To walk through Newport, Rhode Island, is to enter a living American history museum. The influence of American royalty like the Vanderbilts, Kennedys and the Eisenhowers can still be seen. But the best exhibit may be the golf course on the hill.
Newport Country Club opened in 1893 after its founder, Theodore Havemeyer, discovered the game while on holiday in France. A young architect named Whitney Warren was given his first commission to erect Newport’s opulent clubhouse. It would prove a springboard to Warren’s future jobs, like Grand Central Station in New York.
William Davis designed the club’s original nine holes, and Newport became one of the USGA’s five founding clubs. The USGA held its inaugural U.S. Open Championship here in 1895 and Horace Rawlins, Newport’s young assistant pro, won it, becoming the first name in what would become one of golf’s greatest lists. One hundred years later, a young phenom named Tiger Woods would arrive on the same course and win the centennial U.S. Amateur.
In between, the great A.W. Tillinghast topped off the full 18-hole layout. Beyond that, not much has changed with Newport’s design or its place in golf’s upper echelon. There is still no irrigation system—fairways play firm and brown or lush and green depending on summer forecasts. There’s no regular dinner service, for this is a golf club. When the leaves turn, the club boards up Whitney Warren’s windows and waits for Spring’s arrival.
The fairways were resplendent in green when I arrived in September with my partner Tom Coyne for the club’s annual Havemeyer Invitational—a three-day match-play tournament named for its founder. We didn’t add our names to Newport’s prestigious list of champions, but it didn’t get us down for long. As we passed the American castles on the way home, we appreciated our invitation to see what “timeless” truly looks like. We hope you enjoy this view each one of Newport’s 18 classic holes, expertly shot by our Photo Editor Kohjiro Kinno.
No. 1: Par 4, 459 yards
The first hole forces a decision before you put a peg in the ground: it’s either a 459-yard par 4 from the tips or a 480-yard par 5 from the member tees. Those brave enough to test the tips are met with a long, downhill par 4 compared to a handshake par 5 for the mortals.
Anything down the left center will work fine here and catch a speed slot toward the bottom of the fairway. Leaving an approach short here (and on virtually every hole at Newport) is not a bad idea. Long leaves a lightning-fast putt or chip down this severely back-to-front pitched green. Get used to hearing that. But remember: Come up too short and your ball will travel another 30-plus yards down the hill and leave you with a nervy pitch to start your day.
No. 2: Par 4, 410 yards
The walk off No. 1 green brings you across Harrison Avenue to the first glimpse of the Atlantic Ocean. The plot of land on which the next seven holes are played was not part of the original nine holes laid out in 1893, but it looks as if it could have been.
A gentle right-to-left fairway and OB down the left can lull you into aiming at the right fairway bunker and trying to draw it. But beware: the tees are aimed farther right than you think, and heavy fescue turns into heavy gorse quickly. Hit the fairway and you’ll be rewarded with a short iron into one of the friendlier greens on the property. When the pin is in the back, you can use a shoulder behind the green to bring it back toward the hole.
No. 3: Par 4, 347 yards
No. 3 continues the march toward the ocean and offers a great early birdie chance, assuming you can hike your britches up and ignore the street all the way down the left. You can hit just about any club off the tee, but the shorter the approach, the better chance of finding the proper side of the green. A severe knob on the right front part of the green launches shots forward and provides a great defense to right-hand hole locations. For players that take on the knob, most are left with a speedy, hard-breaking putt from above the hole. Fifteen feet left of the pin will give you a better chance to be aggressive with your birdie try.
No. 4: Par 3, 242 yards
Take in the view, but don’t get comfortable. Members will say this brute of a par 3 should have a prevailing southwest wind. However, “should” has never been a strong strategy for golf. I played this hole in four different winds over four days, varying the club selection by three to four clubs each time. Playing straight into the fan, a 3-wood will struggle to reach. Straight down, and you’ll do well to stop anything on the surface.
A cluster of bunkers left of the green seems like a popular miss, albeit not likely on purpose. Like everywhere else at Newport, hitting it 10 yards short and trying to get up and down is a great strategy. Succeed and it’ll feel like a birdie.
No. 5: Par 4, 451 yards
No letup here. A blind tee shot up the hill and away from the ocean demands a great effort. For those steaming after a bogey on No. 4, challenging the bunkers down the left brings in a great risk/reward element to the tee shot. Fail to clear them and you’ll be staring at 200-plus yards in with little room to advance it. Fly them and you’ll have shaved 20 yards and opened up the best angle into a green guarded by a magnet of a greenside bunker.
There’s a severe spine that runs through the middle of this green, making it difficult to hit it close to any pin, and even harder to two-putt from the wrong side. Four is a terrific score here, and will make the long walk back to the sixth feel like a quick stroll.
No. 6: Par 4, 410 yards
The sixth flips around and plays parallel to No. 5. Whatever wind you just battled, you’ll now meet its opposite. The generous fairway slopes right-to-left and climbs uphill in the landing area. The farther you can advance up the hill, the more green you’ll be able to see for your second. Short seems to be the common miss into this green thanks to the steep uphill lie.
A wonderful multi-tiered green demands precision from the fairway. The front-left pin location offers only a 15-foot radius to land it. Any pin on the front-right offers a fairly flat putt and a good look at birdie.
No. 7: Par 5, 598 yards
The first par 5 turns away from the water, in the same direction No. 5 played. It’s a true three-shot hole, but don’t get lazy on any of them. From the wide fairway, you’re forced to carry a series of large bunkers that cut the fairway in half. Heavy bushes linger on both sides, making you think twice about pumping 3-wood as far as you can.
