Monday, October 1, 2012

Walking the Golf Course-"Talking to Cows" - Green Valley Country Club

Traveling along the inner pastures and the shoreline of the Aquidneck Island peninsula measuring a mere 15 miles at its longest point and just over 4 miles at its widest, you will be captured by the historic towns of Newport, Portsmouth and Middletown.  In that short drive you will pass by not less than six golf courses including some with “world renowned” associated with their names.  Wanumetonomy, Montaup, Newport National, Carnegie Abby and Newport Country Club rest just a very short jaunt from the subject of this month’s walk, Green Valley Country Club.
When I arrived at Green Valley I was quickly surrounded by Joe Oliveira, the clubs golf course superintendent, former long time superintendent, Gary Sykes and Club staff ready to talk and walk Green Valley.  The tone of the visit was quickly summed up when I posed the question….who is Manny Raposa? Instantly smiles were cast upon their faces and the stories began to spew.  I knew this was a special man.

Play on the 1st green at Green Valley...on original.
Manny Raposa built Green Valley…literally with his own hands.  After being the victim of an eminent domain taking, Raposa purchased a parcel in the middle of Portsmouth with a vision for something special.  Prior to succumbing to the hand of Raposa, the land produced potatoes and grazed dairy for many years.  In 1957 the original 9 holes at Green Valley were constructed by Raposa with the machines and tools of the era.  An on course museum to the tools of the trade can be found in the shadows of the trees beside the 4th tee. 
Yes, this old scraper was used to level the tees!
When viewing historical photography, the only hole that remains completely intact (possibly with some length added at the tee) from the original layout is the 1st hole.  In 1966 additional land was purchased to the northwest of the then 6th green to construct what has become the back 9 at Green Valley.  This portion of the property was different in character and feel running up and down slopes, traversing through woodlands and streams and ultimately providing some of the more appealing holes on the course, namely the back to back par 3 11th and 12th, the quietly uphill turning par 4 13th, and the trackside 15th.  Raposa was not quite finished as he would expand to the east of the (quite good in its day, 210 yard par 3 2nd hole).  Here a new 2nd and 3rd hole as well as a new 4th tee resulted in a rerouting of the front 9 replacing weak holes with the much stronger 4th through 9th.

The quietly left to right sweeping par 4 13th.  (reroute the cart path and add a bunker complex on the right corner and we'd really have something)...very strong hole to a uniquely domed green with fortress mounding in front.

Raposa was certainly not traditionally trained to design golf courses, but proved to be adept at reading the land.  He was realistic in his abilities and would often reach out to the local golf course superintendents to pick their brain on design and feature construction.  Much was accomplished through trial and error until he got it right.

In listening to the tales of Mr. Oliviera and Mr. Sykes and the long time staff at Green Valley the man takes on a legendary, almost mythical Paul Bunyan type character.  When we got to the 10th green Mr. Sykes, the long time former superintendent at Green Valley that spent many years working with Raposa relayed the story the stopped us all in our tracks and cemented the man’s mythical sense.
While building the holes on the new back 9 cows from neighboring farms would sometimes wander onto the golf course.  You can imagine the damage a 1200 pound heifer could do to a newly seeded green.  Mr. Sykes encountered this exact situation and was making very little headway in attempting to get the cows to move off the property.  Bring in Manny Raposa, who apparently speaks bovine.  As Sykes puts it, "Mr. Raposa calmly spoke to the cows one a time to the point where they were entranced allowing him to rope them and tie them to a nearby tree allowing work to continue." Talking to cows was yet another talent that Mr. Raposa had garnered working on the farm.
The par 3 5th rebuilt by Sykes and Raposa
The course is admittedly a working man’s club.  True to its hands on heritage, the course offers vegetables to its players from small gardens scattered about.  If you plan on a little eggplant parmesan for dinner, just grab a few between 7 and 8 and throw them in your bag.
Take an eggplant for the road!

What surprised me most architecturally were the subtleties in the greens.  Though the bunkering was rather rudimentary, (bunker left bunker right of the green), the surfaces offered plenty of scale and numerous strategic pinning options.  Many of the greens were pushed up with moderate to severe fronting slopes that add great value to the edge of green contours and require precise club selection.
With some time spent on the bunkering, the layouts value would truly be enhanced.  Nonetheless, the conditioning, challenge and character of the property with rebuilt meandering farm walls, some (though more should be created with tree management) long vistas across the pastoral Portsmouth landscape and the Club’s inviting nature, make Manny Raposa’s creation at  Green Valley a wonderful legacy to enjoy.

Hand Stacked Stone Walls between holes 2 and 3