Review: Wannamoisett Country Club

Course Name: Wannamoisett Country Club

Designer: Willie Campbell (1898), Donald Ross (1914, Redesign)

Location: Rumford, Rhode Island

History: Few courses can match the rich golfing history at Wannamoisett. Originally founded in 1898, the 9-hole Willie Campbell course received immediate acclaim, as Harry Vardon played an exhibition match here in 1900. In 1914, Wannamoisett commissioned Donald Ross to redesign the course. The resultant course was even better and Ross remarked, “This is the best layout I have ever made. A fine course on 100 acres. No congestion, fine variety, and excellent golf.” A century later, and Ross’s words still ring true. In 1931, Wannamoisett hosted the PGA Championship won by Tom Creavy. In 1962, the first Northeast Amateur was played at Wannamoisett. One of the four “majors” of amateur golf, this annual tournament has been played at Wannamoisett ever since and has featured winners like Dustin Johnson (2007), Luke Donald (2000, 2001), Notah Begay III (1995), David Duval (1992), and Ben Crenshaw (1973). Tiger Woods also played in the event twice before turning pro. PGA Tour Pro Luke Guthrie holds the course record with a 61. In 2016, the Junior PGA Championship was played at Wannamoisett. The course has earned several accolades, including:

  • #149 Best Course in America – Golf Digest (2019)
  • #46 Best Classic Course in America – Golfweek (2019)
  • #2 Best Course in Rhode Island – Golf Digest (2019)

Conditions: 10/10, There isn’t a blade of grass out of place at Wannamoisett and that’s a testament to the amazing job Mark Daniels does as greenskeeper. The teeboxes at Wannamoisett are better than greens at most courses, and the fairways are meticulous. The bluegrass rough is notoriously thick and sometimes necessitates a lay-up for even the best players. The most impressive feature about Wannamoisett are its greens, which Ben Crenshaw called his favorite in the world. These poa annua greens are perfectly smooth, and infamously fast, routinely running at a 13-14 on the Stimpmeter.

Value: N/A, This is a private course.


Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Black                       69           6732                72.8              135

Blue                        69          6427                71.3               132

White                      69          6080                69.7               126

Green                      73          5602               72.2               126

Hole Decriptions: Built on only 100 acres (a feat nearly impossible by today’s design standards), this charming par 69 is an architectural masterpiece. Donald Ross seamlessly designed 18 unique holes with strategic bunkering and difficult green complexes that continue to befuddle the best amateurs in the world.

The first four holes at Wannamoisett are often described as the hardest opening stretch in the state. Getting through this stretch at +1 or +2 means you are likely in for a very good round. The 1st hole is an intimidating 420 yard par 4 that runs slightly uphill. The patio is directly behind this teebox, and you will undoubtedly be nervous with so many eyes on you. There is a pond between the tee and fairway that only really catches topped drives. Two bunkers line the right fairway about 200 yards from the tee while another lines the left side at 240 yards from the tee. All of these bunkers have tall lips, and pretty much require a lay-up. The green on this hole is fairly receptive to balls that run up, but has several slopes that leave some daunting putts. Two tiny bunkers guard the front two sides of the green while a grass bunker full of thick rough lines the back of the green.

The par 4 1st
The approach at 1

At 460 yards (and over 500 yards from the Black tees), the beastly number 1 handicap 2nd hole plays as a par 5 for most members. The fairway is rather generous here, with tall trees lining this wide fairway on both sides. The fairway plateaus at about 230 yards, and drives that are short of this plateau will have no shot at reaching the green in two. After the trees end on the right side at about 270 yards, the right fairway is guarded by four long bunkers. At the same time on the left side, out of bounds in the form of a parking lot looms all the way to the green. The layup for this hole must be short of a small creek, which runs about 60 yards before this green and collects more balls than it should. This large green runs hard back-to-front and is flanked by 3 bunkers on both sides. A par here truly feels like a birdie.

The approach at the long par 4 2nd
The 2nd creek catches more balls than you’d think
The back-to-front sloped 2nd green with the 3rd in the background

The only real relief on the first 4 holes is the short par 3 3rd that plays only 131 yards. This hole is a perfect example of a good short par 3 in that good shots will be rewarded and lead to birdies, but bad shots will make getting up-and-down a real challenge. This hole requires a carry to an elevated green, which is surrounded by a moat of bunker on the left and short. Fescue lies behind this green, while the right side is guarded by the creek. While birdies can be had, this green is again sloped from back-to-front and can be very speedy. Routinely ranking as one of the top holes in the world, The Donald Ross Society chose this green to be its emblem.

