Classic Courses: Newport Country Club

The U.S. Senior Open will be played on this historic New England gem this summer. It may feel more like a “British” Open.

As you turn into the more-than-700-foot-long driveway that leads to the Gilded Age clubhouse standing watch over Newport Country Club, it’s hard not to feel transported to a bygone era, one that’s reflective of the lavish mansions lining Newport’s Bellevue Avenue two miles away. Just as those sprawling residences were the “summer cottages” for the very well-to-do in the second half of the 19th century, Newport Country Club—founded in 1893—served as the summer playground for enthusiastic Americans who had taken to the game of golf. In that, the club has never wavered.

Along with Saint Andrews Golf Club, Chicago Golf Club, Shinnecock Hills, and The Country Club, Newport Country Club was a charter club of the USGA, hosting both the first U.S. Amateur and U.S. Open in 1895. Since then, it has borne witness to two additional national championships—the U.S. Amateur in 1995 and the U.S. Women’s Open in 2006—and is poised to host its fifth this year, when the U.S. Senior Open is contested there in late June.

Newport Country Club (photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

The earliest rounds traversed a rudimentary 9-hole course that the club’s chairman, Theodore A. Havemeyer, laid out in 1890. The course was then rebuilt on a broader parcel of 140 acres by William F. Davis three years later, and by 1897 a full 18-hole layout existed. Yet, the Golden Age layout that’s celebrated today didn’t exist until 1921, when A.W. Tillinghast oversaw a complete redesign, adding seven new holes on an almost-50-acre plot of land on the west side of Harrison Avenue.

For more than a century, that gem has remained largely intact, which only enhances the club’s reputation—not to mention the allure that comes with playing there. The simplistic nature of exceptional architecture is readily on display. While a handful of holes trundle down or up significantly graded slopes, most of the course meanders across relatively benign topography: Prominent, broad-faced fairway bunkers and dynamically shaped green complexes bring character and depth to otherwise flat holes. Much like so many hallowed links courses throughout the British Isles, the challenges of Tillinghast’s Newport masterpiece are openly laid out in front of you.

There are links-like quirks, too. Take the 11th hole, a 321-yard par four where a trio of expansive fairway bunkers and bold contours on and around the putting surface present the challenge. “One of the best features on the 11th hole is the mound at about seven o’clock on the green,” says Barclay Douglas Jr., Newport Country Club’s longstanding president. “Depending on where the pin is, [if you need to get over that mound], you can putt it, you can chip it, you can flop it. You have all of these options, and I’d say nine times out of 10, you’ll choose the wrong one. It’s a little, unseen feature that has an effect on play.”

newport country club
13th hole (photo by L.C. Lambrecht)

The nines will be flipped for the Senior Open, which not only provides a bigger footprint around the finishing hole to accommodate large crowds, it also introduces a more diverse stretch of finishing holes comprised of two par fours, a par three, and a par five. With the exception of tighter fescue fairways—and a somewhat taller first-cut of rough—the course (and the winds that typically blow stronger in the afternoon) will challenge the pros much as they confound the club’s members. “The USGA will keep the greens firm,” says Barry Westall, the club’s director of golf and head professional. “And if it’s as fi rm as I expect it to be, players won’t be able to fly it in and check it. It’s going to be how our members play: low and running. Those bump-and-run shots are going to be crucial.

“It’s going to look more like a British Open, something people aren’t used to seeing in the States,” he continues. “[Chances are], we’ll have some wind, we’ll have firm conditions, and we’ll have some very lush rough. That’s what members [typically] deal with. It’ll be fun to watch.”

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