This article is an updated version of a story that originally appeared on GOLF.com in 2012.
Unlike Groucho Marx, I would like to belong to many clubs that would not have me as a member. It’s a complex I hired as a kid growing up in Brookline, Massachusetts, where I lived just down the street and a few stoplights from The Country Club’s private driveway.
In a leafy city like Brookline, there is no wrong road. But there is a wrong side of the fence. The fence is tall and chain-link, and runs for what seems like an eternity to a young golfer, a barrier between The Country Club and the muni where I learned to play.
Today, that city-owned course is called the Robert T. Lynch Municipal Golf Course, but when I was a kid, it was Putterham Meadows, and it cost me and my friends two dollars to play.
We got what we paid for: a grunt from the cashier (yes, there was a cashier); greens as woolly as a mammoth; and a backup of three pools on the first tee.
Still, when you’re a kid, you only know what you know, and if you’re lucky, you’re happy with it. I never felt deprived, and it never seemed like golf could get much better, except for those rare moments when, from my bike or from the backseat of my mother’s car, I caught glimpses of The Country Club.
It was spread out in all its glory along Clyde Street, enveloped by trees and hedges that the club had planted to keep prying eyes out. Craning my neck like a Fenway bleacher creature with an obstructed view, I could only see splinters, but even in those fragments I realized that golf was different, better: the fairways and bunkers were closer, the greens were more attractive than the others. the flat Frisbees I put.
Of course, I wanted to play it. But not only did he not know any members, he also didn’t know anyone who knew someone who did. The Country Club was a place unto itself, an island of prestige on another level in a privileged city with a reputation for stiff-lipped snobbery. Among my cohort, the consensus was that unless you pulled the levers of high finance or could trace your pedigree to the Pilgrim landings at Plymouth Rock, you had no chance of moving forward.
All of which made us want to play it more.
Had we known our history, we would have taken comfort in the story of Francis Ouimet, the blue-collar boy from Brookline who grew up in a house across the street, caddyed at The Country Club, and went on to beat the blue bloods on his own. game, beating two mighty Britons, Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, in a playoff at the 1913 US Open, on the same course where he had been a looper.
But my friends and I had never heard of Ouimet. Our hero back then was Lenny Curtin, a prankster senior from our high school and the only player on the golf team who could reliably break 80. The son of a cop, Lenny had a cutaway swing he’d picked up from hockey and an edgy Goodwill Hunting shape on it. He wasn’t just the best golfer we knew. He was also the boldest.
Every spring, when the snows thawed and the season began, Lenny headed to Putterham with a wire cutter hidden in his bag. And there, along the left side of the par-5 dogleg 6th hole, he would punch a hole in the chain-link fence, an illicit portal to The Country Club. Learning of the breach, the club would rush to seal it, at which point Lenny would open it up again.
The hole in the fence became known as Curtin’s Corner, and my friends and I marveled at the courage of its namesake, who, almost without fail, upon reaching the 6th hole at Putterham, would slide down the hole he had created to complete his round on fancier grounds. If he got caught, Lenny never said. And I never asked him. Instead, I silently admired his exploits, wishing I could muster the courage to emulate him.
It wasn’t until the end of high school that I did. I’m not sure what finally compelled me. Perhaps it was the feeling that adulthood was approaching, along with all the responsibilities that came with it, so I might as well indulge in some youthful adventure. But even as I write that, it sounds like cheap armchair psychology, and I’m not sure I buy it.
All I know is that one afternoon just before graduation, I tossed $2 at the cashier and played five and a half holes of muni golf before dropping my bag midway through the sixth, grabbing a wedge and some balls, and ducking through the opening in the fence.
A worn path cut through the woods, trampled by Lenny and those working to thwart him. I ran along it, feathery ferns brushing my legs. What seemed like a few hundred yards ahead (I’d have to go back and shoot lasers), the forest gave way and I was left standing, heart pounding, on the short grass of a beautiful par 5, with a cheery fairway, graced by a large rocky outcrop, rising in the distance near the saddle of a raised green.
