Across The Street From The Country Club
The location of Francis Ouimet's childhood home and its incredible young occupant changed the trajectory of the American game. The story of 246 Clyde Street and its remarkable rejuvenation.
When Francis Ouimet was starting grade school, his father moved the family from a thinly populated section of Brookline to a modest house he had bought across the street from The Country Club. Mr. Ouimet was a workingman with no interest in golf, and had it not been for the proximity of the course his sons might have emptied their childhood enthusiasm in other channels. HERBERT WARREN WIND
A working class family moves into a modest home 109 years ago and your life is better for it.
One of the two sons in the Ouimet family was inspired and supported by the other son. They were entranced by their upstairs view outside toward The Country Club. They also reimagined a free-play space behind their two-story abode at 246 Clyde Street. The confluence of passion and coincidence changed the course of golf in America when one of the sons, Francis Ouimet, absurdly won the 1913 U.S. Open as a 20-year-old amateur, inspiring mass acceptance of a burgeoning Scottish game, inspiring future First Team All-Game Growers Bobby Jones and Gene Sarazen.
Grantland Rice even suggested Ouimet fueled American interest in professional sport like no other athlete he’d witnessed.
“Ouimet made that first big dent into the sports consciousness of America,” Rice wrote in 1954.
If Arthur Ouimet had not purchased the home with a bedroom view of The Country Club and Mary Ellen had not tolerated the boyish whims of Wilfred and Francis, golf might sit somewhere on the American sports radar next to croquet and you’d be subscribing to The Wicket, not The Quadrilateral. And thanks to a group of generous club members, 246 Clyde Street will forever remain sacred ground for sports lovers and a testament to the absurdity of chance.
Ouimet opened his 1932 biography with a chapter wondering how living “Across The Street From The Country Club” changed his life.
“Born in a rather thinly populated section of Brookline, Massachusetts, I have often wondered what my golfing activities would have amounted to if my father had not bought a home bordering on the Country Club,” he wrote. “Of one thing I am quite certain, and that is I should never have had the opportunity of developing an interest in the game of golf to the same extent that was made possible by close proximity to a fine course.”
Daily trips from home to a schoolhouse as a 7-year-old carried him “back and forth across the fairways” where he amassed a treasure trove of lost gutta perchas that “would last me for years.”
“I had a collection of Silvertowns, Ocobos, Vardon Flyers, Henleys, and other brands popular among golfers in 1900 that would do full credit to the professional’s shop,” he wrote in A Game of Golf.
While older brother Wilfred was out caddying at The Country Club, Francis would sneak into his room and swing a club given to his sibling. After seeing someone from his upstairs bedroom window “make an exceptional stroke” he’d try what he saw, and meticulously return the club to Wilfred’s room as if it had never moved. “Otherwise, I felt, there might have been a family riot.”
Wilfred, “with the mind of a golf architect,” turned the area behind 246 Clyde into a three-hole course detailed by Francis years later. The first was a 150-yard par-3 with a 100-yard carry over a brook that Francis initially could not pull off. The second was a 50-yarder and the last hole a combination of the first two. “We used tomato cans for hole rims” and a lawnmower kept two of the greens “in fair condition” while the one closest to the house was worn to dirt from heavy use while waiting to be called in for dinner.
In the fall of 1902 when Ouimet was nine, he found a Haskell ball. “I could play the rubber-cored better than the hard ones, and my interest in the game increased.”
One day at 246 Clyde he decided to repaint the ball.
“I used it until the paint wore off,” he wrote. “Mother was baking some bread in a hot oven and I sneaked my repainted Haskell into the oven, thinking the heat would dry the ball,” he wrote. There was nothing left but a “shriveled up mass of elastic bands.”
Wilfred traded some of Francis’ golf ball stash for a club from Wright & Ditson. That, combined with finally becoming old enough to caddie, maintained Francis’ progression toward 1913. He began to see “in action” the best amateurs of the day—Lockwood, Egan, Travers, Travis—and because of The Country Club’s renowned Alex Campbell, the best pros: Alex Smith, Tom McNamara and Willie Anderson.
