Review: Newport Country Club

Course Name: Newport Country Club

Designer: Theodore Havemeyer (1890, primitive 9 holes), William F. Davis (1894, 9 holes)(1899, 9 more holes), A.W. Tillinghast (1923, Redesign), Ron Forse (1995, Restoration)

Location: Newport, Rhode Island

History: I can only think of a few select courses that match Newport Country Club’s impressive history. In 1889, Theodore Havemeyer returned from a trip to France with a newfound love for the game of golf. Almost immediately, he built a rudimentary 9 hole course located over today’s holes 2-8. In 1893, Havemeyer and his prominent friends John Jacob Astor IV, Perry Belmont, and Cornelius Vanderbilt II officially founded Newport Country Club. By 1894, club professional William F. Davis had designed a 9-hole course.

In late 1894, Havemeyer met with members of Shinnecock, St. Andrew’s (NY), Chicago Golf Club, and The Country Club to form the United States Golf Association (USGA). Havemeyer was selected the first president of the fledgling group. In 1895, Newport C.C. hosted both the first U.S. Open and U.S. Amateur. In 1899, Davis completed another 9 holes. It had long been assumed that Donald Ross redesigned the course around 1915, but recent evidence disputes this. Finally in 1923, A.W. Tillinghast redesigned Newport C.C. Ron Forse was brought in 1995 to retouch the course, but today’s Newport C.C. is still largely the same Tillinghast design.

Newport C.C.’s illustrious history has only grown in recent years thanks to a thrilling 1995 U.S. Amateur won by Tiger Woods and 2006 U.S. Women’s Open won by Annika Sorenstam. Perhaps another big name will win when the U.S. Senior Open comes to town in 2020. Notable awards for Newport C.C. include:

  • #116 Best Course in America – Golf Digest (2017)
  • #71 Best Course in America – Golf Magazine (2017)
  • #43 Best Classic Course in America – Golfweek (2018)
  • #1 Best Course in Rhode Island – Golf Digest (2017)

Conditions: 8/10, Newport C.C. has no irrigation system so the conditions are almost completely at the mercy of the weather. In the summer, these fairways play incredibly firm and fast, making the course play shorter than the scorecard. The rough at Newport is thick and penal, but pales in comparison to the gnarly fescue you’ll encounter on some holes.

I have especially high praise for the teeboxes and greens, which are among the finest I’ve ever played. Running at about a smooth 11 on the stimpmeter, Newport’s greens are superb, without a single ballmark or ounce of discoloration.

Value: N/A, this is a private course.

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Black                        70           7075               75.4              135

Red                           72           6577               72.4              127

White                       72           6194               70.6              121

Blue .                        72           5601               73.0              126

Hole Descriptions: I first want to thank my generous host and dad for getting us on Newport C.C. It is one of the most exclusive courses in America and one I am very privileged to have played.

The layout here is simply sublime. I expected the course to heavily utilize the Atlantic Ocean, but instead it plays just inland, offering views from several holes. The real superstar at Newport Country Club is the magnificent clubhouse. Tillinghast understood this, and placed it centrally on the property. Holes 1, 9, 10, 13, 14, and 18 are directly attached the clubhouse, and views are readily available on almost every hole. Speaking of Tillinghast, I think Newport C.C. demonstrates how versatile of an architect he was. While his other major works are inland designs (Bethpage Black, Winged Foot, Quaker Ridge), he obviously could work well with links-style land too.

At a stout 7000+ yards from the par 70 Tips, Newport C.C. is plenty long enough to challenge the world’s best. However, the main defenses of the course come in the form of bunkering and wind. In the summer, a strong southwesterly gust continually blows off the Ocean, and the layout has a perfect balance of downwind, sidewind, and into-the-wind holes.

Don’t be alarmed on the 1st tee when you see the Red Tees behind the Tips – this is because the hole plays as a long, difficult par 4 from the Tips. From the Reds, the opening hole plays away from the clubhouse as a short 480 yard par 5. This straightaway hole provides a good opportunity to get your round off to a nice start, but wayward drives will be punished. In particular, a bunker on the right about 210 yards from the tee and fescue on both sides are to be avoided. About 50 yards short of this elevated green, the fairway runs out, leaving awkward pitches straight uphill. This large green is one of the most undulating on the course and guarded by bunkers on both sides.

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The par 5 1st plays narrower than it appears from the tee

You must cross Harrison Avenue to access holes 2-8. The 2nd hole is another good scoring opportunity as a straightforward 366 yard par 4. Out of bounds lines the entire left side and bunkers line this fairway about 200 yards off the tee. Your approach to this relatively flat green must contend with the wind and four bunkers that surround it.

