Review: Winnapaug Country Club

Course Name: Winnapaug Country Club

Designer: Donald Ross (1922)

Location: Westerly, Rhode Island

History: Winnapaug opened in 1922 and is one of two Donald Ross courses open to the public in Rhode Island (Triggs is the other).

Conditions: 5/10, The conditioning at Winnapaug leaves a lot to be desired. The greens are on the slow side, and the fairways and teeboxes are rather barren at times.

Value: 6/10, A round at Winnapaug won’t break the bank with weekend rounds with a cart costing $55. It’s only $35 to walk on weekdays and there are discounts for twilight, seniors, and military as well.

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Blue                        72            6391               70.6               124

White                      72           5944               68.6               120

Red                          73           5183               69.1               119

Hole Descriptions: True, Winnapaug is a Donald Ross course, but it’s the poster child for a course that’s in dire need of a renovation. The bones are good, but a lack of upkeep has led to rampant tree overgrowth, green shrinkage, and narrowing of fairways over the last century. The green shrinkage, in particular, is striking and the greens at Winnapaug are some of the smallest in New England. If you look carefully at the rough surrounding the greens, you can see Ross’ original greenpads, and there’s more than a few “greenside” bunkers at least ten feet from the surface. New ownership has recently started addressing tree removal on holes like the 4th, but Winnapaug still needs plenty of work before it supplants Triggs as Ross’ best public work in Rhode Island.

The opening hole is one of the best on the course as a 369 yard uphill par 4. For the first 250 yards or so, the hole is completely flat and fairly wide open. For the final 100 yards, this fairway runs straight uphill and narrows considerably, with dense forests on both sides. An ideal drive of about 240 yards leaves an uphill wedge to a tiny, extremely undulating green. Balls short of this green will roll down the hill, while going long brings OB into play. The original green was actually the punchbowl just below this green and would make the hole a lot easier.

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The uphill approach at 1

All four par fives at Winnapaug are reachable and the uphill 2nd hole is no exception at 496 yards. This hole snakes in an S-shape, with OB right and sandy mounds on the left. While you’ll always be able to find your ball to the left of this fairway, some of the lies are rocky and can get pretty nasty. Bunkers guard this sloping green to the right and behind.

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The snaking par 5 2nd

At 169 yards, the par 3 3rd is all about club selection, as this hole features a 40-foot elevation drop. This tiny green is difficult to hit and slopes extremely hard back-to-front.

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The downhill par 3 3rd

The 4th hole is the number 1 handicap hole at 425 yards. This slight dogleg right is fairly generous off the tee, but wayward drives on either side will be lost. Recent tree removal behind this green and on the right has opened up the hole nicely and makes the water hazard down the right a formidable hazard. This is one of the larger greens on the course and slopes back-to-front with two tiers.

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The par 4 4th

The 5th and 6th holes are far weaker designs than the initial four holes. The 5th plays 338 yards uphill and to the left. This hole is quite tight, and I don’t recommend taking more than a long iron off the tee. This green slopes hard right-to-left and pairs of deep bunkers guard left and long. An original bunker was right of this green and ownership would be smart to put one here again.

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The short par 4 5th

As you stand on the 6th teebox, the Westerly Airport is directly to your left and sometimes you can see planes landing. Unfortunately, this may be the most notable aspect of this short, straightaway 127 yard par 3 surrounded by bunkers. This green slopes very severely back-to-front. I’d like to see something more exciting happen with the sandy expanse short of this green. A Pine Valley-esque Great Hazard perhaps?

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The short par 3 6th

The 7th hole is a fantastic design, and one of the best on the course in my opinion. At 356 yards, this hole plays as a severe dogleg right with two elevation changes. This picturesque teeshot runs straight downhill to a winding fairway. From the bottom of the valley, you face a completely blind approach straight uphill. Pro Tip: Use the tall flag in the background to judge where the tiny right-to-left sloped green is. It’s just a really fun hole, and the walk up to see where your ball is gets your blood pumping.

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The 7th teeshot is the most fun on the course
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The blind uphill approach at 7

Similarly to the 7th, Ross’ genius is on full display on the 355 yard dogleg left 8th hole. You only need about 210 yards off the tee here, and balls that don’t draw enough will run through this fairway or find the moguls on the right half of the fairway. This approach once again plays uphill to an elevated green guarded by a bunker short right.