“If I noticed anything particularly successful in the play of any of these golfers, I made a mental note of it, and when opportunities afforded, I set out on my private course and practiced the things I had noted.”
From there his evolution became a more traditional blend of generosity, hard work, perseverance and natural progression.
A “dear old man” and member of The Country Club named Samuel Carr helped him create a full set of clubs.
He’d sneak on to the course early mornings and play a few holes until the greenkeeper kicked him off.
Complaints “arrived home” and “Mother warned me to keep off the course, usually ending her reprimand by saying that the game of golf was bound to get me into trouble.”
He started playing competitively in high school including against future golf architect William Flynn, who added nine holes at The Country Club in 1927.
Francis played other sports in the winter but was always most obsessed with golf.
At 16 he stopped caddying and focused on playing competitively while continuing his lifelong interest in clubs and golf ball construction.
He entered the 1910 U.S. Amateur at The Country Club after joining Woodland Golf Club for $25. It was at the urging of friend Foggy Ainsworth and without initially telling his mother. He worked all summer to pay off a loan Mary Ellen reluctantly provided and missed match play by a stroke.
He barely lost to leading amateur Jerome Travers in the 1913 U.S. Amateur but as the Massachusetts State Amateur champion, was urged by the USGA President Robert Watson to enter the U.S. Open at The Country Club. Though he had already used his vacation time with his employer for other tournament play, Wright and Ditson Sporting Goods’ John Morrill encouraged Francis to enter the U.S. Open. “This was an order,” he declared according to Ouimet.
After posting a pair of disastrous 88’s in practice rounds at Wellesley Country Club prior to the U.S. Open qualifying, Ouimet, 19, tied tournament favorite and world famous golfer Harry Vardon in his “section” of the U.S. Open’s three-phase qualifying rounds held at The Country Club.
Ouimet then birdied the 17th hole in the U.S. Open to tie Vardon and Ted Ray at 225. He famously never heard a car horn honking on a congested Clyde Street while over the putt, to the astonishment of friends who asked him about it after the round.
“After taking a bath, I walked home home and turned in for a real night’s rest. I slept from nine-thirty until eight the next morning, and after a light breakfast, hustled over to The Country Club for my playoff with Vardon and Ray.”
Ouimet birdied the 17th again to open up a three-stroke lead and go on to win the U.S. Open as an amateur. Bernard Darwin was the playoff scorekeeper while on the scene for The Times. The upset win put golf on the front page of newspapers across America for the first time. The New York Times front page with Ouimet’s win featured in the upper left:
Herbert Warren Wind: “The next day, when The Country Club was the scene of an all-out celebration, Francis Ouimet walked over from his house across the street and joined in the merriment by tossing down, one after another, a drink called a Horse’s Neck, a compound of lemon juice and ginger ale.”
Wind, many years later: “The luckiest thing, however, which happened to American golf was that its first great hero was a person like Francis Ouimet. Had a pleasant young man from a good Park Avenue family or some stiff and staid professional defeated Vardon and Ray, it is really very doubtful if their victory would have been the wholesale therapeutic for American golf that was Ouimet’s.”
Wind on his impact: “Under the impetus of Ouimet’s victory, within a decade golf became an all-Americans’ game. Less than 350,000 played golf in 1913. Ten years later there were 2,000,000 golfers in the country. The man who took his trolley to his club, wearing his knickers and carrying his sticks, still attracted comment, but fewer and fewer people snickered out loud and referred to him as Reginald or Little Lord Fauntleroy in tones he was supposed to overhear.”
Tom Hynes lives just up Clyde Street and for forty years has been a member of The Country Club. In the excitement after the 1999 Ryder Cup sealed by Justin Leonard’s epic 17th hole birdie putt, Hynes realized that the Francis Ouimet home just down from his “should be part of golf’s history.”
The 246 homeowners walked their dog by his house and he’d see them every once in a while. One day Hynes said to them, “When you’re ready to sell your house, I’m your buyer.”
