#18, "Home," Par 4, 379 Yards
The final hole at Newport is a relatively short par four, but plays a bit tougher than the yardage due to an uphill approach into a well sloping, tiered green. A back tee is well up the hill, though only used for championships. The first photo below is taken from that back tee. After reaching the fairway, the shot is uphill and back toward the majestic clubhouse.
The clubhouse is a perfect fit for a club of Newport's historical significance. Newport Country Club was one of the first golf clubs in the United States, conceived by Theodore Havemeyer, who had played golf in France and wanted to bring the game back home. Havemeyer, who is the namesake of the US Amateur Championship trophy, enlisted the help of some of his wealthy Newport friends (Astor, Vanderbilt, etc...) to purchase some land and build a few holes in 1890. The club was founded in 1893, with a more formal nine-hole course built in 1894 by the club's first professional William Davis. At that point, Havemeyer wanted to host some of the country's best golfers for a tournament at his course (there weren't many of them at the time). Later, in December of 1894, Havemeyer convened a meeting of representatives from five US golf clubs--Shinnecock, The Country Club, Chicago Golf Club, and St. Andrews (the New York one). Folks from those five clubs met at the Calumet Club in New York, and founded the Amateur Golf Association, which would become the USGA. In 1895, this organization would host the first US Amateur Championship and US Open Championship, both held at Newport. In 1899, the course was extended to 18 holes by the Davis, and later was renovated by A. W. Tillinghast in 1923. There has long been talk about Donald Ross designing some of the Newport course, but that is currently up for debate.
More on the old school nature of the club...there is no irrigation, except for sprinklers located by greens and tees, and even those are relatively new. The condition of the rough and fairways and dictated by Mother Nature, much like many links courses in the UK. If you're a fan of pristine maintenance and green lush fairways, you won't like Newport. However, if you're a fan of first and fast conditions with an extremely natural feel from a prior era, this is heaven.
The black tees at Newport play 7,027 yards and to a par of 70, with a rating and slope of 74.9 and 134...tough! The other tees add two shots to par, playing to a par 72. The members typically play the Red (6,577 yards) or White (6,194 Yards) tees. With the typical Ocean breezes that are common at Newport, we thought the Red tees were an appropriate test, which played to a rating of 72.4 and slope of 127. No reason to beat ourselves up on the first round of eight that we'd be playing this week. I'll quote the Red tees below:
The highlight of my 2016 golf calendar was a four-day golf odyssey to the East Coast. The trip started at Newport Country Club, and included eight rounds of golf (it was supposed to be nine) over four days, in four different states. It was quite an undertaking of a trip, and a logistical challenge to get all the rounds in. I flew in and out of Providence, and the trip looked like this:
So, geographically, this was basically a trip around Long Island Sound and back, with the beginning and end in New England. With one exception, the trip went off without a hitch. The only exception was the last round at Eastward Ho! which didn't happen. I'll save the story of why that didn't work out to the Eastward Ho! page.
After landing in Providence, I made my way down to the resort town of Newport, Rhode Island, and wandered around a bit on the night before we'd play its Country Club. I went to the famous Newport Cliff Walk, which is a path of several miles that divides Newport's famous mansions from the cliffs of the Atlantic Ocean. When I made the walk, I was almost knocked over by the strength of the salty air, which invaded my nostrils right after parking my car!
#5, "Polo Shed," Par 4, 422 Yards
The next two holes at Newport are well-bunkered, with ample hazards waiting for a shot that isn't precisely played. In both cases, there are eight bunkers that flank, cross, and otherwise defend the holes. On the fifth, which makes a perpendicular turn from the fourth and away from the Ocean, the drive should carry the left-hand fairway bunker, with a line on its right edge being ideal. A shot that misses the fairway will need to contend with three cross bunkers that will get in the way of a run-up shot. From the fairway, an approach can be played right to the hole. Though the hole is 422 yards from the Red tees and 451 yards from the tips, the prevailing wind is helping, making the hole play shorter.
An attempt to capture the ridges in the fairway while looking back uphill at the tee. Tough to see in this photograph, but they're there.
#3, "Ocean," Par 4, 328 Yards
Really just a drive-and-pitch hole, the third hole plays much tighter to Harrison Avenue on the left side and finishes at a green that is well protected by bunkers and tucked closely at the corner of Harrison and Ocean Ave.
