6,309 yards, 128 slope from the Black tees
After years and years and years and years. And years. And years of talking about it, Golfadelphia finally made it to Rhode Island for a round of golf. The state is full of spectacular golf and I could have stayed for weeks on end but my travels allowed me a single round. So I decided to check out Wanumetonomy. Just above Newport overlooking the bay around Coddington Point, the course was designed by Seth Raynor and opened for play in 1922. Thomas Suffern Tailer, a banker and golf enthusiast who founded the nearby NLE Ocean Links golf course (another Raynor design on which Macdonald consulted), wanted to establish a course that the locals could play, so hired Raynor to design such a course on the site. The first nine holes were built in 1921 – 22 while the second nine were built in 1923 – 24. While there have been some changes here and there, along with some tree installations, there has never been an extensive renovation or re-design, so the course is full of pure Raynor design traits that tend towards subtle in order to coalesce with the splendid natural surrounds.
Set on a hillside running to Narragansett Bay with views of the water pretty much every where, there are some very cool templates here, including one of the better Maiden greens I’ve come across. The Eden is also excellent. What struck me most though was the links feel the holes had with the land, and how they could be played. Very much a ground-based design structure while impressive bunkers instill aerial components, the course allows all styles of play to flourish and is versatile enough to handle the wind that frequently swirls and whisks about the hillside. There’s opportunity here for tree removal to open up even more of the majestic views of the bay while I believe the course might be undergoing work relatively soon to restore some of the vintage features that have changed over time. As it stands now, however, Wanu is a solid seaside classic that I don’t think I would ever tire of playing.
Wanu was the first leg of my summer New England trip. I cursed myself in the car over and over as I realized how manageable of a drive it was from Philadelphia to Rhode Island, once again reaffirming I should have done this much much sooner. Running into throngs of traffic, I arrived about ten minutes before we were to tee off, frayed from the reckless driving I was forced to engage in to get there in time. It all melted away as soon as I looked yonder to the bay and those first breezes reached me, instantly putting me at ease. Just like that, I knew I was at the place I needed to be at that point in time. And it was indeed time. Time to begin exploring the universe of golf design up here in all its fascinating character and history.
The First is a 318 yard par 4 (from the Black tees). Starting at the top of the hill, the fairway is downhill and veers to the right from the tee, making most tee shots blind. With the length and the downhill, some may be able to reach the green with driver that comes with its own issues while other may opt for a shorter club off the tee to negotiate what lies ahead. The right side is ideal for the approach, considering the direction of movement based on the hillside. Three large bunkers separate the fairway from the green and the other wise of them, there’s a lot of short grass area surrounding the green along with slender bunkers that wrap themselves around the perimeter of the green. A nice starting hole that requires thought, strategy and options fro the word go.
The Second is a 313 yard par 4. We’re heading down towards the water and this shorter dog leg left sets us in the right direction. The tree line on the left along with a single tree sticking out from that line guard the line to the green from the tee. The long hitters must hit over them to reach the green, which likely depends on what the wind is doing. The fairway sways right before turning left and down to the green, with cross bunkers about 100 yards out. Narrow, long bunkers line the sides of the green, so the approach in needs to be exact.
The Third is a 451 yard par 4. The water is in view, albeit obscured by trees. Regardless, we continue towards it, the hole with a crook to the right. The change in length is fitting; two shorter par 4’s before it and now with seemingly limitless width and the water in the background, we have a long par 4. A small creek runs across the fairway. This is the only hazard between us and the green. Regardless, it’s effective, and the golfer must plan for it from the tee. The green is surrounded by those slender lurking bunkers, so our play must focus as we near the green.
The Fourth is a 391 yard par 4. Heading across the property now along the coast line, the fairway tilts right to left. The green moves in the same direction, pushed up from the fairway. A couple bunkers reside to the right of the green, which is where most will want their approaches to head considering the terrain movement. The fall off on the left side and rear is significant as well.
