During this week, the eyes of the golfing world have been focused on The Country Club (TCC), a very private playground for golf and other outdoor pursuits in Brookline that is hosting the United States Open, a top-tier golfing event that annually draws top-rank amateur and professional competitors from around the globe in pursuit of the prestigious championship.
In the early years after its founding in 1882, the club’s golfers were a minority in a membership that favored equestrian activities and the like, but they persisted in efforts to establish their sport as a priority, and by 1894, The Country Club was one of five private associations in the country that formed what is now the United States Golf Association (USGA). In short order, the groups instituted an open competition that welcomed all qualifiers to compete for recognition as the country’s best golfer.
The Country Club, its fully capitalized name suggesting its singularity, has been an exclusive redoubt from its beginning, its membership rolls full of names of individuals and families descended from Boston’s founding Puritans and its 19th-century industrialists and prominent merchants until recent decades, when admissions committees gradually widened their visions.
For all that, the club’s poobahs have maintained a playing course that has attained, and preserved, a preeminence among the world’s best while showing a keen interest in keeping amateur golf in the spotlight .
It was, after all, a 20-year-old amateur named Francis Ouimet who stunned the golfing world in 1913 when, playing at TCC across the street from his home, he bested the two best players of that time, English masters Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, to win the US Open.
The club has hosted numerous USGA events over the years, including US Opens in 1963 and 1988, and a number of US Amateur championships. And TCC was the site of the PGA’s Ryder Cup competition with Europe in 1999, an event that produced a remarkable conclusion in favor of the American side.
This year’s Open is yet another in that string of prominent greensward happenings, and this one comes with a touch of controversy that has riled the golfing universe.
Lured by what most people likely consider preposterous amounts of money – multiple billions, most of it coming from the Public Investment Fund of the Saudi Arabian government – a number of players formerly engaged in playing for millions on the Professional Golfing Association (PGA) tour in the United States have jumped ship to play under the auspices of an association titled LIV. The new association has been fronted by a onetime major champion named Greg Noman, and supported by, among others, a onetime PGA superstar named Phil Mickelson, who reportedly has been given $200 million by LIV organizers in appreciation for thumbing his nose at his former PGA colleagues and teeing up for his new sponsors.
The tour is offering its players shorter tournaments (54 holes instead of 72) and fewer of them across the year while opening its vaults to ensure such things as paying the worst competitors in events a minimum of $125,000 simply for playing.
The rubber is hitting the road at this week’s US Open at The Country Club. As its name confirms, the tournament is open to all who qualify via a series of early events spread across the world in spring and early summer. Additionally, many professionals are invited pro forma because of championships they have won in PGA , USGA, and worldwide events while others make it into play for a variety of exemptions the USGA has in place.
This means that a number of the PGA pros who have jumped to the LIV are playing in Brookline this week – because they qualified for an “open” tournament. It will be interesting to see how personal dynamics play out while the Open proceeds. Those who have stayed with the PGA will be playing alongside LIV apostates, men whom many of their former colleagues view without saying so in public as greedy and immoral for taking pounds of money from a country whose human rights record is deeply compromised when viewed from a Western moral perspective.