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History of Brookline

The club where European and American golfers will compete for the Ryder Cup is about as historic as they get.

It is called simply The Country Club, for it was one of the first havens for wealthy Americans to socialise and play games, and the one that gave the name "country club" to thousands of other courses.

The Country Club, which lies in a parabola of colonial towns outside Boston, also is one of the five founding clubs of the United States Golf Association.

It is also well known for a U.S. Open playoff in 1913, when a lanky kid who lived near the course and once caddied there ended British domination of golf by defeating Harry Vardon and Ted Ray of England, the world's top players.

Americans ruled the game for decades after that victory by 20-year-old Francis Ouimet, until foreign players became stronger in the 1980s and the Ryder Cup became the chief means to play for trans-Atlantic bragging rights.

Now, the once sleepy tournament backed by English entrepreneur Samuel Ryder, who made millions off the sale of seed packets, comes to The Country Club, a very American course in history and in design.

It is a place of narrow fairways, long holes, small to moderate greens, and dense rough.

Even through a summer of unusual heat and dry weather, the 7,033-yard championship course is green and dense with grass.

Unlike the 1988 US Open at The Country Club, in which American Curtis Strange held off England's Nick Faldo, the rough has not been thinned by the harsh weather.

The deep rough, after a short step-cut of rough, is only 3-4 inches high, but it has become thick with the aid of a double-row sprinkler system that works along the right and left sides of every fairway.

Team captain Ben Crenshaw did not want the higher rough of the US Opens -- the host captain has a say in course modifications for the Ryder Cup -- but the shorter variety is dense enough to cause trouble for any errant shots. The course that has a slope rating (degree of difficulty) of 147, among the highest in the nation.

Frank Ellsworth, a member of The Country Club, said his handicap went up five strokes this year, a considerable amount for a regular player, largely because of the rough.

The club is called "The Old Lady of Clyde Street," and she is a subtly demanding dowager.

Since Ouimet's time, the long par 4s have caused the most noticeable exasperation. Chief among them is the 12th hole, 450 yards long with a dogleg over a steep plateau and into a cluster of trees. The small green cannot be seen.

That hole comes after the difficult No. 11, a par 4 of 453 yards with a narrow landing area on a bend to the hole between some rocky ledges, with a road and then a pond behind the green. And the 12th is followed by a tricky downhill par 4 of 433 yards.

There are several holes the professionals might jump on, most notably the little par-4, 312-yard 6th hole, although in the 1988 Open only a handful of golfers believed a driver would give any advantage over a precise iron.

Precision is a major key all over the course, and in the 1988 Open even the seemingly simple 185-yard, par-3 second hole rated fourth hardest, behind the 12th, the 201-yard, par-3 7th and the 11th. It was the small green at No. 2 that caused the problem, sometimes kicking off slightly long shots into a clump of trees and bushes just behind the green.

"I think the key to this Ryder Cup is going to be the wedge. Players are going to miss greens," said Don Callahan, golf director at The Country Club.

The championship course was not around in Ouimet's time; it is derived from the basic layout played by the members and the addition of some holes from another nine called the Primrose course.

The most historic hole is the only one on the back nine under 400 yards, the par-4, 381-yard 17th hole. A simple little dogleg left, it is looked upon as a birdie hole now.

But it has one problem, a bunker at a bend in the fairway that for 86 years has been called the Vardon bunker after it ruined his chances against Ouimet in 1913. It is the same bunker that kept Jackie Cupit from winning when the Open returned 50 years later.

Few changes, except for some tidying up of bunkers, have been done for the championship layout since architect Rees Jones made some alterations and restoration a few years before the 1988 Open.

The course will be new to almost all of the Europeans, but six of the Americans competed in the Open, including Steve Pate and Mark O'Meara, who finished tied for third, and Payne Stewart, who tied for 10th.

Callahan said he likes to think the Americans will defeat the Europeans by a point or so, but he notes that many of the holes permit, and sometimes even encourage, run-ups that land just in front of the green and then carry toward the flags. That is a European speciality.

He also noted Europeans generally have more experience in the foursome competitions, in which teams of two play off one ball that are part of the Ryder Cup matches.

"A lot of Americans think that a foursome is just four guys playing regular golf," said Callahan, a professional at The Country Club for 33 years, referring to a type of competition that disappeared long ago in the United States in favour of individual play.

The Country Club is a place to play golf the old-fashioned way. Carts generally are allowed only for medical reasons, and players are not allowed to smoke on the course, use a cellular phone or carry a beeper.

The club has made some changes in recent years amid charges of elitism, including the admission of several minority members. But it has much the same ambience of Ouimet's day, albeit under the giant shadows of 59 corporate hospitality tents that have sold from $250,000 to $500,000 each.