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Summer in Rhode Island

Rob Howard Summer in Rhode Island

Photo: Rob Howard

Brad Faxon so enjoyed the first and only round he played at Sakonnet years back—he shot a ten-under-par sixty—that he vows never to tee it up here again. He doesn’t want to jeopardize his stroke average.

79 Sakonnet Point Road, Little Compton. Architects: Donald Ross, 1922; Gil Hanse, 2004. Yardage: 6,337. Par: 70. Slope: 124.

A Family Club by the Bay

They have a saying at Rhode Island Country Club: “It’s a three-bridge day.” And on a perfect late-August afternoon, John Andrade, Billy’s father, is quick to point out what it means. The often fog-enshrouded spans that connect Aquidneck Island to the mainland—the Mount Hope, Claiborne Pell and Jamestown bridges—can all be seen clearly. It’s a saying that’s uttered on the last four holes, a linksy stretch that lies across the road from the rest of the course, near the picturesque shores of Narragansett Bay. On three-bridge days, there is no lovelier view on any Rhode Island course than the one that greets you on a stroll up the short seventeenth, a 145-yard par three that has a two-tiered green protected by a necklace of sand bunkers. (Although it’s the first par-three green that Brad Faxon ever hit as a boy, a marker at the tee commemorates the consecutive aces scored there by Lee Janzen and Scott McCarron in 1999 at the CVS Charity Classic, an annual event hosted by Faxon and Billy Andrade.)

Ross designed the course as a battle of wits, beginning with a remarkable quirk at the first hole: a rare inverted bunker, or sand mound, just left of the fairway. The course teases a player with its benign appearance, no more so than at the sixth, the finest of several short par fours. Measuring just 311 yards from the tips, the hole demands a drive over an inlet, and its tiny, heavily fortified green is sharply angled to the fairway, making it all too easy to miss. “You can’t steal birdies anywhere,” says Dana Quigley of the entire course.

But Rhode Island Country Club is far more than just a golf course. It’s a lively neighborhood club with a white wooden clubhouse and a full menu of activities for every member of the family—including squash, tennis and paddle tennis, swimming, and Ping-Pong—in a gorgeous setting by the bay. “All in all, the location’s not too bad,” says Faxon in typical New England understatement.

150 Nayatt Road, Barrington. Architect: Donald Ross, 1911. Yardage: 6,734. Par: 71. Slope: 127.

The Splendid Greensward

If the entry drive at Point Judith Country Club seems especially lengthy, it should: The road parallels the longest finishing hole in the state, an almost six-hundred-yard par five with cross bunkers placed right where mere mortals would want to land their layup shots. It’s a classic example of how Donald Ross liked to lure golfers out of their comfort zones.

Yet Ross was just an apprentice in Scotland in 1894 when Willie Davis sailed over from Newport to give Point Judith’s twenty-five founding families—summer gentry mainly from Philadelphia—a place to play the new ball-and-stick game. They established the club on a fine piece of open farmland near but not right on the water, alongside a shingled homestead ideal for conversion into a clubhouse.

By the time Ross arrived in 1927, Point Judith was flourishing. Tennis had been introduced twelve years earlier on grass courts laid with sod shipped from England. The addition of a ballroom turned clubhouse dances into regular events. To bring the golf course up to speed, the club hired Ross to remodel the existing nine and design a second.

The club’s most noted golfer was Glenna Collett Vare, who was known to bring famous friends such as Gene Sarazen by for a social game. In a remarkable streak, Collett Vare, who grew up in Providence and won six national championships, played in sixty-one consecutive Point Judith Invitationals before hanging it up in 1984 at the age of eighty-one.

Both course and club have evolved through the years, but Point Judith remains a relaxed summer retreat. The membership consists mostly of Rhode Islanders, a mix of year-round Narragansett-area residents and second-home owners from Providence and points north. The club is as vibrant as ever, maintaining an active social schedule, fourteen grass tennis courts and two paddle-tennis courts. And though more than a few sets of hands have tinkered with the course since Ross, Ron Prichard’s late-1990s restoration has returned a unity to it that had been missing for some time.

150 Windemere Road, Narragansett. Architects: Willie Davis, 1894; Donald Ross, 1927; Ron Prichard, 1997. Yardage: 6,691. Par: 71. Slope: 133.

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