will be reachable for nearly every competitor, and the desire for double-birdie could push PGA pros to madness. The bunkers, the fescue, the downhill chips that would ensue…brilliant television. It should be noted that this hole’s greatness owes more to Gil Hanse than the Campbells.
We’ll get to why there’s no way in hell they take us up on this. But first, No. 4.
This will be the first tournament where No. 4 “Hospital” doesn’t get play. To paraphrase the words of my host and playing partner, it’s because “it’s a great matchplay hole.” He forced me to play from the tips, which are equidistant to the middle tees…equidistant but also sitting maybe 35-40 feet lower, at the foot of a famous Brookline rock formation. The tee shot from the middle tees is blind, but just barely, over a crest in the fairway. The tee shot from the back tees is also blind but, again, up over another rock formation. There’s plenty of fairway to catch, but not long before it runs into two fairway bunks on the left, embedded in the face of a hump and requiring a sideways save (we were told Gil Hanse’s 2007 work helped weaponize this pair). A good draw will help long hitters to land to the right and funnel downward toward the smallest green (19 yards deep) on a course full of notoriously small greens. A horseshoe hazard to the left will collect for overdrawn accounts, while a row of rib bones waits to the right.
No stroke play golfer would ever attempt to hit this green. But if this were the Dell Technologies Matchplay? No. 4 would be the best hole on the course. It’s not quite No. 10 at Riviera, due to issues of both length and sightline, but the matchplay potential of this hole has actually been amplified by the current driving distances.
But you won’t see that at the U.S. Open. Too much risk to consider the reward. We don’t fault the USGA for removing it, and No. 10, from the rotation because there is simply not enough incentive for players to grab the big gun on holes like these. It’s the same conservative mindset that led your uncle to not invest in Amazon when he had the chance. And that sucks.
What’s the solution outside of killing stroke play and instating an 128-man matchplay tournament? We dunno.
But the PGA Championship, if not the U.S. Open should seriously consider jumping to an 128-man matchplay format. We’ve got a host in mind.