Whenever I’m near the #1 ranked public course in a state, it’s a must visit. Although it’s a small state, Newport National Golf Club represents this position with distinction. Some have said it’s the number one public access course in all of New England.
Newport National Golf Club History
Golf in Rhode Island has a distinguished beginning. When an heir to the American Sugar Company fortune played in 1889 in France, he fell in love with it. He returned to Newport in 1890 and started playing the game on farmland with his well-to-do friends. In 1893, Jacob Astor IV, Cornelius Vanderbilt II and Perry Belmont bought a 140-acre farm for $80,000. After building a 9-hole course and clubhouse, they created the Newport Country Club in Newport, Rhode Island. Shortly thereafter, they joined with The Country Club of Brookline in Massachusetts and three other new golf clubs to form the United States Golf Association in 1894.
Originally intended to be a private club with a grand clubhouse and two 18-hole championship course, the economics didn’t work out. The result is one fantastic 18-hole championship course open to the public, one temporary trailer-like clubhouse that is permanent and no driving range. They built an outdoor wooden dining terrace that has both covered and uncovered areas. No worries if it’s raining, they have clear plastic drop-down barriers and large space heaters.
Architect Arthur Hills and design associate Drew Rogers did not set out to design a traditional links course. Wispy brown fescue sways in the constant ocean breeze. Perfect bentgrass tees, fairways and greens facilitate ground level shot-making. Deep bunkers surrounded by deep grass remind you of links courses of your past. The result is arguably one of the ten best links layouts for public courses in the nation.
Built on a former nursery and orchard, they take a minimalist approach and reduce the environmental impact using the best practices in environmental and habitat management. Their efforts have earned the Audubon International designation as a Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary. Along with the Aquidneck Land Trust, they preserve open space near the course enabling the Sakonnet Greenway Trail, a walking path along the course perimeter.
As the only public access golf course on Aquidneck Island which includes the city of Newport, Rhode Island it’s popular with visitors to this posh coastal town. In fact, it’s only a mile from Sakonnet Bay on the mouth of the Atlantic ocean. Hence, many holes have beautiful ocean vistas. Its proximity to the ocean means that play is typically year-round. It’s only an hour and a half south of Boston on the state Highway 24. It’s hard to find as the signage isn’t the best. Pay close attention to the GPS.
Newport National Golf Club Course
Despite not realizing its full potential as a superior country club, the 18-hole golf course lives up to its original expectations. Excellent conditioning of pure bentgrass tees, fairways and greens is impressive. A combination of picturesque holes with many challenging doglegs weaves in and out of beautiful wetlands. Fairways are generous but rough is thick. Then thickets of 3-4 foot bushes will provide ample challenge. Sweeping tree-lined fairways create meadow-like panoramas.
Large undulating greens have subtle breaks. Watch for the grain as it impacts your break significantly. They maintain the greens meticulously.
White gravel cart paths and two to three foot natural rock walls add to the refined links ambiance.
Proximity to the ocean also means that wind may be a factor. With few trees to block it, a strong wind may wreak havoc with your score. It may be better to check the wind report in the area if you don’t enjoy playing in those conditions. Or play it forward and start on the red or green tees.
Back-to-back par 3’s on the front side are unusual. This can affect the pace-of-play and it’s unfortunate it’s comes so early in the round. Hole #3 and Hole #4 are medium length and play opposite to each other. It’s the worst part of the layout. It seems they needed to fit in two holes in a limited space.
At 296-yards Hole #5 is a drivable par 4 when the wind is cooperating. It plays only 250-yards if you cut the dogleg and avoid the sand.
If you’ve never seen a rectangular green, look at the 495-yard Hole #8. They cut the corners of this green perfectly square.
Pay attention on the par 4 Hole #10. The fairway ends between 212 and 240 yards. Then you face a 165-yard approach over an enormous barranca that extends to the green. It’s a challenging start to the back nine.
The substantial rock wall on a hill above the fairway on the par 4 326-yard Hole #12 is a notable visual not usually in play.
Summer rates at Newport National Golf Club of $125-$150 are on the high side given the limited amenities. But well heeled summer players from Newport are glad to pay. Since they designed it as a private club course, the price makes sense for the course quality. And I’m glad the full 36-hole private club is not complete. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to play it. They have cut a remarkable golf experience out of the island landscape providing both tremendous scenery and serious challenge. If you like well manicured and maintained links-type golf courses, this is one for you.
Explore other Northeast golf course profiles from Quintessential Golf Magazine