Hanse, who opened his firm in 1993 and has worked with partner Jim Wagner since 1995, is careful to call this work a restoration, rather than a renovation of the existing course. For example, several greens have been expanded, but it has been done by reclaiming areas of the putting surfaces that had been lost over time.
“One thing we always stress is that we’re going to take a historic approach,” Hanse said. “We’re going to do the best we can to restore the golf course as opposed to dramatically altering it, which provides a high degree of comfort for clubs. They know we’re not going to try to create the ‘2021 edition’ of the club. We’re trying to restore some of the aspects that might have been lost while updating it for the modern game.”
They also know that the game’s best visit infrequently. “This is first and foremost a members’ course, and the U.S. Open only comes once a generation or so,” Hanse said. “We can’t do something that is only relevant for a championship at the cost of member enjoyment.”
One change made with the members in mind involved the “knitting together” of the fairways on Nos. 3 and 4 of the Open Course, par 4s that run in opposite directions.
“We started talking about, what if we get a really strong wind on No. 4, that some players might not be able to get to the fairway,” Hanse said. “In expanding that fairway back toward the tee, we realized there was an opportunity to do something a bit old-fashioned. You don’t see it very often, but it’s perfectly applicable for a place like The Country Club.”
The fairways of the first and 18th holes at Brookline were once the province of polo players, with their field – or pitch – sitting in the middle of the horse racing oval (see above image). The tee and green for each hole are perched just above what had been the racetrack itself, which wasn’t removed until the 1960s. Hanse restored some of the challenge for the elite player by repositioning and expanding the bunkers on both dogleg-left holes (see Hanse Design sketch of No. 18 above).
“We moved them farther down-range so they’re in play for a championship as well as for longer-hitting members,” said Hanse. “The average golfer, who is going to struggle on those holes anyway, doesn’t have to worry about hitting into a fairway bunker.”
Dave Johnson, the director of grounds at The Country Club, worked with Hanse on restorations of two other Massachusetts courses before coming on board in 2018. He points to another hole influenced by the terrain, the par-4 ninth of the Open Course. It was designed by Flynn and is one of four Primrose holes employed in the routing for the U.S. Open. It features an enormous ridge in the drive landing area that can propel balls toward an adjacent pond.
“I would describe this course as rugged; every time you put a shovel in the ground, you’re hitting rock or ledge,” said Johnson. “I don’t work a lot in the evenings, but when I do, right before the sun goes down, the contours of the fairways just blow your mind when you see them with that certain angle of the sun.”
In June, there will likely be a few competitors who have a similar experience to Crenshaw’s first visit in 1968. As he recalled, “It’s a perfect place to play your first national championship – it was a wondrous week in which golf history, architecture and big-time competition hit me over the head.”