Fergal O’Leary unravels patriotic New England
Rhode Island offers so many wonderful old classic golf courses and it takes a very special effort for a newcomer to become established amongst so many New England gems.
Shelter Harbor takes advantage of wonderful rolling terrain in Westerly, RI. This award-winning layout has many topographical changes from the low point of 102 feet, to the high point of 187 feet, and rock walls are woven through the whole of the course.
The course has a strong connection with environmental preservation and protecting native ruins throughout the property. Players have flashbacks to North Berwick when you see rock walls in your line of sight; however the design of the clubhouse quickly reminds you that you’re in old town New England.
One of the most distinctive features of the course is the rustic bunkers shrouded with native fescues. Shelter Harbor has trademark characteristics of magnificent velvet fairways and glass-like putting surfaces which immediately project it into the elevated ranks of the Ocean State. This young club is already a favourite of the New England PGA, and having recently consulted with a few golf professionals in the greater Boston area, this club is met with glorious approval.
The course offers a serious test for even the best of players, but architectural beauty is effortlessly integrated with demand for precision. The par 5 9th hole is a signature hole with feverishly fescue lined bunkers leading to a dog-leg right around a forested area up to the small perched green. It’s a sight to behold and epitomizes the culture at Shelter Harbor.
Visitors are keen to experience the exciting par 3 course. The par 27, 1,206-yard layout is located on the southern edge of the property. The par 3 course is punctuated with many elevation changes, rock walls and trees creating a challenging fun-filled experience for golfers of all abilities. Many of today’s exclusive clubs boast about their practice grounds. Shelter Harbor offers a 22-acre practice facility featuring six sets of tees each offering varying views and distances to the five target greens. The practice ground also has two short game areas along with a practice putting green and a private tee for professional instruction. With cottages on-site for visitors to enjoy, it’s no surprise to see this club growing in popularity and serving its players with nothing but he best.
Country Club of Fairfield
It's the most wondrous place with unsurpassed New England seasonal beauty overlooking the Long Island Sound and Southport harbor. The land once served as onion farms where produce was shipped from Southport Harbor.
The Country Club of Fairfield was one of Raynor’s first solo efforts. But Raynor was not the only architect of note to work on the Country Club of Fairfield course, as A.W. Tillinghast and Robert Trent Jones Sr. also added their touches over the years. The result is a layout that not only serves as a superb member’s course, but also as a challenging venue for tournaments such as the Met Open, the Connecticut Open and the Met PGA Championship. It is rightfully regarded as one of the best in the country. With the obvious exception of Fisher’s Island, there aren’t many Raynor courses with ocean views serving as the backdrop. All of the iconic named holes are on display and it’s enjoyable to see how he created them on a seemingly flat piece of seaside land.
The 9th and 18th greens are on the highest point of the property overlooking the remaining holes winding their way throughout the low-land and marsh. The symbolic Redan hole is an emblem of Raynor’s work, and the Redan at Fairfield is arguably the greatest in America. The tilt on many of these seaside surfaces married with terrifying green speeds, ensures this classic layout will be the eternal victor against the test of time.
The exclusivity of this course has kept it under the radar, however with its recent promotion into the US Top 100, the attention of golfing aficionados will now migrate to Connecticut to bear witness to an ensemble of Raynor’s best. The holes are an unexplainable mix of treachery and excitement. Playing the holes is an honour by itself and experiencing the untouched history inside the locker room allows your imagination to be intoxicated by the unmistakable aroma of times past.
Newport Country Club
Theodore Havemeyer, a wealthy sportsman played the game of golf on a trip to the South of France in 1889 and returned to his summer home in Newport, RI with the idea of creating his own course. He partnered with a few gentlemen from the summer colony's social elite to purchase the 140-acre Rocky Farm property for $80,000 and establish the golf club in 1893. In line with his intention to host national competitions, Havemeyer invited the country's best amateurs to his new course for a championship in 1894. That December, Havemeyer held a meeting at New York City's Calumet Club with representatives from four other American clubs: St. Andrew's Golf Club, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club; The Country Club and the Chicago Golf Club. These clubs agreed to form the Amateur Golf Association, the forefather of the United States Golf Association. In today’s modern times, these clubs gather on an annual basis to play “The 1894 Matches” to celebrate the origin of the USGA. In October 1895, Newport Country Club hosted both the first U.S. Amateur Championship and the first U.S. Open. In 1995, in celebration of the U.S. Amateur Championship centennial, the club hosted the 1995 U.S. Amateur Championship, which was won by Tiger Woods. To this day, the U.S. Amateur champion is awarded the Havemeyer Trophy.
This iconic clubhouse is like no other clubhouse in the country due to its unique design. I always enjoy walking in the front door, taking a few steps forward and finding myself within arm’s reach of the back window. Whitney Warren designed the classic, Beaux Arts style clubhouse on a largely barren farm overlooking Brenton Point in 1895. The evolution of the current 18-hole layout is a fabled story in itself. A gathering of the members took place recently to discuss the History of Newport Country Club. The Club Historian from The Country Club was the keynote speaker and facilitated the discussion. Many photographs and maps around the club suggest that A.W. Tillinghast designed the entire layout, but the educated eye begs to differ. It’s been documented that a nine-hole course was designed in 1894 by William Davis, the club's first professional, and later expanded to 18 holes in 1915 by renowned architect Donald Ross. In 1923, A.W. Tillinghast was hired to remodel the course layout. Since 1995, Ron Forse has completed restoration on some of the layout. Having played all of the Tillinghast gems around the country, there’s something about Newport that doesn’t feel like a Tillinghast layout or a Ross course. It’s just different.
This legendary history is second to none in this country, but what about the golf course itself? Historically, the course has never had a water system which takes “firm and fast” to a whole new level. Hazards which would otherwise be out of reach suddenly add to the list of nooks and crannies to avoid. For those of you who have enjoyed true links golf, you’ll know the value of playing a bump and run approach shot. Newport forces the golfer to exercise careful judgement with where to land the ball and hope that the bounce is in your favour. Some players consider this layout an examination. It’s not a terribly long course, but the challenge of hitting irons from such tight untreated lies is enough to save your blushes amongst a serious bunch of golfers. Newport offers a collection of short par 4s, reachable par 5s, back to back par 3s and a prevailing wind off the ocean that is always a factor with club selection. Sometimes it’s a catalyst for mistakes and uncertain swings. As with all of the top rated courses in this country, the green surfaces are flawless and worthy of USGA events. The course was built with such primitive means and took advantage of the natural topology creating quirky holes, pitched fairways and perched greens. The weather dictates the character of the course from day to day given its exposed location. The lack of water on the course makes it appear raw and rustic and is a welcomed change from modern technology and underground systems which seem to have left these old classics behind. What separates Newport from the rest? It’s the throwback to the golden days of American golf and an irrigation system governed by Mother Nature. But like a good Rolex, Newport doesn’t just tell time, it tells history.
Article written by our US Consultant, Fergal O'Leary, who continues his mission to become the youngest person to play the Top 100 Golf Courses of the World.