The Fifth is a 149 yard par 3. Tucked in to the corner of the property, the tee is above the green and this follows the Short template. The right side is guarded by a longer bunker while the left side by water. The front does have a short tongue moving downhill away from the green, leaving a bit of room for a miss short. The only other acceptable miss is in the bunker but then be wary of the overdoing it into the water on the other side.
The Sixth is a 416 yard par 4. Now as close as we can get to the coast line, we move across it with this slight dog leg right. Perhaps this is modeled after a Cape, as the right side is out of bounds yet trees complicate the shot on that side. There are bunkers hiding off to the right as well after the trees. Straight out seems safe but there are trees that could interfere with those shots. After the fairway turns, the green is straight ahead. Left to right movement pervades and those that want to run up their shots can do so, but there is a bunker on the left short of the green that will come into play if shots try to use the high side of the terrain too much. The green is well bunkered on its sides, like we’ve seen at most of them thus far. With the bay close at hand, we pause a moment or two before climbing back up the hill to the clubhouse.
The Seventh is a 301 yard par 4. The shortest par 4 in stated yardage yet it plays longer because of the grade uphill. The U.S. Naval Undersea Warfare Center is off to the right, a sprawling complex that manages to remain fairly unobtrusive. As we’ve grown accustomed, the fairway allows a good amount of freedom to set up the approach, which then increases its demand on precision with the approach. Bunkers guard each corner of the green and everything moves left to right.
The Eighth is a 389 yard par 4. The climb continues . The creek we came across at the Third meets us here as well, crossing the fairway very early on and then along the entire right side through the green. Bunkers are on the left at different points. The closest bunker to the green on the left will snag those weak approaches while the sides of the green are bunkered as well. The green moves quickly back to front. Negotiate the terrain movement and hazards through thought and skill.
The Ninth is a 369 yard par 4. An uphill dog leg left framed by trees on both sides. The trees give way to the approach, which is to a green well above us, blind. Like the hole prior, the green moves well from back to front and right to left. Bunkers are about this green as well except the rear, but if your approach ends up on the backside, you’ll have a tough enough time figuring out the touch needed to address the back to front green movement. And just like that, we looped down to the water and back.
The front nine starts with a couple short clever par 4’s before things stretch out and widening, then constricting at the short par 3 before stretching out the rest of the way. The routing about the hillside and water is good and demands a good amount of thought in planning the shots into the well bunkered greens. I would rank them 3, 8, 7, 1, 2, 5, 6, 9, 4.
The back nine starts with the 392 yard par 4 Tenth. Now moving across with the coastline at the top of the property, the hillside running right to left, with fairway bunkers on the low side to collect those shots falling victim to the pull of the terrain. The green is above the fairway, all sides guarded by bunkers except the rear left, where the Eleventh tee resides. The bunkers are more severe here than normal. The elevation changes from right to left should also be noted. A much stiffer opening hole for this set of nines, which is matched by the splendid views below.
Something happened here. I was playing fine up to this point but an image came into my mind as to how I needed to swing. More free and loose, it was a newfound lashing at the ball without so much defensiveness. It took a little bit to harness but the idea was there and I knew it was only a matter of time. This would stay with me the rest of the trip, playing all rounds pretty well except for at York, where the third round in 24 hours amidst 10 hours of driving finally took its toll. Regardless, it was borne here and remained well thereafter.
The Eleventh is a 404 yard par 4. A small plot of land between the tee and Brown Road is a historical cemetery. About a dozen headstones can be seen, all of which have one of the better views of the course, with the emerald fairways shining and bay, all of it before them. A fine final resting place. We reached this hole at a perfect time with the sun highlighting its beauty and teed off in splendor. There used to be cross bunkers at each side of the fairway that ran perpendicular well into the fairway and complicated the tee shot, but they are now more set to the sides. As it stands, the tee shot is down the hill, almost unfettered. There’s a large bunker on either side of the green but the fairway runs right into the green. From the fairway it seems the approach is headed straight for the water. The hole showcases how glorious views about the course can be and I was fortunate to catch it at the right time.
