GOLF

This sneaky path to the Country Club has led to more than just a golf course

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The Country Club at the top borders the Robert T. Lynch Municipal Golf Course.

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This article is an updated version of a story originally published on GOLF.com in 2012.

Unlike Groucho Marx, I would like to belong to a lot of clubs that wouldn’t have me as a member. This is a resort I contracted as a kid in Brookline, MA where I lived just down the street and a few traffic lights from the gated Country Club entrance.

In a leafy town like Brookline, there’s no wrong side of the trails. But there is a wrong side of the fence. The fence is high and chain-linked, and it stretches what seems to a young golfer like an eternity, 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 young it was Putterham Meadows, and it cost me and my friends two bucks.

We got what we paid for: a growl from the cashier (yes, there was a cashier); woolly greens like a mammoth; and a three-gang save on the first tee.

The 6th green at Robert T. Lynch.

Nick Cloney

Yet 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 the backseat of my mother’s car, I caught a fleeting glimpse of the Country Club.

It spread out in all its glory along Clyde Street, surrounded by trees and hedges 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 shards of it, but even in those snippets I could tell the golf was different, better – the more tightly manicured fairways and bunkers, the greens more convincing than the flat Frisbees I put on.

Of course, I wanted to play it. But not only did I not know any member, but I did not know anyone who knew anyone who knew him. The Country Club was a place unto itself, an island of upper-tier prestige in a privileged city, with a reputation for deadpan snobbery. Among my cohort, the consensus was that unless you pulled the levers of high finance or could trace your pedigree back to the Pilgrim’s Landing at Plymouth Rock, you had no chance of continuing.

All of this made us want to play it more.

If we had known our story, we might have found solace in the story of Francis Ouimet, the blue-collar kid from Brookline who grew up in a house across the road, caddyed at the Country Club and went on to beat the blue bloods at their own game, beating two mighty Britons – Harry Vardon and Ted Ray – in the playoffs at the 1913 US Open, on the very course where he had been a looper.

Inspiring.

Aspiring, even.

But my friends and I had never heard of Ouimet. Our hero at the time was Lenny Curtin, an upperclassman at our high school and the only player on the golf team who could reliably hit 80. The son of a cop, Lenny had a sawn-off swing he picked up from hockey and an edgy Goodwill Hunting way about him. He wasn’t just the best golfer we knew. He was also the boldest.

Every spring, as the snow melted and the season began, Lenny traveled to Putterham, wire cutters hidden in his bag. And there, along the left side of the dogleg par-5 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, in which case Lenny would reopen it.

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, on reaching the 6th hole at Putterham, slipped through the gap which he had created to complete his circle on more chic grounds. If he got caught, Lenny never said. And I never asked him. Instead, I quietly 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 don’t know what finally pushed me. Maybe it was the feeling that adulthood was approaching, with all the responsibilities that entailed, so I might as well indulge in a youthful adventure. But even as I type this, it looks like cheap armchair psychology, and I’m not sure I’m buying it.

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All I know is that one afternoon, just before graduation, I dropped $2 off at the cash register and played five and a half holes of muni golf before dropping my bag off at the middle of the 6, grab a wedge and some balls, and dodge through the opening in the fence.

A well-worn trail cut through the woods, trampled by Lenny and those who worked to outsmart him. I ran along, feathery ferns brushing my legs. What seemed like a few hundred yards later (I had to go back and the laser) the woods gave way and I stood heart pounding on the short grass of a beautiful par-5, with a cheerful fairway, adorned with a large rocky outcrop, which rose a distance near the saddle of an elevated green.

It was a stunning and sobering spectacle: proof that golf here was truly different, beyond not just my lineages but also, it seemed, my abilities. The adrenaline rush I felt was the jitters of the first start, amplified to a degree I couldn’t handle. Shaken, I dropped a ball and unleashed a blow, fleeing without bothering to watch it land.

Life went on. High school is over. I moved. The next time I set foot in the Country Club was in 1999 as a patron of the Ryder Cup tickets (the fact that I had missed the 1988 US Open was probably just as well, because it saved me the pain of seeing Putterham used as a car park). I remember it all – the cheering crowds, the superb red-faced play of a ruthlessly heckled Colin Montgomerie, the captivating return of the Americans. But what stands out most is the pleasure I took in the Country Club itself, seeing it up close and at my leisure. I drank it.

Yet watching a good course without playing it is like sniffing a good wine without sipping it. On the contrary, it intensifies the craving. Mine endured, unsatisfied.

More years have passed. I moved to California, got married, had two kids. In a mid-career fluke, I stumbled into writing golf, a gig that took me places I never expected but never took me to the Country Club. The course remained for me the elusive stuff of romance, the teenage crush that gave me no time of day.

And then, one fall afternoon, it happened. While traveling east to visit friends and family, I got a call to play at the Country Club.

Watching a good course without playing it is like sniffing a good wine without sipping it.

Walking up the entrance, past the guardhouse with the cardboard sentry wedged inside (when I was a kid, the cut-out figure fooled me and my friends and drove us away) was a surreal thrill, and my host was everything I had once assumed Country Club members weren’t: friendly and down to earth, a regular guy. As for the course, it was all I could have reasonably asked for: fair and clever, enough to delight my interior design nerd. I’ve played some that are better, and a lot that are worse. But no course could have lived up to the Country Club of my fantasies. It’s human nature. We idealize what is beyond our reach.

We played fast, and before I knew it, we were standing on the tee box of the 11th hole, a par-5 with a rocky outcrop in the fairway. A return to the scene of my childhood crime. After a decent drive and layup, I found the green in regulation and two putts, a routine par that came with a flashback. Glancing over my shoulder at the trees, I saw what looked like a trodden path: the heirs of Lenny Curtain, back to the same misdeed.

It was good, this time, not to have the same nerves.

But if I wasn’t an intruder, on a brief frightened foray into the field, I was still an intruder. In a flash, the day was over. We went out on the 18th, we had drinks after the round. I shook hands with my host, jumped in my car, and drove out as I entered, my chariot transformed back into a pumpkin.

It was about ten years ago. I haven’t been back to the Country Club since. But I reconnected with Lenny. Among the things I learned: He didn’t get away with his youthful misdeeds. During one of his intrusion rounds at the Country Club, security caught him. But rather than call his parents or the cops, the club offered a compromise: Lenny would work on the pitch. If it was meant to be a punishment, that’s not how it happened. Lenny loved the job. It became his vocation. Today, he is the longtime superintendent of the George Wright Golf Course, just outside Boston, one of the most highly regarded munis in the United States. He is widely respected. His name is “Len”.

Last summer, after years of intermittent phone calls and email correspondence, I met Len in person just before daybreak in George Wright’s pro shop. Our conversation was a walk down memory lane, and the game I played soon after was golf as I had learned it, on a tree-lined muni, bag strapped to my back, sunrise sun glinting on dew.

Then I went to visit friends in Brookline, on a route that took me past The Country Club. As I gently descended Clyde Street, I could see the course as I once did – through the gaps in the trees, but without the same sense of teenage nostalgia. Sweet place, for sure. And I would like 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 your growth.

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Golf.com

A golf, food and travel writer, Josh Sens has been a contributor to GOLF Magazine since 2004 and now contributes to all GOLF platforms. His work has been anthologized in The Best American Sportswriting. He is also co-author, with Sammy Hagar, of Are We Have Any Fun Yet: the Cooking and Partying Handbook.

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