Trust in Providence and go Golfing

Ross Society Excursion to Rhode Island in May 9 – 13, 2013

It's really not an island, nor is it red despite the 17th Century Dutch description, "een rodlich Eylande" except in the Fall when its State Tree the Maple is in its glory. It is our smallest state but it boasts the largest name, "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations" and it awaits the Ross Society and our celebration of our Annual Fest.

In 1636 the renegade believer, Roger Williams, was banished from Massachusetts Bay and settled on the tip of Narragansett Bay on land granted to him by local natives. He called his new home "Providence" and a "Place of Religious Freedom", his detractors would call it "Rogue Island." When Donald Ross came here nearly 300 years later, Providence again smiled upon this land, and our short visit in May of 2013 will prove how deftly he shaped small parcels into exceptional courses and how severely he still punishes the "rogue shot".

That Rhode Island golf has such an enduring appeal is largely a testament to Ross. "Around this area," says Barrington native Brad Faxon, "Donald Ross is a household name, at least in golfers' houses." Over a decade and a half, beginning with his work at Rhode Island Country Club in 1911, Ross would leave a remarkable set of fingerprints across the state

Thursday May 9:
Newport Country Club

 Newport Country Club

Theodore Havemeyer (American Sugar Company) purchased 140 acres here in 1893 and established one of America's first golf clubs with a nine-hole layout. Donald Ross expanded the course to 18 holes in 1915, and A.W. Tillinghast modified it further in 1923. Significant restoration work has been performed by Ron Forse on this property, and it will be interesting to see how he has interpreted the melded work of these two great architects. 6,945 yards 129/73.8 from the tips, a tough par 70.

Friday May 10:
Metacomet Country Club


The Wampanoag Indian Tribe was friendly to Pilgrim settlers in East Providence, and Metacomet (their Chief who would be jokingly named King Philip by the English) is honored in the name of this golf course. Originally built in 1901 by Leonard Byles, the current layout was designed by Donald Ross in 1925, and boasts some of the best putting greens in New England.

Brad Klein is unstinting in his praise, "Great, unheralded Ross gem, squeezed into about 100 acres. Great collection of par-4s, and an amazing variety of par-3s, from a drop-shot short-iron at the downhill, 160-yard 7th hole to a driver at the 242- yard 12th hole. And that finishing run of six consecutive par-4s, each so different! Superintendent Paul Jamrog has done wonders in restoring the classical look and feel through tree removal and fescues. Prichard's plan has been great there."

Saturday May 11:
Rhode Island Country Club

An early Ross design (circa 1911) this gem is a combination of parkland, woodland and seaside holes and overlooks Narragansett Bay. Klein refers to it as a fascinating introduction to what would become a classic Ross approach to green construction, "elevated fill pad, with the bunkers built low into the upslope surrounding the putting surface."

While it is difficult to know how closely the present course follows the original design, not much has changed since that depicted in a 1931 map now on display in the clubhouse. One is tempted to wonder why the course does not take more advantage of the linksland closer to Narragansett Bay, but Ross was wary of the tides on this coast (somehow he must have known that Sandy was coming). 6,680 yards 127/72.4 par 71.

Sunday May 12:
Sakonnet Golf Club

Until his death in 1948, Ross and his wife, Florence, summered in Little Compton—just up the road from Sakonnet, a course he reconceived—at her family farm on Rhode Island Sound. One of its shingled cottages became his seasonal office.

And just as he kept refining Pinehurst No. 2 every winter, he could never stop tinkering with his work at Sakonnet. To be sure, Sakonnet was well established before Ross arrived in 1922 and expanded the existing nine holes into eighteen. He modernized what he found and added many new features, but he wisely left intact several of the defining stone walls that border fairways on the front side. The routing begins with a two-hole journey to the banks of the Sakonnet River—with fabulous views across the water to Newport—and then reverses direction. One more hole plays back to the river, at which point the course had made a permanent turn inland. But in 2004, on recently acquired land, architect Gil Hanse conceived a new ninth hole, a Ross-like par three with a tortoise-shell green, that leads golfers to the water's edge once more. (Hanse also lengthened the course by more than four hundred yards to a sporty 6,300-plus.) The crescendo comes at the drivable, dogleg-right par-four seventeenth, with its remarkable vista from the elevated tee, reached by a stone staircase. 5902 yards, 69.7/122, Par 69

Monday, May 13:
Wannamoisett Country Club

Saving what may be the best for the last, we move to Rumford for Ross's 1914 classic. WCC is the home of the Northeast Amateur Championship every year and is currently ranked Number One in the State by Golf Digest. Ross himself commented to his shaper, 'This is the best layout I ever made."

Our own Michael Fay had this to say about Wannamoisett in his celebratory epic, Golf, as it was Meant to be Played:

"A miraculous design. . .After playing Wannamoisett about twenty times, I have reached the inescapable conclusion that Wannamoisett is an Indian word that means double bogey."

Ron Forse has been working with the club since 2008 and has come to marvel at the variety found within the greens. As he states, "some of the greens are hunkered down while others are set at grade, and then some of Ross's very best are found on natural plateaus."

They will probably double cut and roll the greens for us, making the stimp meter useless and anxious prayers your only chance to negotiate the buried elephants that tend to kick even the softest putts off of the green and into nasty bunkers. But who would want a visit to be forgettable? 6732 yards, Par 73.

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