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The dogleg left 8th

At 525 yards, the par 5 9th hole is the longest on the course. However, this hole plays downhill the entire way and longer hitters will still be able to reach this green with a solid drive. Trees line both sides of this fairway, and the hole slides right about 150 yards from this back-to-front sloped green.

While you can’t see the Ocean on the front 9, the back 9 literally feels like you’re on the beach for holes 10-13. The wind really comes into play on these holes, and some of the cart paths are littered with seashells and crabs. Visible from Shore Road, the 10th hole is a rather bland, straightaway 405 yard par 4. Out of bounds on both sides coupled with its length make this hole one of the more difficult at Winnapaug. The highlight of this hole is a devilish green which features a devastating false front and whose landing area is only about half the actual green.

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A closer look at the difficult 10th green

The 11th hole is much more interesting as you tee up in the dunes on this 352 yard par 4. Swampland guards the entire left side while backyards line the right. However tempting it may be to play out of a perfect lie in someone’s backyard (Yes, I’ve been there), this is OB. Deep bunkers line both sides of this tiny green that’s lost the most area of any on the course.

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The par 4 11th

The 12th hole is somewhat of a signature hole for Winnapaug with tidal pools and the Ocean in the backdrop. This 167 yard par 3 usually plays straight into the wind with a small green guarded by a crossbunker about 15 yards short.

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The par 3 12th

With your back straight to the water, the 487 par 5 13th is a supremely reachable hole, especially with the wind at your back off the Ocean. This dogleg left features OB left the entire way, and this fairway progressively narrows as you near the green. A pond short left of this green will find many a well-struck second shot.

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The dogleg left 13th

After a lengthy walk back across Shore Road, the difficult 405 yard 14th hole awaits you. This dogleg left is quite narrow and drives that don’t travel at least 250 yards might be blocked out by trees on the left. Recently, management added a long bunker down the right and is in the process of adding another unknown hazard down the left. Needless to say, laying up off the tee is a smart move. This green is tiny and slopes hard back-to-front with a backstop. If you look to the left of the fairway, you can see Ross’ original fairway on what was a dogleg right!

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The dogleg left 14th

At 461 yards, the short par 5 15th is one of the easier holes on the golf course but also one I’ve had serious trouble with. This intimidating drive plays blind and narrow uphill and any wayward teeshots here will be lost. Good teeshots will have a downhill approach over rumpled fairway to this back-to-front sloped green.

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The tight teeshot at 15
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The approach at 15

While the 12th might get more talk, the 179 yard 16th hole is the best par 3 at Winnapaug. From an elevated teebox, this hole requires a carry over a valley to a punchbowl-inspired shallow green. Interestingly, this green was actually expanded from Ross’ version, but the left portion they added works well. I really like how this hole runs parallel but in the opposite direction of the par 3 3rd.

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The par 3 16th is one half of the dueling par threes

Winnapaug follows the best par 3 with the best par 4 on the back 9 in the 435 yard 17th. This long, straightaway par 4 features woods on the right and mounds of rough down the left. This approach plays slightly downhill to a severely back-to-front sloped green guarded by a bunker right.

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The approach at 17

The closing hole at Winnapaug is another interesting one. From an elevated teebox in the rock formations, this par 4 runs downhill at just 340 yards. There’s a famous rock on the left side that’s a remnant from the rock formation they dynamited to build the range. Sparse trees line both sides of this sloping fairway, and this approach plays uphill to a perched green with a terrifying false front. This is one of most severely back-to-front sloped greens on the course so be careful!

General Comments: You would expect an old public course in an area with very high property value to have no room for a driving range, but Winnapaug is an exception (barely), as their range spans only about 150 yards. There is, however, a fairly reliable practice green near the clubhouse. Pace of play has been pretty lackluster when I’ve played, with severe backups on the 1st tee as a bad omen for the round to come.

Verdict: Winnapaug is a conflicting course for me. There’s a lot to like – a good Ross design, reasonable price, and location on the beautiful RI seashore. However, slow pace of play, mediocre conditioning, and lack of upkeep have never put Winnapaug at the top of my list. For visitors to Watch Hill/Westerly, Winnapaug is a solid option, but there are definitely better ones (Shennecossett, Lake of Isles, Meadow Brook) if you’re willing to drive a bit.


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