Two good shots will leave a full wedge or short iron into a nasty green that slopes hard in virtually every direction. If you’re faced with a back-right pin, hit it to the front left and run to the eighth tee. The back-left pin is more reasonable, but most players will not be able to control their spin, causing the ball to filter back toward the front.
No. 8: Par 3, 192 yards
After a lengthy stretch of exposed holes, heavy bushes frame both sides of No. 8, offering a bit of a reprieve from the ocean breezes. But beware: The wind is still up there.
The green is well situated between bunkers on each side, offering a nice visual for players to hit their preferred shape. Short-sided misses to either bunker most likely mean bogey. Or worse.
No. 9: Par 4, 470 yards
This time crossing Harrison Avenue delivers a view of one of golf’s great clubhouses. If there’s a fairway you absolutely have to hit at Newport, it’s on this severely uphill par 4. A tongue-shaped lip on top of the cross bunker that guards this fairway is the line off the tee (members refer to it as “Gene Simmons”). That line is roughly a 220-yard carry and offers no safe passage from the wind. A small hazard lingers right of the bunker and another bunker down the left stands ready to swallow up any bailout pulls. In summary: Find the short stuff.
The lengthy approach plays semi-blind up to the flag, and be ready to play a club longer than you think. The green tilts from right to left, so most players will aim at the front-right edge of the green and hope it gets there. It’s shocking how much a pitch from in front of this green will break left once on the surface. Best of luck.
No. 10: Par 5, 574 yards
This was the club’s original first hole, making it one of the oldest golf holes in America. It’s a wide, straight hole that plays over two separate roads leading toward the clubhouse, whose fairway wrinkles are of French origin—during the Revolutionary War, the French army camped here and dug trenches between their tent lines.
The green has two distinct tiers. There’s also a backstop at the far edge, which you’ll be thankful for when the pin is in the back. Reaching in two is possible when the fairways brown out, but it’s definitely a three-shotter when wet. It’s no gimme, but birdie is in play here.
No. 11: Par 4, 321 yards
A great match play hole, No. 11 can be played in myriad ways. Plan A would be a driver short and left of the small and slopey green, followed by a pitch straight up the hill to tap-in range. But a pulled tee shot could sail out of bounds left, and laying back leaves a tricky wedge shot.
Controlling spin is crucial when coming into this back-to-front, cone-shaped green. Any full wedge will spin back to the front of the green or off it entirely. That knowledge forces the player’s hand and ultimately encourages them to push their drive as far down the fairway as possible.
There are plenty of ways to make 3 at No. 11, and even more ways to make 5.
No. 12: Par 4, 463
Like the first, players from the red tees play this hole as a par 5 whereas those who tip it out play a long par 4. Like the second, this tee box begs you to hit it in the right rough, which is some of the thickest on the course.
The good news is that this lengthy hole plays downwind most days. The bad news is that it sports the most severe back-to-front green on the course and a dramatic false front that needs to be cleared in the air. Do not hit it past the pin. I repeat: Do not hit it past the pin.
No. 13: Par 3, 188 yards
The first of back-to-back par 3s is intimidating: straight up the hill toward the clubhouse with only a piece of the flag visible. However, there is a sideboard on the right side of the green that will filter the ball toward the middle. Take an extra club and err toward that side. It’s not as hard of a shot as it appears from the tee. After hitting the green, take a moment to appreciate the location of the superintendent’s house just left of the tee box—not a bad gig if you can get it.
No. 14: Par 3, 209 yards
Perhaps the most stunning view on the course awaits at 14. It plays over a ravine to a beautiful green perfectly perched on top of a hill. It’s called “Plateau” on the card but it really plays like a redan, with everything feeding into the back left of the green.
There are two schools of thought among members on how to play it. Some say to aim at the front-right corner with a draw, and others swear to aim at the center and cut it into the slope. But they all agree that right is dead and left isn’t much better.
No. 15: Par 4, 473 yards
No. 15 features a nearly 90-degree dogleg right with a punishing bunker that guards the corner. Most will play well down the left, trading grass for a longer approach. There’s a backstop behind the green that will bring the ball back toward most hole locations. No matter what you have in, playing for that backboard is the proper strategy.
No. 16: Par 4, 362 yards
A short par 4 that will put the fear of God into crooked drivers. A brick wall signals OB down the right, a hazard lurks all down the left and a pair of bunkers bracket the fairway. If you’re steel-nerved enough to fit it between everything, you’re left with a testy short iron over a deep and wet burn. A spinny approach will rip back into the water. Should you pass all these tests, you’ll be rewarded with a good chance for birdie. Outside of the back section of this green, there’s not much break.
No. 17: Par 4, 466
Aim farther right than you see. Just over the bunker down the left is heavy fescue and a hidden water hazard. Plus, a fade around the corner could bite off 30 yards on your approach. And would you look at that: another steep, back-to-front green.
No. 18: Par 4, 420 yards
There are more “Tiger hit iron here in the U.S. Am” stories than members at Newport. But the one where he carried the bunker down the left on 18 might be the one retold most. Mortals should go right of it, even with driver. The final approach plays a full club extra, back up the hill to a three-tiered green that slopes hard left-to-right. Whatever your yardage is, add 10 and hit it 15 feet left. An ice-cold Narragansett on the Adirondack chairs overlooking No. 18 awaits, along with your own story to tell forever.
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