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The Legendary Hole No One Will Play at the 2022 U.S. Open

“Hospital” helped shape Brookline's legend. Now it's hidden behind grandstands.
Brookline

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The Country Club holds a foundational place in American golf. From Francis Ouimet’s landscape-altering victory at the 1913 U.S. Open to the mythic 1999 Ryder Cup, Brookline’s bonafides are unassailable. But one thing sets it apart from other historic venues: The course itself is constantly changing. As Brookline prepares to host its fourth U.S. Open, this edition of the course will be without a hole that played major parts in the dramas that have shaped this club’s legend.

The original green monster

Francis Ouimet clenched his club, seeking a sure grip, and looked up at the mess of grass and exposed sandstone rising 30 feet above him. He was about to hit, arguably, the most important tee shot of his career. The caddie didn’t fear the shot’s blind nature. He had stood on the crest many times, providing the line for his players. He could probably draw the landing area from memory.

There had been times, however, when he feared for his safety while screaming line drives barely got over the ledge. More often, he had seen players, intimidated by Boston’s original green monster, hit directly into the scrub. Then, it was a ball lost for clients, but now, it could mean losing the 1913 U.S. Open. Rules had not yet changed to allow unplayable lies; a topped tee shot meant comically mowing the hill with a niblick, and ruefully tearing up a scorecard.

It was one of the most terrifying tee shots in American golf.

It was once one of the most terrifying tee shots in American golf. At this U.S. Open, it will be hidden beneath grandstands and trailers.

The weekend’s soggy weather had carried over into the playoff, compounding the variables. A slip of the hand would carry a penalty. The crowd of eager Americans included former president William Howard Taft. The competition included British giants Harry Vardon, winner of five Open Championships and a U.S. Open at that point, and Ted Ray, another Open champion.

Ouimet was just a 20-year-old, cajoled into competing by the club professional. But he was in this playoff because he had already outperformed the British duo here. He had parred No. 4 the previous day, while Vardon had bogeyed and Ray had doubled.

Ouimet swung. Clean contact. He walked up the stone steps toward the fairway, tied for the lead, four holes into the U.S. Open playoff.

Going mental

Play from the same tee as Ouimet and don’t get spooked by your caddie, standing like a sacrificial lamb atop the altar-like mound on the hill’s horizon, marking the target line. At this point it’s difficult not to think of the risk caddies take here to track shots, and also wonder if this was the inspiration for the club to name this hole “Hospital.”

There’s plenty of fairway to your caddie’s right, if you get nervous, without too much sacrifice in terms of line. The caddie may move to your left if you’ve got the muscle, and the guts. The hole stretches just 325 yards, the same distance played more than a century ago. Two fairway bunkers on the left pinch the landing area, and although uphill, a shot of 230 yards will find the front bunker and 240 reaches the second. The former almost certainly requires a lateral bailout, while the latter still turns birdie putts into pipe dreams. Those who stay left but stop short face a blinded approach shot; the bunker mounding is No. 4’s second-most intimidating hill.

Not as many balls stop short these days, however, since Gil Hanse steered the slope toward the hazards during his restoration work at Brookline. Follow the caddie’s line and the upslope continues all the way until the second bunker’s conclusion, where it immediately feeds back down. Either shape a power draw and let it run 60 yards down to the putting surface, or just hit a rocket over the second bunker.

As with any good drivable par 4: More yardage from the tee equals more problems. Miss left and the wayward tee shot rolls into a horseshoe-shaped bunker just ahead of the green. Its knob often forces a lateral escape to the fairway, which means still not putting after a 300-yard drive on a 325-yard hole. Miss right and find the longest of four bunkers on that side, cut like claw marks deep into the earth. Perpendicular to both fairway and green, these bunkers flash forward, not toward the putting surface. Depending on the lie, the green may remain inaccessible.

The more conservative player is guaranteed little from the tee. An 80-yard wedge approach still needs to land between those five bunkers, plus one at the back, on the property’s smallest green. It’s smaller than the average Dunkin’ Donuts, less than 2,200 square feet. The mental institution behind the green that actually gave “Hospital” its name has long since closed, but the hole’s combination of old world techniques—from blind tee shots over monumental landforms to angled, milk saucer-sized greens—still drives modern golfers mad.

