Designed by Arthur Hills and his then associate Drew Rogers, the Orchard Course at Newport National Golf Club occupies a 200-acre site that was once a flourishing tree and shrub nursery. Fringed by tall swathes of fescue, the bent grass fairways on this exciting layout have been open to New England golfers since 2002.
Drew Rogers, when asked to comment on the Orchard course, responded with the following:
“The planning process seemed to take on a life of its own, taking years to complete, with plans being churned out by the dozens as the land assemblage evolved. Ultimately Arthur and I worked together in arranging a diverse collection of holes that would embody the site, incorporating the various plots of landscape materials and the stunning views of the Sakonnet Passage, Atlantic Ocean and Narragansett Bay.Though not the planned goal, the course would evolve to take on almost a links-like appearance. Holes 3 and 4 are unique in that they are consecutive par threes, playing in opposite directions, with number 3 set against a massive grouping of old, Japanese pieris – an ornamental shrub that, when flowering in the spring, takes on the look of blooming gorse from the British Isles.”
The layout provides a mixed bag of holes. At times a number of them are quite engaging. At other times, you merely have holes serving as connectors -- getting from one piece of the property to another.
There's been mention the course is "links like." Beyond the obvious misapplication which is a clear stretch because the ground movement is sufficient but hardly propelling the ball along the turf at that type a legitimate links provides. The terrain has characteristics more akin to meadowlands.
The back-to-back par-3 holes at the 3rd and 4th are simply shoe-horned in and don't really work to a high level even though they play in different directions.
Matters do improve noticeably with the short par-4 5th. The key being the location of the pin and what angle for the approach works best.
The 6th and 7th are long par-4s in succession and aided considerably by the strong general headwind you'll encounter.
The finishing duo for the outward side are quite good. The par-5 8th does provide an opportunity for a birdie but not without the execution to back it up. The par-4 9th turns left in the drive zone with a green that's ably defended by bunkers on the fairway and near to the putting surface.
The inward half starts strongly at the par-4 10th. The real issue is players must fly Little Creek in order to get to the green. The main issue is that weaker players must likely lay-up on their second shots in order to cross. There's no other alternative.
The inward half is clearly the superior side because the routing and the mixture of different hole types is clearly more engaging.
The par-5 11th yields nothing except to fine play. The drive zone begins the challenge as a series of bunkers guard the right side. Things intensify as you near the green. Bunkers short and near to the surface are well-placed and finalized with a green that has an array of different hard to fathom movements.
The short par-4 12th plays back the opposite way and is followed by the par-3 13th with a menacing pond that guards the right side of the green like a junkyard dog guarding its property. The 13th and 14th provide a par-5 and par-4 combo. The former is quite good especially as you near the green. The 14th, a long par-4 plays back the other way and it too requires two fine shots to get there.
The long par-3 15th at 253 yards is outstanding. The green is angled and has a lower and upper area. Even with the prevailing wind the shot requirements are top tier and it's a real plus to see a long par-3 play such a pivotal role in the round. The par-4 16th plays in the manner of a cape hole. The main issue is that the longish bunker down the left side just looks like it was mailed in from a Florida layout.
The main downside at Newport National is that the bunkers are not created with a real natural look. Many are simply circular in shape and lacking in dramatic character. Yes, many are in the right position but a more appealing overall look comparable to what you find at Shelter Habor would have added so much more to the playing experience in being more of a retro classic look instead of a modern layout bereft of the elements that would really boost its overall standing.
Since other have weighed envisioning Newport National as "links like" it would help if the collars around the greens were closely mown so that errant shots would likely roll off and into far different positions. Eliminating the "straight razor" look with many of the fairways would also be a real plus. Weaving the cuts and including tapered areas would clearly add pressure on various tee shots encountered. The fescue grass is a fine contrast and it does provide the kind of needed definition that enhances the overall experience.
As an aside, there are plans for an additional nine holes to be added across the street from the main property. The time line for the ground breaking looks imminent and will be designed from the same folks responsible for the main 18. I have seen the schematic and it looks very interesting.
There's enough present at Newport National to warrant a visit. Getting the additional details straightened out would make return visits even more meaningful.
M. James Ward
I played this course in 2013 when on a trip to New England and whilst I was visiting Rhode Island. I had heard that this was the Top Public Golf Course in New England so had to try it. I was paired up with an American family for the round and throughly enjoyed the round. the description that it has the feel of a links is true; the wispy grass and routing does it give that look although clearly it isn't links.
Even 6 years on i can remember clearly a lot the holes as if they were yesterday the 1st, par 3's 3rd and 4th,12 and 13 - the course is No1 Course in Rhode Island and is worthy of making time to go and play it. It is ranked 8th in links style courses in the US by PGA.com
A quality course. Seek it out.
Went there on a windy 50 degree day in December. The course is in immaculate shape.Would highly recommended it to any golfer and would love to shoot it again in warmer weather.
The Orchard course at Newport National opened to great fanfare in the early years of this century. Plans included a grandiose clubhouse and a second course on adjacent land. While the place has not been a financial success (None of the plans materialized and the “clubhouse” continues to occupy a “temporary” building.), Newport National is certainly an artistic success. The course is built on sandy soil which, while not technically linksland, shares many of the characteristics of true links. And architect Drew Rogers took fine advantage of the property he was given.
The running game is very much in evidence here, despite the fact that Rogers fronts many of his greens with bunkers. In these cases, he often creates sideboards—giving the player the option of landing his approach there and then kicking it at an angle onto the green. The green complexes leave plenty to the imagination, contoured nicely. My favorite is the eighth, where the front corners are completely squared off, an homage—as at Fox Chapel—to Seth Raynor.
Most holes feature a choice off the tee, none more interesting than the short par 4 fifth, where the left rough may provide the best angle to the green…………..or then again it may not.
Newport National is deserving of its standing here ahead of a number of fine private courses. And I can think of no other truly public course in New England I’d rather play.