Trust in Providence and Go Golfing

Ross Society Excursion to Rhode Island in May 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 at the head of Narragansett Bay on land granted to him by local natives. He called his new home "Providence" and a "Place of Religious Freedom", though 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 proved 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.

Unfortunately, this enduring appeal provided us with an overflow of applications; so many that we were unable to accommodate everyone who wanted to play. Those who were able to play enjoyed a very special treat.

Thursday May 9

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. The staircase to the second floor shows Ross’s routing. Next to it is A.W. Tillinghast’s 1923 routingundefinedclearly showing that Tilly obliterated all of Ross’s work. Despite the fact that Newport is not at all a Ross design, the Society was welcomed warmly here. We teed it up in heavy fog (“thick-a-fog” as the locals would say), survived a 45 minutes thunderstorm delay and had a delightful time.

After the round we were treated to lunch at High Tides, the coastal home of Richard Gordon, a long standing member of the Society and friend of Captain Michael Fay.

Dinner also had an ocean view, this time at the Bristol Yacht Club, which hosted us for a traditional Rhode Island lobster dinner. Bristol is the home of the nation’s oldest Fourth of July celebration and of Nathaniel Herreshoff, designer of 7 consecutive America’s Cup winnersundefinedthe Donald Ross of naval architects.


Friday May 10

Metacomet Country Club

The Wampanoag Indian Tribe was friendly to European 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."

The finest weather of our trip graced our day at Metacomet undefined temperatures in the 70s and a gentle breeze. Some intrepid golfers became intrepid sailors after the round as seven of us ventured into the Atlantic on Steve MacQuarrie’s sail boat Ginger Beer. While ginger beer is closely associated with sailing (it’s half of the traditional sailor’s drink, the Dark and Stormy), the sharp golfers on board noted the golf association. The fourth hole at St. Andrews’ Old Course is named Ginger Beer after Daw Anderson’s ginger beer stand that stood at the tee for many years.

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).

RICC members celebrate a lovely day by calling it a “three bridge day”, meaning the last four holes provide a view of all three of the bridges that span parts of Narragansett Bay: Mt. Hope, Jamestown and Newport-Pell. We had a “no bridge’ day, teeing off in the rain. Fortunately it stopped after a couple holes. Dinner followed and we were treated to after dinner talks by Audrey Moriarty of the Tufts Archives and by Jarlath Hamrock.


Sunday May 12: Little Compton for reflection

Sunday morning, we were treated to brunch at the Ross Cottage in Little Compton. Until his death in 1948, Ross and his wife, Florence, summered there 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. We were hosted by Alex and Victoria Shapiro, Ross’s great-grandchildren and the current keepers of the Ross flame. In addition to a fine meal, we were treated to a superb and enormous wall size document of the timeline of Ross’ life and golf course architecture work with a collage of pictures. The display was designed by Alex.

Alex also put out a series of signs to guide us to the house. His great-grandfather would, no doubt, have felt right at home negotiating the single-track road.


Sunday May 12: Sakonnet Golf Club - Where stone walls meet the sea

And just as Ross 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.


Monday, May 13: Wannamoisett Country Club

Saving what may be the best for the last, we moved 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."

The Society logo is from the third hole at Wannamoisett, a difficult short par 3

Our own Michael Fay had this to say about Wannamoisett in his celebratory epic of Ross architecture, 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." Everyone was also able to see the fine bust of Ross in the clubhouse. Authorized by Ross’ daughter Lillian Ross-Pippitt, the bust was conceived and commissioned by long time Wannamoisett member Ray Coogan.

The weather cooperated again on the last day of golf, bringing the trip to a successful conclusion. The consensus among the group was that this was one of the Society’s finest outings. Special thanks go to Outing Committee members John Butler and Steve MacQuarrie. Steve was the Society member who organized this event, arguably the best possible line up of Ross courses. Apart from the courses, John and Michael Fay made the excellent arrangements for the dinners, side trips, and a few special lunches.

Two blog articles by Bill and Lisa Case, who attended the event

Blog: Thursday the first day

Blog: Friday to Monday

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