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The solitary tree that frames the 2nd green is one of the few on the entire course

At only 328 yards, the short par 4 3rd is aptly nicknamed “Ocean”, as it plays directly towards the water. Despite it’s short length, this hole is rarely drivable due to the heavy wind that blows off the water. Like the previous hole, OB lines the entire left side. A cross bunker requires a carry of at least 200 yards off the tee, and multiple bunkers surround this long, back-to-front sloped green.

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Your view from the par 4 3rd teebox – “Ocean”

The par threes at Newport C.C. are phenomenal beginning with the 220 yard 4th. Playing directly alongside the Atlantic Ocean, this long hole is undoubtedly one of the most difficult par threes in Rhode Island. The only acceptable miss on this hole is short, as long, narrow bunkers line the fairway the entire way. This challenging green runs hard back-to-front.

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Putting for par on the par 3 4th – “Graves Point” PC: Dylan K.

Playing 422 yards uphill, the par 4 5th is the number 1 handicap hole. Although this hole usually plays downwind, there is still plenty of danger with OB lining the left and a blind teeshot over bunkers. The bunkering on this hole is superb with a bunker wide right about 210 yards from the tee and a pair of bunkers in the middle of the fairway about 275 yards from the tee. This green is one of the smallest on the course.

The 383 yard 6th is a fantastic par 4 and one of several extremely fun driving holes at Newport C.C. This hole is pretty wide-open aside for several bunkers on either side of the fairway. The approach is a bit more difficult and requires a carry to avoid a crossbunker just short of this green. Don’t let the breathtaking views of the Ocean distract you here!

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The par 4 6th from the teebox – “Lookout”
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The approach on the 6th from the left rough

The long par 5 7th runs parallel to the 6th and 3rd and plays a strong 553 yards. Although usually downwind, this is still a challenging three-shotter due to classic Tillinghast bunkering. This fairway snakes around bunkers with a notable waste bunker occluding the left side of the fairway about halfway through the hole. Golfers will need to carry this on their lay-up to give themselves a reasonable birdie putt. For the final 300 yards or so, OB lines the right. This well-bunkered green plays somewhat like a bowl with both sides kicking balls to the center.

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Teeing up on the 7th with the Atlantic Ocean at my back, PC: Dylan K.
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Gorgeous bunkering surrounds the 7th green

At 177 yards, the par 3 8th plays as a shorter version of the 4th with multiple bunkers lining both sides of this green. The miss here is short, as deep balls may carom down a steep embankment.

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The par 3 8th – “Willows”

After crossing Harrison Avenue again, you encounter the strong 422 yard par 4 9th. Playing uphill and to the right, this hole plays back towards the clubhouse. A creek runs down the right side of the fairway, while strategic bunkers can be found 220 yards out at the corner of the dogleg, 190 yards out cutting the corner, and 305 yards out straightaway. This large green is rather receptive but slopes severely right-to-left.

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The fantastic par 4 9th – “Orchard”

From an elevated teebox, the par 5 10th plays 528 yards downhill. This hole begins a stretch of several inland holes where you’re somewhat shielded from the otherwise gusty conditions. A driveway bisects this fairway about 200 yards from the tee with fairway bunkers on either side just afterwards. From here, this reachable par 5 slides gently to the right towards an extremely well-bunkered, small green.

Although the furthest inland hole at Newport Country Club, the short 298 yard par 4 11th is a splendid short par 4 and one that offers golfers plenty of options off the tee. This hole narrows as you reach the green with OB encroaching on the left and several bunkers surrounding this narrow green. For players who opt to hit iron off the tee, you’ll have to avoid a large bunker on the right at 190 yards and small bunker on the left at 220 yards. I laid up with 5-iron because I was only 1 over at the time, but can definitely foresee times I’d go for it.

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Danger awaits you near the short 11th’s putting surface

Like the 1st, the Reds play longer than the Tips on the par 4/5 12th. At only 477 yards from the Reds, this is a short par 5 that bends to the left. Out of bounds and thick fescue line the entire left side of this hole as I learned the hard way with a disastrous quad that derailed my round. Golfers going for this green in two will have to contend with three bunkers short right and one on the left of this back-to-front sloped green.

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The par 5 12th from just short of a trench

The shortest hole at Newport C.C. is also one of the most intimidating in the 151 yard 13th. Playing straight uphill, this is a fantastic par 3 that will yield both birdies and big numbers. Six deep bunkers surround this large green surface.

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The short par 3 13th teems with character
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One of my favorite photos of the day – looking back from the 13th green

After making a pit-stop at the clubhouse, you make your way to the incredible set of finishing holes at Newport C.C., beginning with the stunning par 3 14th. This back-to-back par 3 plays 189 yard over golden fescue to a Redan green that kicks the ball hard right-to-left. With a giant bunker complex to the right and a deep one on the left, this hole features the best classical architecture on the course in my opinion.