It was a dazzling and sobering sight – proof that golf here really was different, beyond not only my bloodlines but also, it seemed, my skills. The adrenaline rush I felt was the nervousness of the first tee, amplified to a degree I couldn’t handle. Confused, I dropped a ball and took a shot, running away without bothering to see it land.
Life went on. He finished high school. I moved. The next time I set foot in The Country Club was in 1999 as a sponsor of the Ryder Cup (having missed the 1988 US Open was probably a good idea as it saved me the pain of seeing Putterham used as a parking lot). ). I remember it all: the rowdy crowds, the superb red-faced play of a mercilessly booed Colin Montgomerie, the riveting American comeback. But what stands out the most was the pleasure I had in The Country Club itself, seeing it up close and in my spare time. I drank it.
Still, seeing a great course without playing it is like smelling a good wine without tasting it. If anything, it intensifies desire. Mine endured, unsatisfied.
More years passed. I settled in California, got married, had two children. On a mid-career fluke, I took up writing about golf, a job that took me places I never expected but also didn’t take me to The Country Club. The course remained for me the elusive stuff of romance, the teenage crush that didn’t tell me the time of day.
And then, one autumn afternoon, it happened. On a trip back east to visit friends and family, I got a call to play The Country Club.
Seeing a great course without playing it is like smelling a good wine without tasting it.
Driving up to the entrance, past the guardhouse with the cardboard sentry posted inside (as a child, the cut-out figure had fooled me and my friends and kept us away) was a surreal thrill, and my host was. all. I once assumed that the members of The Country Club were not: kind and down to earth, a normal guy. As for the course, it was everything I could have reasonably asked for: fair and witty, with plenty to delight my inner architecture nerd. I have played some that are better and many that are worse. But no course could have lived up to the Country Club of my fantasies. It is human nature. We idealize what is beyond our reach.
We played briskly and before I knew it we were on the tee of the 11th hole, a par 5 with a rocky outcropping on the fairway. A return to the crime scene of my childhood. After a decent drive and inning, I found the green in regulation and two putts, a routine couple that came with a flashback. Looking over my shoulder, into the trees, I saw what looked like a trodden path: Lenny Curtain’s heirs, up to the same mischief.
It was nice, this time, not to suffer the same nerves.
But if I wasn’t an intruder, in a short, frightened foray into the grounds, I was still an intruder. In an instant, the day was over. We go out on the 18th, have drinks after the round. I shook hands with my host, got in my car and drove out the way I came in, my car transforming back into a pumpkin.
That was a decade ago. I haven’t been back to The Country Club since. But I’ve reconnected with Lenny. Among the things I’ve learned: He didn’t get away with his youthful fouls. On one of his raids at The Country Club, security caught him. But instead of calling his parents or the police, the club offered a compromise: Lenny would work on the field team. If it was intended as a punishment, that’s not how it worked. Lenny loved the job. It became his calling. Today, he is the longtime superintendent at George Wright Golf Course outside of Boston, one of the most highly regarded municipalities in the United States. He respects you adamantly. He calls himself “Len”.
Last summer, after years of intermittent phone calls and email correspondence, I met Len in person, just before dawn, at George Wright’s pro shop. Our conversation was a stroll down memory lane, and the round I played soon after was golf as I’d learned it, in a wooded muni, bag strapped to my back, sunrise glinting off the dew.
Afterward, I went to visit friends in Brookline, on a route that took me past The Country Club. Walking slowly down Clyde Street, I could see the countryside as I once had: through gaps in the trees, but without the same sense of adolescent longing. Sweet place, for sure. And I would love to have unlimited access to it. But I would also like to hit the ball like Francis Ouimet. In life and in golf, learning to live with what you can’t have is a big part of growing up.