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BROOKLINE, MA. While the focus will be on golf with this week's U.S. Open at The Country Club it's interesting to point out another competitive battle is never ending for the top rung tagline, "America's Top Sports City."
The top position is one fiercely competed for among several major cities in the United States but when adding up the collective strength of the four major sports -- football, baseball, basketball and hockey -- plus a number of secondary sports -- Boston claims the top of the pyramid at this moment.
What about New York -- the USA's most populous and the one with the most professional teams? Historically, the Big Apple rates consideration but has come up with goose eggs in terms of a winner for over a decade stretching back to 2011. What about Chicago? The most recent came in 2016 with the Cubs in baseball but the total count sits behind Boston. What about Los Angeles? Won the most recent Super Bowl but overall, still trails the capital of Massachusetts.
Now there will be people who whine that including the New England Patriots as a Boston location is stretching things just a bit. The team doesn't exactly play in the immediate confines of Boston but in nearby Foxboro. But frankly, the same can be said for other metro areas like New York where the two-football teams play in neighboring New Jersey.
Let's start the ball rolling with America's most watched sport -- the National Football League (NFL). The New England Patriots were at one time the laughingstock in the sport but over the last twenty years they've been nothing less than a dynamo. Led by Coach Bill Belichick the Pats have won a record tying six Super Bowls -- the last coming in 2018 and have appeared in the title game no less than a record eleven times. Now there are detractors who argue when star quarterback Tom Brady left for the Tampa Bay in 2020 the Patriots have not returned to the big game since. Nonetheless, the Patriots have won the Eastern Division of the AFC 22 times and been to the playoffs on 28 occasions -- the most recent coming last season.
OK -- that's on the football side. What about baseball?
The Red Sox don't have the sheer number of championships won by their arch rival New York Yankees with 27 but the denizens of Fenway Park are tied for third all-time with a total of nine -- the most recent coming in 2018. Speaking of the Yankees -- who can forget the Red Sox coming back from a 3-0 deficit in the 2004 playoffs and clinching the victory at Yankee Stadium. Poetic justice. Yes indeed - how very sweet. That's something no Major League team has ever done. Watching a game in the coziness of Fenway with just under 38,000 seats is among the most captivating as fans are literally on top of all the action.
Now let's move onto basketball. Massachusetts is home to the basketball Hall of Fame in nearby Springfield and Boston has been ground zero for the much beloved Celtics. This year's team is in the finals against the Golden State Warriors and should they emerge victorious it will mean a record eighteen championship banners - breaking the tie now with the rival Los Angeles Lakers. The history of the Celtics includes a who's who of stellar players from the likes of Bob Cousy, Bill Russell, John Havlicek, Larry Bird and now Jason Tatum, to name just the super elite men who have donned the famed green and white uniforms.
When it comes to the game on ice the Boston Bruins have been a constant force in the National Hockey League. While the Montreal Canadiens have won a record 23 Stanley Cups, the Bruins are tied for fourth with six -- the most recent coming in 2011. A number of stellar players have played for the team with the most acclaimed being Bobby Orr, one of the sport's all-time players who led the Bruins to two Cups in 1970 and 1972 respectively.
But Boston's claim for the top spot is also aided by the Boston Marathon -- the world's oldest annual marathon dating back to 1897. Held on Patriot's Day -- the third Monday of April -- the event is one of the most prestigious for long distance runners and the intersection with a myriad of Boston communities makes it a showcase of epic proportions. Nearly 500,000 attend -- making it New England's most widely viewed sporting event.
Tragedy struck in 2013 with the Boston Marathon bombing that killed three spectators and injured 264, yet the event endured and prospered even when having to sit on the sidelines during the pandemic surge. The event is seen as a harbinger for spring and the 2022 event had a total of 30,000+ runners participating.
This year's U.S. Open marks the fourth time the championship of American golf is being held at The Country Club in nearby Brookline. The history of golf is deeply interwoven with Boston. In 1913, Francis Ouimet, a 20-year-old former caddie at the club bested the two best players at that time in Harry Vardon and Ted Ray in an 18-hole playoff. Ouimet's family lived immediately off the 17th hole which proved to be a deciding hole that ensured Ouimet's triumph. The win galvanized a nation -- between 1913-1930 the USA went from roughly 700 to 5,600 courses and the total number of players during that time frame leaped upwards from 350,000 to more than two million. In the years that followed Ouimet's stunning triumph provided the foundation for key American players to dominate the sport with the likes of Bobby Jones, Walter Hagen and Gene Sarazen coming forward.
In 1999 at The Country Club, a USA team consisting of such stars as Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson overcame a four-point deficit to win the storied Ryder Cup against a team from Europe. The victory was, at that time, the greatest comeback in the history of the event.
The greater Boston area is home territory for a number of outstanding clubs -- many with a private pedigree but the most noted public is located in the Hyde Park section of Boston -- George Wright Golf Course. The municipally-owned layout -- named after the Hall-of-Fame baseball player -- was designed by famed architect Donald Ross and was an effort through the Works Projects Administration during the Presidency of Franklyn Delano Roosevelt in 1938 during The Great Depression. The golf course was recently updated and is just a few miles from where the world's finest players will compete for the 122nd U.S. Open title.
Tennis has also been on the frontlines in Boston -- most notably through the involvement of the Longwood Cricket Club which dates back to 1877. Completing a move to Chestnut Hill, MA from downtown Boston’s medical district in 1922, the club has played an important role in the growth of tennis through hosting national and international tournaments and the prominence of its players and leaders.
Some of the most memorable events in tennis history occurred here, including the U.S. Pro Tournament from 1964 to 1999, which drew virtually every top male tennis player in the world--Rod Laver, Ken Rosewall, Pancho Gonzales, and Bjorn Borg, to name a few. The U.S. Pro exposed tennis to wide national audiences as the first professional tournament played with a full television schedule, enlivened by commentary from tennis commentator and long-time Longwood member, Bud Collins.
Among many significant events, Arthur Ashe’s 1968 victory in the only National Amateur Championship played at Longwood remains one of the game’s great historical moments. Ashe’s win broke the color barrier for the sport at a pivotal time in U.S. social history, and he went on to win the professional championship later that year for an unprecedented double crown.
The most prominent tournaments hosted by Longwood between 1917 and 1999 included the National Doubles, Davis Cup and U.S. Pro which brought the greatest tennis champions of the day--from the eras of Tilden and Budge to McEnroe and Sampras – to the club.
As the best players in golf gather at The Country Club -- the focus will again shine brightly on Boston and the broader New England area. No doubt, other communities will claim title of "America's Best Sports City," but at this moment the best happens to be in Beantown.