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October 27, 2008

A return to The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.

Posted at 2:42 PM by Rick Lipsey | Categories: Top 100 Courses in the U.S. and World

My power is hardly Dalyesque, but supercharged clubs and balls have turned even pipsqueaks like me into relative Paul Bunyans. I was reminded of that ego-inflating fact a few days ago when I played The Country Club in Brookline, Mass. I was at TCC as a guest the day after I’d given the members a talk about my book, Golfing On The Roof of the World: In Pursuit of Gross National Happiness and the Bhutan Youth Golf Association (www.golfbhutan.com), a youth golf program that I created while teaching golf in the Himalayan kingdom in 2002.

I’d last played TCC, the venerable 115-year old site of 15 USGA championships, including Francis Ouimet’s epic 1913 U.S. Open victory, just before it hosted the 1999 Ryder Cup. Way back then, at the end of the last millennium, the 7,033-yard course seemed like a monster. Every par four felt like a par five, and the 515-yard par five 11th hole had a most appropriate moniker –- Himalayas.

Now, though, the course (we played from the blue tees) seemed, well, manageable. No, I wasn’t going driver-wedge into par fours all day or launching eight-iron approaches into par fives. But I never stood on a par-four tee and felt like I’d need a miraculously long couple of shots to reach the green. And the Himalayas? It felt like a cute little par five. (I topped my second shot into a creek and still had a chance to make par.)

Don’t get me wrong. The Country Club is still as stout a test as I’ve ever seen, a track not far behind Bethpage and Pine Valley on the difficulty scale. The serpentine fairways, topsy-turvy and miniscule greens, devilishly deep and oddly shaped bunkers conspire to wreak havoc with golfers of all levels. But distance is not a key factor. Perhaps that’s why the club is embarking on a grand refurbishment project that will add considerable length, reshape some fairways and include a massive tree removal project. The work will be complete well in advance of 2013, when TCC could host the U.S. Amateur as it celebrates the 100th anniversary of Ouimet’s Open victory.

I walked off TCC feeling like a victor. After an up-and-down first 16 holes, I morphed into Curtis Strange circa 1988. At 17, the 400-yard par 4, where Justin Leonard drained a 28-mile putt to clinch the ’99 Ryder Cup, I crushed a drive, flushed an eight iron to the back, top shelf and drained a 10-footer for birdie. On 18, a 420-yarder that ususally plays into the wind, I again split the fairway. After a decent three-wood to the deep front bunker, I lofted a sweet little sand shot eight feet past the hole, which was in front of the back-to-front sloping green.

And when I dropped the putt for par, I smiled widely.

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