Looking back to the tee
#9, "Orchard," Par 4, 422 Yards
The ninth, which was the finishing hole for the US Women's Open, is probably the best and most demanding hole on the course. After finishing the eighth, it's a walk back onto the East side of Harrison Avenue, on which the remainder of the course plays. The drive on the ninth should be played over the tongue on the fairway bunker. From there, the hole bends to the right, and asks for a difficult uphill shot to the green, which has bunkers on either side. A really good golf hole.
#2, "The Cop," Par 4, 366 Yards
The second through eighth holes play on the west side of Harrison Avenue, and it's that plot of land that allegedly occupied the makeshift group of holes that Havemeyer and his friends played back in 1890. When the 2006 US Womens Open came to Newport, they reversed the nines, making this section of the course played as the back nine. The primary reason for this is that there is more acreage for gallery movement on this second of the property, so it made more sense to have it on the back nine. The US Amateur, won by Tiger Woods in 1995, was played from the traditional routing. In playing the second hole, Harrison Avenue is left of the hole, but there is no reason to bring the left side into play here. A fairway wood could be enough club to get it into play, depending on the wind, which is typically in your face on this one.
The French "bunkers," which are maintained as lateral water hazards. They're present on the tenth 11th, and 12th holes.
#11, "Harbour," Par 4, 298 Yards
The 11th is Newport's version of a driveable par 4, though getting it on the green requires avoiding six bunkers that stand in the way, with four of them being around the green. A layup and pitch shot into the green might be an easier way to make birdie on this one.
#6, "Lookout," Par 4, 383 Yards
Heading back in the opposite direction to the fifth, the sixth hole plays into the wind, but has some similarities to the fifth. As I said before, it's equally well bunkered, and a shot played from the rough or fairway bunkers will need to contend with a large cross bunker that lays short of the green and prevents a run-up shot from a poor lie. Enjoy the Ocean view on this hole, because it's the last you'll see of it until you're back at the clubhouse.
My Quest to Check Off Golf's Best Experiences
The Golf Bucket List
After dinner, and a decent night's sleep, it was time to take on the first round of nine (er, eight) at the prestigious Newport Country Club. Upon arrival at the club, there were a few first impressions. First off, members and guests are definitely in two different classes at Newport. Members have reserved parking spaces, marked with their initials, right by the clubhouse. Guests are pointed back to the road and told to park in a less prestigious location, from which you're shuttled back to the clubhouse. Even in front of the clubhouse, there's a little jab at guests, in the form of two dog bowls--one for members and one for guests. Even my dog gets different privileges at Newport! The second impression I got at Newport is that this place is as old school as it gets. The clubhouse, which could have a blog post for itself, is old, gorgeous, and stands guard over the high ground of the property; visible for almost everywhere. The huge front doors of the clubhouse are kept open, letting ocean breezes into this structure that still lacks air conditioning. It has no kitchen, so any food that is served in the clubhouse must be catered or purchased elsewhere. There is a bar area, a couple gorgeous sitting areas, and locker rooms upstairs. Some pictures of the clubhouse:
The three main rooms on the ground floor:
#7, "Long Meadow," Par 5, 553 Yards
For tournament play, this is the one and only par five on the front side...or actually the back side for the US Womens Open and US Amateur as the nines were reversed. The line off the tee is at the rain shelter in the distance. A massive bunker stands in between the first and second shots for most players, with another bunker left of the landing area and four bunkers closely guarding the green.
The Assistant Pros' shack
#15, "Brenton Reef," Par 4, 411 Yards
Seven bunkers get in the way of a good score on this dogleg to the right. On the drive, two bunkers await on the right side with a third bunker on the left. Around the green, four bunkers are ready to punish a poorly played approach. A drive down the right side can make a second shot shorter, but also runs the risk of being partly blind due to mounding on the right side.
#12, "Valley," Par 5, 477 Yards
Like the first hole, this is the other hole where the Black tees actually play in front of the Red tees, and present the hole as a long par four rather than a short par five. With the first and 12th playing as long par fours, the course is a par 70 from the Black tees, while a par 72 from the Reds and all other tees. The hole is a soft dogleg left with a bunker waiting on the inside elbow of the dogleg. This hole will typically play into the wind, which is only thing that might get in the way of hitting the green in two and making a good score.
