Thursday, April 19, 2012

Walking the Golf Courses of Rhode Island- Jamestown

The history of a place is the direct result of the commitment, creative integrity and vision of its inhabitants.  It is also crafted in concert with gifts nature has bestowed.  When visiting Jamestown, Rhode Island, established in 1678, your heart beat immediately slows as you breath in the pastoral, maritime air.  A soft right onto Conanicus Avenue, almost as to avoid the rush of visitors and commerce streaking over the Claiborne Pell Bridge to bustling Newport, will put you on a quiet path to the village of Jamestown known to the locals as Conanicut.  Just think, you saved the $4.00 toll (not to mention the $4 to return), which during the week will cover nearly half of your greens fees to walk 9 holes at Jamestown Golf Course. 

Enough said- play away!

 The 9-hole public course has rested along a high bluff overlooking Dutch Harbor to the west since 1901. It is considered by many as one of, if not the oldest 9 hole golf course still in existence.  The course came into existence during a short wave of tourism that swept over the island in the early 1900’s.  In 1903 there were 9 hotels on the island serving a vibrant summer recreation industry.  The new golf course fit in well with the leisurely desires of visitors to Conanicut Island.  The advent of the automobile in the late teens and twenties delivered a severe blow to the tourism industry and eventually all but the Bay Voyage Hotel…a driver, wedge down Conanicus Avenue from the first tee, were forced to close.  The island reverted back to its maritime and agricultural roots which remain its defining character today.

Jamestown Golf Course is owned by the town and has been operated by the Mistowski family for the past twenty plus years.  Pulling into the parking lot in front of the “seldom used” clubhouse you will find a wide variety of player types unloading their bags, pull carts, tying their Foot Joys and following the worn path to the Pro Shop/Bar/Restaurant/….A friendly face can be found behind the bar topping off a Bud draft while taking your $18 greens fee.  The simplicity of the game at its finest.  Make sure you keep your receipt; you’ll need it at the first tee to get your name in the queue on the big board.  After putting around a bit on the very modest putting green take a few short steps to the 1st  tee.

Jamestown begins with a warm, unassuming welcome.  From the tee you are faced with a broad expanse of fairway rolling out to the west, plenty of room to spray it out here, as many do…find it and advance.  The hole is a shortish par 4, dead straight.  Upon approaching the green you immediately realize that the putting green, with its quiet contours, was some sort of mean joke.  The humps and rolls, highs and lows throughout the large surface area allow the hole to be set up in a multitude of ways.  The elongated shape of the green running from northeast to southwest creates deceptive depth perception adding 2 clubs on the green itself.  Along the right a separated short bunker may challenge the long hitter from the tee.  Along the same edge of the green, three smallish mitts protect the right side pin positions.

Soft pocket bunkering pushing into the right of the 1st green

Walking off the first green your eye instantly wanders to the pastoral hillside to the north.  There  the famous Jamestown Windmill has been completely restored.  Built in 1728, the mill was used for grinding corn using the sea breeze for power since there was no source of running water on the island to turn a waterwheel.  Below the windmill cattle roam the hillside grazing on the open fields of fescue and bunch grasses.

With your heart now comfortably slowed to a soft beat the 2nd hole unfolds.  The hole seemingly plays straight away, but the hard angle of the ground from left to right and the pond sitting at the bottom on the right gives cause for pause and a check on your alignment.  Scattered, small trees along the left side gather mishit shots while a well hit drive will roll out along a narrowing fairway.  From here there are no obstacles between you and the green, except for the attention diverting serenity of the Marsh Meadows Wildlife Preserve and little wooden shack known as Zeeks Creek to the locals..I am a local..with fresh lobsters and little necks to be picked up on the way home.  If you can refocus, simply hit all you got to get up close to the green..or on with a little muscle.  On the green is a relative term as like the 1st green, the 2nd stretches itself out adding pin after pin moving away and upslope from a lower hollow at the front right of the green to an upper tier at the back left.

From the 2nd fairway, looking out to the pastoral hillside
 across the Marsh Meadow Preserve

The par 4 3rd plays ever so slightly uphill and again to the eye straight away.  The only danger from the tee is the small grove of trees to the left.  A well placed tee shot down the middle…middle right will open up to the green. Two oblong bunkers are pushed into the front left of the green while a third sits hidden at the back right.  Yet another stretched green surface, though with less contouring.