The world-famous par 3 3rd
A closer look at the tremendous bunkering on the 3rd
A look back at the par 3 3rd

The 429 yard 4th hole is no longer the number 1 handicap hole but is still a very challenging hole. This teebox is elevated and requires a carry of 125 yards over a valley to reach this fairway. This hole turns sharply left once you reach the fairway and requires a draw but overzealous hooks will go OB. Four bunkers line the right side of this fairway, while a narrow 50 yard long bunker lines the left side of the fairway. Once you get past the bunkers on the right, tall trees run to the green and pretty much require a punch-out if you drive it underneath them. The uphill approach to this large green is pretty straightforward, but a myriad of undulations on this green make it prone to three-putts.

The dogleg left par 4 4th

Judging by the scorecard, shorter holes 5-7 should provide relief from the difficult holes, and tee-to-green they do. However, this is the hardest three hole stretch of green complexes in the state. The 5th hole plays only 363 yards, and can play even shorter if you cut this dogleg right’s corner. Three large bunkers with tall lips line the right side of the fairway and drives that cut too much will find these unless you get lucky. Drives that run through the fairway will be stuck in the thick left rough and won’t be able to spin their approach shots. The approach shot to this green is one of the most difficult on the course, even though most players only have a short iron in hand. This green is elevated, guarded by bunkers on three sides, and features a false front that many balls will collect in. Even more deadly is going over this green (which is common with a back pin). A heavy back-to-front and right-to-left slope will make it hard to keep your ball on the green if you go over.

Aim over the “boobs” on the dogleg 5th
The church-pew bunkering on the par 4 5th

At 415 yards, the slight dogleg left 6th calls for a draw off this tee. Hooks will be lost OB left while a series of bunkers and trees lines the right side of this fairway. The most difficult aspect of this hole is the green, which in my opinion, is severely underrated as far as difficulty goes. There are several plateaus on this green, and pin placements can often be found on these plateaus, making speed miserable to judge.

The par 4 6th
The approach at the par 4 6th

At 335 yards, the straightaway par 4 7th offers the best chance at birdie of any par 4 on the difficult front side. Straight drives will be rewarded here, but wayward drives on both sides of this fairway will be most likely be blocked out by trees or bunkered. At about 250 yards, this fairway slopes hard to the right and most good drives will trickle down here, leaving an uphill approach shot. Like the 5th hole, the 7th green also features a brutal false front and runs hard back-to-front. There is a deep bunker long right of this green that is almost impossible to get up-and-down on. One year when caddying in the Northeast Amateur, my player made a 9 on this hole only 120 yards out from the green due to the false front.

The approach at 7

The 8th hole is a beautiful downhill par 3 that plays 179 yards. Three bunkers guard the front of this green while a long slender one guards the right side. Balls that travel long left (common occurrence here) will find a thick grass bunker. As a tribute to Donald Ross, a replica of this 8th hole was selected to be part of Boyne Highlands Resort, a course that features 18 Ross holes from his best courses.

The medium-length par 3 8th

Although holes 5-8 can be had, the number 3 handicap 9th hole is a return to the difficulty of the first four holes. At 435 yards, this hole proves very difficult, especially for shorter hitters. While the fairway is pretty generous, bunkers and thick rough line both sides of this long par 4. The fairway runs out at about 320 yards to give way to a pond players will have to carry to reach this elevated green. Two bunkers guard the left side of this green, while another false front collects many balls that couldn’t quite reach the green in two.

The approach at 9

All in all, the front 9 at Wannamoisett is one of the most difficult 9’s in Rhode Island, as evidenced by my best score of +1 35 despite hundreds of tries. There are very few birdie holes, and avoiding a bogey requires almost perfection. In contrast, the back 9 is much more gettable and even features the lone par 5. The 10th hole is a complicated 403 yard par 4 that features 12 bunkers. Three line the right fairway at about 210 yards, while six line the left side along the entire fairway. For long hitters, the most nefarious bunker is a crossbunker in the center of the fairway 285 yards from the tee. The approach shot to this hole is blind, as this large, relatively flat green is hidden by a large hill about 40 yards before the green. As a result, this flag is the tallest on the course, and often all you can see.

The par 4 10th
A closer look at the fairway bunkering on 10
The blind approach on the 10th
The 10th green sits in a natural hollow and is one of the flattest on the course

While there are no bad holes at Wannamoisett, it’s hard to argue that the 11th isn’t the most bland. At 384 yards, this hole is straightforward with a wide fairway. Trees and bunkers line the fairway starting around the landing areas of drives but most straight drives have no trouble avoiding these. The most difficult part of this hole is the large green, which features three plateaus and runs hard back-to-front.

