I recently had a chance to sit down with the President of Newport National Golf Club, Matt Adams and talk golf, talk about the challenges of this industry, how to grow and sustain and a bit about this very blog idea and its potential to expose the hidden value of many clubs weaving in history, architecture and people into the story. All of the above are in place at the very special Newport National Golf Club. As our last few blogs have been steeped in golf’s Golden Age of Architecture, Newport National opened in 2002 is contemporary by most standards…but wait a minute. The course was carved out of broad reaching nurseries and orchards that stretched along the high meadows over the confluence of the Sakonnet Passage, Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. The crossing seaside gusts, the running fairways and approaches and the firm subtly contoured greens beget the characteristics of a much older golfing brethren.
The property to be used for the course evolved while the developers secured a variety of parcels to make up the final canvas. Designed by the team of noted architect Arthur Hills and Drew Rogers, the course takes on a modern day links feel. Depending on the direction and flow of the ever-present wind, the ground game must be considered. Having played the course a few times, it becomes quickly apparent that flying the ball at the target is a strategy that will not carry the day. In fact, the old Texas wedge from the tightly mown green surrounds may be the weapon of choice.
One of many fall off areas requiring you pick the right stick
In many cases the ground contours within the fairways are intended to propel well placed tee shots forward…we as architects refer to them as speed slots. The right to left sweeping 7th offers a down running grade to help all players get a little closer to the hole.
The history of the course, though brief, has made headlines locally as the initial development process back in the 2002 was stung by financial challenges. Though not completely out of the woods..these challenges are not reflected in the experience at NNGC. It is all about the people, the architecture and the views. The fact that a traditional clubhouse or paved entrance doesn’t exist may very well have worked to the charm of the place. I have always found great nostalgia from the sound of tires running along a gravel road. You have gotten off the beaten path and there is always something interesting off the beaten path. At the end of the road is a double-wide….yes a double-wide! serving as the pro shop, kitchen, offices, storage and whatever else can be fit into roughly two thousand square feet.
You don’t come to NNGC to sit around and chit chat about golf, you come to play golf. The architecture is what gets the juices pumping. Right out of the gate at the 1st hole you need to think about shaping it from right to left to gather some advantage on the mid length par 5. The green at the 1st is a style that the player will need to contend with throughout the round…slightly perched, protected at the corners, rolling contours and smallish for such a large property.
Some classic architectural elements are scattered across the course and worthy of note and certainly need to be understood as they directly affect strategy. At the 2nd and at the 8th mounds and bunker shouldering pinch into the front edge of the green hiding a portion of the green, reminiscent of the Alps concept devised by C.B. McDonald at the National and by Raynor at Yale. The crossing New England stone wall was likely and element that was on the course and enhanced, but it reminds me of the Pit, 13th at North Berwick. If you look closely….best when walking… you will find pocketed contours within the fairways that have naturally evolved in many of the seaside greensward corridors in the British Isles. The par 3 3rd is the Ross push up falling off quickly at the left front and back, yet allowing a ball to run onto the surface.
The 5th is the “Short” found on many classic designs and a hole that is amongst my personal favorites, a player’s gall or maybe intelligence is all that lies between him and the bee line to the green. The square green 8th,whether intended or not, can be found on many turn of the century designs as due to the simplicity of its maintenance as well as on many Raynor designs from the teens…in fact I am currently working at Gardiner’s Bay GC on Shelter Island in NY restoring this very feature. On the 17th the infamous Sahara bunker found at many seaside courses runs along the left side challenging the tee shot.
The “Short” 317 yard par 4 5th
…great options hole although green is nearly inaccessible from the tee
My understanding is that the original plan for the property was for 36 holes and not necessarily for the open links style course that now exists. Thankfully the land spoke to the developers and designers and a great golf course was born.
Next stop, Richmond Country Club
Special credit to: Matt Adams, President, Newport National Golf Club
The Northeast Golf Company