Established in 1894 by a group of twenty-five wealthy Philadelphians, the country club at Point Judith initially offered members a choice of fashionable non-golfing pursuits, like tennis and polo. Indeed, the golfing element of the club’s sporting activities only really took off when Donald Ross added nine holes to the existing 9-hole layout in 1927.Today’s course has been expanded to 6,694 yards, playing to a par of 71, with many of the better holes reserved for the back nine. In particular, the closing three holes are very strong, starting with a water-protected par three at the 16th. This 217-yard tester is then followed by an uphill, 440-yard par four before the home hole returns golfers to the clubhouse by way of a long par five finisher.
One of the most challenging elements any architect faces is working with land with little real movement. Dead flat properties can often mean dead interest for golfers - clearly not an engaging formula for long term success.
Point Judith is creatively done and much of that credit goes to its original architect -- the renowned Donald Ross. More recent credit goes to Ron Forse who smartly updated the course without undercutting its original handiwork.
The outward half features the bulk of the holes running in a west/east and east/west direction. At the opening hole you have sufficient landing area for the tee shot but it pays to know where the pin is located so that you can achieve the best approach angle.
The 2nd is a quality short-length two-shot hole. Forse was responsible in redoing the putting surface and the finished result work quite well. The green is slightly elevated above the fairway and there's sufficient internal contours that behoove a well-executed approach. Complicating matters is the prevailing headwind encountered and a fairway which tapers down in available width for those determined in getting as near to the green as possible.
Holes 3 thru 8 follow the same alternating direction pattern. The short par-3 9th closes out the front side and it's a good hole just don't it confuse it with the likes of the 7th at Pebble Beach or the 8th at Royal Troon.
The inward half is the more interesting side. The routing a bit more complicated because the hole movement is clearly varied.
The best holes come later in the round at Point Judith. The 14th begins a fine stretch of holes through to the conclusion. The 14th and 15th are not long par-4s but there's enough ground movement to clearly get one's attention. The par-3 16th is the best of the short holes at Point Judith. Generally, the prevailing wind is with the players but the green can prove to be quite elusive as the target is slightly elevated with an array of internal contours to mandate a quality play from the tee.
The penultimate hole is the second longest par-4 at Point Judith but it's the positioning of the fairway bunkers that are short of the green and those that flank the putting surface that are especially noteworthy. The long closing par-5 is helped considerably by cross bunkers encountered following the tee shot. Failure to get one's tee shot in play can mean an exasperating choice between laying up before them or trying to fly past them.
The far eastern border of the property is nearest to Narragansett Bay and the Atlantic Ocean but none of the holes actually abut. Needless to say, the wind plays a major role and having 3-4 club or more differential is never out of the question. As a par-71 course Point Judith is a bit limited on the differentiation of the holes -- only three par-3 holes and two par-5 holes.
As outlined initially, dealing with dead flat property is never an easy proposition. If an architect overplays their contribution the net result is a contrived outcome with features clearly are out of place. On the other hand, doing too little can mean a net result of "less being less" in terms of real interest for sustained play.
Point Judith is smartly in the middle of the equation. The routing works well and the greens have enough movement to keep one's concentration throughout but not to the point where excessive contours render varied pin locations can be compromised.
None of the holes truly standout but the overall consistency of the shots required is sustained. In sum, you can't sleepwalk when playing the course and when the wind inserts itself -- a not uncommon reality -- the wherewithal to flight one's ball appropriately takes on even greater importance.
M. James Ward
Like a lot of Donald Ross’s work, Point Judith has been changed by other architects since Ross was there ninety years ago. While the routing has changed little in that period (Ross did a fine job on an L shaped piece of land.), it seemed to me that only about half the greens are clearly his work. The last six, for example, are large, undulating and have definite corners. But many of the other greens lack the size and undulations that make the originals more interesting. That lack of variety also extends to many approach shots, where an aerial play is the only alternative.
But Ross aficionados should not lament this situation. Architect Ron Forse and the club’s long range plan head Rich Higginbotham are changing that. After teaming up at Pine Tree in Florida, the two are in the process of improving Point Judith as well. Their first two steps were tree removal and a friendlier set of forward tees than their 5800 yard predecessors. The next steps are renovating greens 2 and 4. I look forward to returning as more work is done.