The owners had not known of 246 Clyde’s significance when purchasing it but soon became aware via random visitors hoping to see the place that changed golf in America. They did not play golf or know much about it but were welcoming of the curious golfers, even sitting for an interview before the 2013 U.S. Amateur.
“That was the end of it,” said Hynes. “Maybe once a year I’d say, ‘Remember “I’m your buyer.’”
It was all “very arm’s length” and basic neighborly chit-chat. Hynes had no actual plan other than knowing it was something the club and the game should preserve to commemorate what became known on page and screen as “The Greatest Game Ever Played.”
In late 2020 the Wielers informed Hynes they wanted to sell.
“It caught me flatfooted,” Hynes said. “When can we meet?” he replied.
The next day after a half-hour meeting, they had a handshake deal and “off we went” said Hynes, who definitely did not need a second house on Clyde Street. The Country Club was not in a position to purchase the home with its capital expenditures budget tied up due to the various projects related to this week’s U.S. Open.
The 81-year-old Hynes started going to members with a “tin cup” and an LLC was formed. He said more than enough of them understood the importance of purchasing the home, as did Brookline Bank, which supplied the financing. Still, the donations were made knowing they would not be tax deductible. The home would be the club’s, but any rental income will go to maintenance, taxes and capital improvements. It’s a tribute to the donors for recognizing the home’s importance with no payback other than total consciousness from the Golf Gods.
They raised enough for the acquisition cost and rented it to the club for its golf interns in the first summer. But with a background in construction and real estate, Hynes wanted to renovate the home to a 1913 appearance, with necessary modern touches to protect the home. It was broken into two phases: indoor and outdoor.
The house has since seen the windows replaced, new siding and roof, all plumbing, electrical, heat and safety requirements met along with ADA and fire sprinklers. The backyard golf holes have long been subdivided and Clyde Street is a much busier road than in Francis’ day, so the front yard fence designed to diffuse noise has gone and the front just recently finished off to look as much like it did in 1913.
The stairs Francis traversed so many times—especially after his long night’s sleep and before dusting Vardon and Ray on September 20, 2013—have been lightly sanded and stained without losing the feel of a century-plus of use.
The interior portion will include many member donations along with some early 1900’s furnishings created for the restoration of a Cape Cod home once owned by Katherine Lee Baits, who wrote America The Beautiful. The pieces were ultimately not used in that project and put in storage. The contractor who did the work on the Baits and Ouimet house gifted them to the LLC.
A club member whose father worked for New England telephone still had a circa 1915 three-foot wall-crank telephone in his basement and has donated it for the home. The Country Club’s historian, Fred Waterman, came up with the idea—inspired by Disneyland—to wire it with four 20-30 second clips from the 1963 U.S. Open conversation between Francis Ouimet and caddie Eddie Lowery.
The project’s evolution turned surreal for Hynes and the generous backing members when contractors, stripping insulation out the attic, found kid-sized bow-and-arrows, a coconut, and two child-sized Spalding putters from Ouimet’s era.
“It was like a buried time capsule,” said Hynes. The clubs must have belonged to the Ouimet boys. They’ve since been cleaned up and will be securely displayed over the mantle with Ouimet’s portrait as R&A Captain.
When I spoke with Hynes he had just overseen the final work done on Francis’s upstairs bedroom that once offered a view of The Country Club. There were layers of lead paint, glues and other inevitable issues under thick carpet. With help from a historical consultant and donations of all kinds, Hynes believes an accurate re-creation will be achieved.
Workers were furiously putting on final touches in hopes the house could be used this week by a player, but a few odds and ends will prevent that nod to history. When everything calms down after the U.S. Open, Hynes and the LLC will officially hand over 246 Clyde Street to the club.
“The Ouimet House certainly is an important part of golf history,” said club president Lyman Bullard in a statement. “As The Country Club has yet to take possession of the house, we’re still working to determine its primary use and any other access.”
Whatever the final plans and usage, the house “across the street from The Country Club” will remain thanks to the vision and generosity of members who know vital golf history when they see it.