Clyde, Squirrel and Nipper

Golfers tend to focus on singular designers when considering championship courses. Masters week means a torrent of Alister MacKenzie discussion, with little regard for the other architects who brought the course to its current state. Credit for The Country Club is much muddier. The list begins with Willie Campbell, the first architect of note to work at Brookline. He arrived as club professional in 1894 and renovated the haphazard six-hole route the members had thrown together, then added three more. He is largely given credit for the expansion to a full 18 by 1899, though the TCC website vaguely notes of the second nine, “club members designed three new holes, which opened in 1908, followed by the final six holes which were completed by 1927.” Regardless, these original nines, known as Clyde and Squirrel, comprise what is known in non-tournament weeks as the Main Course. William Flynn, another popular name from the golden age of course design, added the third nine, dubbed Primrose, in 1927.

So who were those other individuals involved in the second nine? Club history suggests three names. Two were members: Herbert Windeler, eventual president of the USGA, and Herbert Jacques, who was an architect of the brick and mortar variety. The third is Alex “Nipper” Campbell (no relation to Willie). His existing course bibliography is small, largely contained around the Dayton, Ohio region. This includes what many consider his masterpiece, Moraine Country Club. Labeling Moraine his masterpiece, however, overlooks Nipper as potentially the most influential architect at Brookline.

There’s no doubt that he contributed to Hospital: The club purchased the land where it now sits during 1898, and Nipper had arrived to replace Willie in 1896. No. 4 did not exist before 1906, per course maps, but certainly existed for the 1910 U.S. Amateur. 

The bold, blind tee shot evokes the terrifying drive from No. 11 at Nipper’s birthplace, Troon. And No. 7 at Moraine shares a two-dimensional profile with Hospital; around 325 yards from the tee, with a leftward fairway bunker to guard against the aggressive line, and a reachable green surrounded by bunkers (the key difference is the downhill tee shot at Moraine…a blessing). 

Nipper’s role as architect would not have stopped at Hospital. No. 3 (Pond) and No. 11 (Himalayas)—the two signature holes that end up on world’s-best lists—are also products of his time at Brookline. 

Nipper made one more contribution to history while at Brookline, one that surpasses even his course design triumphs: He convinced his star pupil, Ouimet, to accept an invitation to play in the 1913 U.S. Open.

A modern goodbye

U.S. Open participants will not look up at the rock wall during 2022, nor visit the elevated tees added by Flynn that were used at the ’99 Ryder Cup and 2013 U.S. Amateur. They won’t look at Hospital at all. 

The hole was the sleeper star of the Ryder Cup. The most visceral memories recall No. 17 green, but no hole had a more profound impact on the final result than No. 4. A point was awarded there in 65% of the matches—a higher proportion than any other hole. Furthermore, 15 of the 18 competitors who won a point at No. 4 went on to win or halve their match. 

“I certainly remember that hole being a tricky little thing that you had to pay attention to and kind of give it some respect.” says Tom Lehman, who went 2-1 that year. “That’s the kind of hole where guys were making what I would call stupid bogeys and other guys were making birdies. Points were being given away and points were being won.”

Lehman recalled the difficulty of landing on the tiny putting surface, plus the combination of congestive rough and awkwardly-angled bunkers, complicating up-and-down opportunities. Conversely, that small putting surface meant birdies came easier for those dancing. No Justin Leonard theatrics necessary. 

Stroke play tends to encourage more conservative play among professionals, but this likely isn’t the reason for No. 4’s exclusion from the 2022 Open. Instead, Hospital has, as with so many great holes, likely fallen victim to the ever-increasing length of the professional game. But not in the traditional sense: Big hitters have created a logistics issue at Brookline. 

No. 5 on the Main Course (Stockton), is now No. 4 on the current Championship routing, and has been stretched to 510 yards, placing its back tee box 80 yards from the third green. If Hospital remained in the routing, players would need to walk more than 200 yards from its green back to Stockton’s tee. Additionally, organizers bridged the walk between Nos. 10 and 12 on the Championship routing by reincorporating Redan, the shortest par three at Brookline (this also helped vary the lengths among the par 3s in play during the tournament).  

And so Hospital will watch this U.S. Open pass it by. The Championship routing will remain in play for the next year as Hospital and other trampled fairways recover. But the traditional Squirrel and Clyde routing will eventually return. 

Should you be fortunate enough to receive an invitation to The Country Club, solemnly nod as your host waxes on about Brookline’s glittering past. Raise your hand, however, when they begin to ascend the stairs to the upper tees at No. 4. Ask if you can instead go to the restored tee box at the base, and look up at some of that history.