Walking off the 3rd green to the 4th tee and you are introduced to the quintessential New England cottage community of Shoreby Hills.  Framed by age old hand crafted stone walls and built along a high bluff,  the neighborhood is an architectural joy ranging from simple cape cod shingle cottages to more expansive shore style homes flowing down to the edge of the historic village and the waters of the Conanicus Harbor.

A gate to Shoreby Hill just off the 3rd tee

Play away on the 390 yard 4th.  All downhill from the perched tee with a slight bend to the left.  The long vista from the tee takes in the Mt. Hope Bridge spanning Mount Hope Bay to Bristol. Plenty of room for a leaky tee shot, with little trouble left or right less a flowing meadow of thin kept fescue along the right boundary.  This hole is all about the green.  Old school.  Punchbowlish.  A running shot into the green will catch a bold roll across the front of the green slinging balls down the hill towards the flattish remainder of the surface.  Depending on your nerve you can fly the most severe contours of the green or try your hand at measuring the speed and bend of the precarious protecting contours.

The 5th presents the first par 3.  Shortish at 130 the green is again the defense.  A product of the golden age of architecture a short crossing bunker rests 20 yards in front of the green.  The contours along the ground are flattish with flanking greenside bunkers left and right and a hidden trap at the back left.  The surface is a bit benign in comparison to the greens up to this point, but stretches and climbs from front to back. 

The par 5 6th takes us back upslope toward the village.  As you walk back to the tee from the 5th green your view is framed by the enormity of the Newport Bridge in the foreground and the no so distant Jamestown Verrazano Bridge, which just recently replaced the “Old” Jamestown Bridge.  It wasn’t until 1969 that the vibrant peninsula of Newport was connected to the quiet beauty of Jamestown forcing the Conanicans to endure the rush of “people” through their quiet community.

From the tee, the left side is framed by a wide reaching field of blue stem separating the 6th and 8th fairways.  The landing area from the tee is generous with a well hit shot leaving a chance to go at the green on this short 5.  Again, two crossing bunkers separated slightly from the green define the second landing area prompting a decision to lay short or carry to the green.  The surface of the green lies comfortably within the surrounding contours with bunkers cut into the left and right sides.

The 7th is a wonderful par three. Playing at 160-175 yards the wind plays havoc with the yardage adding or taking away length with a simple gust.  The crossing bunkers short of the surface, though not in play, hide a wide opening in front of the green allowing a run on shot.  Again the typical flanking bunkers nestle up to either side of the green.  This hole is all about placement on the green.  A prominent spine bisects the surface with upper pinning areas on the right, protected to the right greenside bunker and more accessible lower left pins. 

 Note the classic crossing bunkers short of the 7th green

The round strengthens along the turn to the clubhouse at 8 and 9.  The 8th, at 405 can be challenged along the left corner, but anything mishit too far left will be lost in the gnarly long grass and brush, not quite long enough and the turning bunker will grab it.  Playing it out to the right will avail the best angle into the green.  The green is open at the right with bunkers at the front left and the back right.  The pronounced “Barranca” swale cutting through the green is the defining element on the hole.  Find your way to the right level and you’ll have a chance at birdie.

The 9th sitting quietly in the shadows of the Newport Bridge

Finally the 9th brings us full circle to the shadow of the Newport Bridge.  In fact, from the tee players can dial in their trajectory with the ominous iron pillars of the bridge.  A short fairway bunker, likely leftover from years past, lies flat along the right side.  The hole gains interest as you approach the green with an abandoned bunker, now soft mound feature in the middle of the hole 70 yards short of the green and yet another set of short crossing bunkers protecting the approach.  The green pitches severely from left to right  requiring a shot to be left below the cup.

Jamestown Golf Course is a joy.  The architectural subtleties within the greens are its strength along with the unassuming beauty of its surroundings and the people that you meet on the links.

Next stop, Pawtucket Country Club and a meeting with Willie Park, Jr.

Robert McNeil
Golf Architect
The Northeast Golf Company