#4, "Graves Point," Par 3, 220 Yards
After three relatively easy holes to start, the fourth hole fights back with a nasty one-shot test. The hole runs parallel to the Ocean, which sets on its left. It's a long hole the the normal prevailing wind comes off the Ocean, hence left-to-right. Typically in the American handicapping system, par threes are some of the easiest ranked holes...not here. This is the 3rd hardest hole on the front side, per the handicap rating.
Looking back a the clubhouse from the fairway. This is why the tenth is called "Quarry."
#13, "Club," Par 3, 151 Yards
The next two holes at Newport are routed as rare back-to-back par threes. The 13th starts right next to the Green Superintendent's house, and plays up the hill to a very well protected green. Four bunkers surround the green, with another two bunkers in a landing area a bit short of it. Both of these holes play in the same direction, and thus toward the Ocean, and typically into the wind. It has the slightest feel of the 11th at Shinnecock.
You can see some of the green's contours in this picture. Not an easy two-putt from many locations.
Men's locker room, with an awesome balcony looking out over the first and 14th holes and out to the Ocean.
#14, "Plateau," Par 4, 189 Yards
While the Superintendent lives on the 13th tee, the Assistant Pros are able to live in the small shack on the 14th tee. This building was formerly the caddyshack, but was converted to house the pros fairly recently. They have a nice commute...about a 50 yard walk up a hill to their office! The green on the 14th is quite narrow, with a bunker short/left and another one of the right side of the green. Playing into the wind, like the 13th, it can be a demanding shot and a tough par.
#1, "The First," Par 5, 480 Yards
From the Red tees, this is a "gentle handshake" opener as a short par five. The Black tees actually play in front of the Red tees, playing from 459 yards, but it's a par four from there. The best angle into the hole is from the right half of the fairway, so take that into account on your tee shot and/or layup shot. From the left side, you'll need to carry a bunker on the edge of a fairly steep hill into the green. The second photograph below attempts to capture the maintenance practices at Newport. The first cut of fairway and typically thick, so a bit inconsistent with lies that can occasionally be in ruts. However, get further away from that first cut, and it's maintained more as tall native fescue.
Playing golf at Newport Country Club really is an incredible experience. It's the type of club where you feel like you probably should be playing in plus-fours and with hickory shafted clubs. There really is nothing modern about the course, which is not a criticism, but a compliment and part of what makes it special. Between the classic clubhouse, the classic course, and the maintenance practices, the course has a throw-back feel that is difficult to replicate in American golf. I loved my morning at Newport and would love to play it again anytime.
The Super's house. Not bad!
#8, "Willows," Par 3, 177 Yards
Always an example of good architecture, the eight plays in the opposite direction to the other par three on the opening nine, though trees protect the shot from the wind a bit more than on the Ocean-side fourth hole. Four bunkers surround the green with a fifth bunker well short of it. The green is plenty challenging, making a tee ball that finds it just the beginning of the challenge. The left-to-right slope that is visible from the tee is a bit deceiving in that it's mostly beyond the green, and doesn't serve as a kick-plate like it appears from the tee.
#17, "Pond," Par 4, 441 Yards
The drive on this hole actually has some similarities to the road hole, with a bend away to the right that must carry bunkers and with a green that favors an approach from the right side. The left side is clearly the safer line from the tee, but presents a harder angle into the hole.
#16, "Island, "Par 4, 352 Yards
The 16th is short, but requires precision. The landing area off the tee is small, and well protected by fairway bunkers. In addition, a rock wall extends down the length of the hole on the right. The approach into the green, while short, is also dangerous and demanding, as water defends the green short and to the left, with a bunker on the right. This water hazard, which also extends down the left side of #17 is the only water on the course. Also relevant is that these are tidal waters, and can completely flood the 16th and 17th holes during hurricanes and large nor'easters.
The view from beyond the third green. One of my only complaints is that the course only takes you to this point once.
#10, "Quarry," Par 5, 528 Yards
The tenth hole has a great deal of history in it, but it isn't necessarily golf history. The fairway has countless natural ridges in it, and those ridges on the right of the fairway almost resemble a more rugged and natural version of Oakmont's infamous church pews. Those ridges were actually trenches used by the French Army in the American Revolution's Battle of Rhode Island...or at least so we were told by our caddy. The hole is a fairly straight-forward par five, with bunkers on either side of the fairway at the landing areas for the drive and second shot. The green is relatively small and well undulating.