As soon as you roll past Nonquit Pond traveling along Route 77…more quaintly and aptly called Main Street, your eyes lock west and the name changes to West Main Street. You are now captured by a pastoral landscape that gently unfolds down to the shores of the Sakonnet River. Past Donavan Marsh you continue due south engulfed in the farmland stretching all around you. A few more miles and you come upon a fork in the road, Warren Point Road to the left, Sakonnet Point Road to the right. Do you want to explore the sandy shores of Briggs Marsh with its mouth opening to the broad Atlantic or have a go at Sakonnet Golf Club. Since this is the Linksman….we’re going golfing.
When you pull up to Sakonnet, it might as well be 1957 or somewhere there abouts…just a bit before my time. The simple charm of the Cape Cod shingle clad clubhouse, the screen doors slamming, and the men’s locker room ...about as big as one of the Real Housewives of NJ’s closets….filled with golf shoe cubbies, the place bleeds unpretentious.
Shingle clad clubhouse at Sakonnet
My walk at Sakonnet, as with most of my walks, began with a chat with the guy that knows the most about the place, golf course superintendent and likely director of most everything at Sakonnet, Mr. Kirk Whiting. Kirk has been at Sakonnet for 30 some odd years and loves the place. Hard to blame him with the sun setting over the Sakonnet River as you look out his office window. But I got the distinct feeling that the greensward of Sakonnet was Kirk’s office and perfect conditions on the late summer day of my walk proved that he spent a lot of time in the “office”. Kirk follows a short list of greenskeeping predecessors in the Clubs long history; four since 1909: Clarence E. Grin-nell, until 1946; Leroy H. Wordell through 1960; his son, William Wordell until 1981, then Mr. Whiting.
The rocky edge of the Sakonnet RiverThe place is riddled with history. Kirk quickly pointed out Battery Gray, hidden within the overgrown brush adjacent to the practice area near his shop. Battery 107, as it was formerly known, built during WWII and completed in 1942, is a reinforced concrete 16 inch coastal gun battery located on the West Reservation of Fort Church. Renamed Battery Gray after Major Quinn Gray.
The course’s architecture is simple, born from the eyes and hands of Donald Ross and his associate Walter Hatch in 1922. The result of an expansion from previous 6 and 9 hole layouts. Ross’ summer retreat in Little Compton, a mere 10 minutes from Sakonnet gave the master architect full access to his work for long term tinkering purposes. His hand prints are all over the place.
Deep crossing swale in front of the par 3 6th
The design statement can be found right out of the gate as the first 5 holes touch or present broad views of the Sakonnet River. This setting coupled with Ross’ classic green styling and greenside strategy is enough to get your blood flowing. Historic stone walls…in place long before Ross arrived, remain quietly stacked, framing holes 1 thru 4 as well as scattered all over the course. Crossing bunkers are also found here and there protecting the “down to the sea” par 3 2nd and the blind par 5 3rd.
Looking out to the river beyond the horizon of the 1st green
Recent restorative work by Whiting and architect Gil Hanse has recaptured many of the lost corners of the golf course, expanded the greens and reestablished the severe fall offs along the edges of the green pads. Hanse made a further statement with the stunning “new” 9th hole. A wonderful “Rossian” par 3 that once again brings players to the edge of the sea. Walking up the ancient stone steps onto the 17th tee brings the player to new heights and presents a view across a vast marsh to the reachable though devilish green at the short par 4.
The classicly styled par 3 9th
I would highly recommend “Where Stone Walls Meet the Sea”, the 614-page centennial history of Sakonnet Golf Club, by Christopher Rawson, to enjoy the great story of this special golfing corner of the world.
...and as always I would love to hear your comments on and your experiences at..Sakonnet Golf Club.
Special thanks to Kirk Whiting, CGCS, Sakonnet Golf Club.
Reference: "Where Stone Walls Meet the Sea", Christopher Rawson, 1999