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I could play the par 3 14th hundreds of times and never tire of it – one of Tillinghast’s finest

I’m not sure I agree the 15th is deserving of its number 2 handicap, but there’s no doubt this is a terrific 411 yard par 4. From an elevated teebox, this hole runs downhill and to the right, but usually plays into the wind. This fairway is rather generous, but longer hitters will need a carry of at least 245 yards to cut the corner over a bunker. Like the 6th, this green is well-bunkered and a boomerang-shaped bunker just short blocks any balls running up.

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The dogleg right par 4 15th – “Brenton Reef”
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Looking back at the clubhouse from the 15th green

A member told me before the round, “The Club Championships begins on the 16th tee.” He was not wrong. Despite being 352 yards, the par 4 16th is a scary hole. This minuscule fairway is lined by a rock wall on the right and creek that runs down the entire left side. Bunkers also line the fairway on the left at 205 yards and 250 yards, while fescue lines the right. While I managed the drive alright, I royally messed up my approach to a tiny green that juts out over water. I hesitate to use the words “target golf,” but there’s no denying the 16th is more inspired by American golf than links golf.

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The intimidating par 4 16th – “Island”

Don’t expect to find relief on the 17th, the longest par 4 on the course at 441 yards. With out of bounds lining both sides of a pretty wide fairway, you’ll need both length and accuracy to score well here. A series of deep cross-bunkers run across this fairway for the final 100 yards. Theoretically, these shouldn’t come in play, but may make life very difficult for those trying to lay up. This back-to-front sloped green is also guarded on both sides by bunkers.

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The 17th requires a minor carry over water and mixes in both American and links influence

At 379 yards, the finishing hole is an interesting medium-length dogleg left. If you look back on the tee, you’ll see several elevated rock croppings that would serve as wonderfully scenic teeboxes. Like the previous hole, this fairway is fairly generous but mishit drives will either be lost or find bunkers on both sides about 200 yards out. From the fairway, this hole runs straight uphill to a giant three-tiered green that runs straight back-to-front. As you would guess, the famous clubhouse is situated just to the left of this green. While this green feels out of place compared to the others, it no doubt serves as a fantastic setting for a major championship.

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The par 4 18th from the Reds – “Home”
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The walk up to the 18th green at Newport C.C. is one of the sweetest in golf

Best Par 3: 14th Hole, “Plateau”, 189 yards, 6th handicap. With one of the strongest sets of par threes I’ve ever played, it’s no surprise that my favorite par 3 at Newport C.C. is also my favorite overall hole. The long 14th is sandwiched between the clubhouse and Ocean, and features a fantastic example of a Redan green. This hole feels straight out of Bethpage Black and other Long Island gems.

Best Par 4: 9th Hole, “Orchard”, 422 yards, 3rd handicap. There are so many strong par fours at Newport C.C., it’s hard to choose just one. The 9th, however, is that special. With the glorious clubhouse in the background, this uphill, dogleg right plays downwind with a creek to the right and multiple levels of fairway bunkering. Par is a great score here.

Best Par 5: 10th Hole, “Quarry”, 528 yards, 14th handicap. In addition to being a fantastic, reachable downhill par 5, this hole also serves an important history lesson. The trenches found on this fairway are apparently preserved from the Revolutionary War. It is also said that this putting surface hasn’t been touched since 1893, making it the oldest in America.

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The downhill par 5 10th from the tee – “Quarry”

General Comments: I’d be remiss if I didn’t discuss the unbelievable clubhouse. Designed by Whitney Warren, this is undoubtedly one of the most majestic clubhouses in all of golf, and one that rivals the nearby Newport Mansions in terms of beauty. Although stunning from the outside, it’s even more impressive on the inside with incredible views of Brenton Point Reef and several holes.

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The breathtaking Newport Country Club clubhouse
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This is the view from the urinal…yes the URINAL

The other amenities at Newport C.C. are also world-class. The clubhouse employees are friendly and professional, and this is the first course I’ve played where coolers of water bottles are found on teeboxes in lieu of a water fountains. Although we walked, the golf carts here are topless and very cool. As you would expect from a championship course, the practice facilities at Newport C.C. are fantastic with a full short game area, putting green, and well-maintained range stocked full of Pro-V1’s. Pace of play is also superb and one member remarked, “it feels weird to even see another group.”

Multiple presidents, including John F. Kennedy and Dwight Eisenhower called Newport C.C. home. Apparently, Eisenhower was never able to break 80 in over a hundred rounds here. Move over Presidents Golf Course

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The range at Newport C.C.

Verdict: Newport Country Club is a timeless gem. A tremendous history, superb Tillinghast design, and strong amenities make this seaside paradise one of America’s finest golf experiences. Don’t hesitate to accept if you’re lucky enough to get an chance to play.


One thought on “Review: Newport Country Club

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