The par 4 11th
Playing the 11th at sunset; Credit: DK
Note the crossbunker short of the 11th green

The 12th hole is one of my favorites on the course and one of the most unique par 3’s I’ve ever played. At 195 yards, this hole runs straight uphill and requires a wood for many players. This green is a bowl and funnels to the center, so most balls that find the green will lead to good birdie opportunities. Three tiny bunkers line the left side of this hole while a huge bunker nicknamed the “Sahara” lines the right side of this hole for about 40 yards. Needless to say, you want to avoid this bunker.

Doug Ghim plays the 12th in the 2017 Northeast Amateur
The devastating “Sahara” bunker on the 12th

At only 369 yards, the downhill par 4 13rd is another birdie hole if you can find the fairway. However, balls that miss the fairway here will be in trouble. A thick forest of trees lines the left side of this fairway and requires a punchout while two bunkers and sporadic tall trees line the right side. This green also features two plateaus and is well-bunkered.

The par 4 13th
The approach at 13

The 350 yard 14th might be the trickiest 350 yard hole I’ve ever played. This hole is a sharp dogleg right and a large pond guards the right side the entire way. Bold players will try to cut the corner with driver but the further right you go, the farther you will have to carry it to avoid the water. Players that decide to play it safe with 3 wood or iron will have to contend with a large bunker at the elbow of the dogleg and an awkward angle into this green. The green on this hole is difficult, and is surrounded on three sides by a moat of bunker. This bunker is very narrow, and you’ll frequently get downhill lies in it.

The par 4 14th
The 14th from the start of the fairway

Despite being the 18th handicap hole, I find the 180 par 3 15th to be the most difficult of the par threes at Wannamoisett. This uphill par 3 isn’t the longest hole, but its green is much less receptive than the 12th. This green is well-guarded by bunkers on both sides and features both right-to-left and back-to-front slopes.

The uphill par 3 15th

At 426 yards, the beautiful par 4 16th is the number 2 handicap hole but I don’t feel it’s the hardest hole on the back nine. This slight dogleg left’s teeshot is framed by tall trees on both sides and calls for a slight draw to have the best approach shot in. Most golfers will have a long iron or hybrid into this large green which slopes hard left-to-right and is defended by bunkers short and right.

The par 4 16th
The approach at 16

You have to wait 17 holes to reach the only par 5 at Wannamoisett, the 530 yard 17th. This long, straight three-shotter runs along Pawtucket Avenue and balls hit left the entire length of the hole will find the road. The right rough on this hole is also brutal, but many people end up here because they are afraid of going OB. The 14th pond lies farther to the right and shouldn’t really be in play, but I’d be lying if I haven’t been there before. While this hole is theoretically reachable in two, the green is well-protected by bunkers and requires a near perfect shot to hold the putting surface. The lay-up on this hole is also difficult and should be on the right side of the fairway to avoid two large cross bunkers on the left side.

The par 5 17th

At 423 yards, the finishing hole at Wannamoisett is a challenging dogleg left that is pretty confusing the first time you play it. Ideally, you want to cut the corner here to avoid a long shot in, but a large bunker and trees require a 200+ yard carry to reach the fairway. A common aiming point is towards a tall tree on the right side of the fairway that leaves about 190 yards in. Lay-ups on this hole are fairly difficult due to several fairway bunkers about 80 yards short of this green. The green itself on this hole is large and features many undulations. A particularly brutal pin position is back-center on a plateau.

The long par 4 18th
Theo Humphries plays the 18th at the Northeast Am with the crowd onlooking

General Comments: The biggest complaint amongst members and pros alike is the fact that you can only hit short irons on the driving range. As an old course that was built on 100 acres, there was no original design for a range and the current one is squeezed in between the 10th and 11th holes. For those looking to hit woods, I recommend using the net in the basement. The short game facilities at Wannamoisett are incredible, with an impeccably maintained huge putting green and chipping green. Pace of play at Wannamoisett is pretty variable, as rounds can range from 1:45 (my best) to 4 hours on a busy Saturday morning. New rules regarding pace of play have been enacted to keep rounds timely. While there is a pool and tennis court, Wannamoisett is first and foremost a golf club and many of the top players in Rhode Island play out of here. Junior golf at Wannamoisett is also the best in the state with numerous successful college and amateur players originating here.

The small driving range

Verdict: Perhaps the finest sub-par 70 course in the world, the ever-charming Wannamoisett is undoubtedly among America’s finest parkland designs. This is the best conditioned course I’ve ever played and an architectural masterpiece considering Ross was only given 100 acres. This is the best possible layout given space constraints and you really can’t ask for much more!

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