The Twelfth is a 173 yard par 3. This is a rendition of the Eden. Moving back up the hill, the Strath on the right is sizable, starting at the front and wrapping around that side, a large sand swath that lies beneath the green in Eden fashion. The Hill bunker on the left is deeper than the one on the right. Trees loom close to the green, creating another layer of defense, especially rear of the green, where the green falls off. The movement of the green is certainly lively, as it should be. In all, it’s a solid par 3 where a measure of precision must be exacted at the tee to get the ball below the hole or the slopes, bunkers and/or green movement will get you.
The Thirteenth is a 347 yard par 4. Moving towards the water yet again with this dog leg right, all downhill. Two bunkers on either side of the fairway at the turn force the golfer to think twice about how to go about things, or simply execute the tee shot so it stays in the fairway. After the turn, the fairway moves to the green, which is deep and as we have learned is one of the course’s strong calling cards, well bunkered. The further left off the tee opens up the green at its entry point as well. Another solid, shorter par 4, another strong calling card of the course.
The photo below gives us the sun-kissed background one last time as the evident fog comes lazily rolling in, cooling us for the closing stretch from the searing summer day. The dramatic change in setting was a sight to behold. As things transformed in the matter of a hole, I relished on how there is still golf out there you have to work a bit to find, but there are indeed pockets of hidden bliss for those of us interested.
The Fourteenth is a 334 yard par 4. We headed back up the hill, fog and all. The tee shot is blind but there are two horizontal bunkers that pinch into the fairway from both sides. After the bunkers, the fairway ascends and feeds right into the green. While I mentioned that one of the course’s strengths is its green side bunkering, this is the only green that is bunker less. Instead, the green falls off on the sides. The green is large and a spine runs through it, leaving a back to front movement.
The Fifteenth is a 408 yard par 4. The climb uphill continues, with the tee shot a forced carry over water. The fairway angles at about 11:00 on the other side, where trees lines each side. Like the hole prior, there are two bunkers that pinch the fairway. I call them gateway bunkers and the golfer must address them from the tee (if they’re really long) or second shot. The green is one of my favorite on the course and is a Maiden template. A lesser used template by Raynor, yet the greens are extraordinary in how they dictate play moving backwards to the tee. A two-tiered green similar to a double plateau except both tiers are at the rear with a valley between them, it is typically set at an angle from the tee (which it is here) and guarded by four bunkers that should be severe (as is the case here as well). Some claim that the bunkers need to be pot bunkers since this is what appears at the original, the Sixth at Royal St. George’s, yet the bunkers here are sufficiently deep in accomplishing this purpose. The two tiers are are at the rear, the valley between them, all of it moving back to front towards the open entry point. Approach shots that land on the opposite tier face a very challenging putt and those that are past the hole and on the opposite side of the pin even more so. The question really becomes where do you want your approach with respect to the pin, which turns into how you prefer yours putts. They’ll all face some type of undulation and movement. Those who opt for short and downhill of it will really need to impart a lot of speed to get the ball close while those who are pin high will still need to climb a bit up the tier to the pin and account for the movement towards the front. It’s a remarkable feature and certainly the best I have come across.
The Sixteenth is a 556 yard par 5. The fog was rather heavy at this point and while there was talk of heading in since the clubhouse was nearby, we soldiered on. This is the only par 5 on the course, which plays downhill the entire way. Essentially straightaway although the tee position has the hole playing at an angle, there’s bunker on the left side that comes into play for the tee shot. There is water that plays off the right side closer to the green. The green is above the fairway and of course well bunkered, all of them below and leaving a small entry point front and center.
The Seventeenth is a 206 yard par 3. The longest par 3 of the course and playing uphill. The hole has Redan template characteristics in running right to left diagonally and with the deep bunkering at the left while trees and a fall off are at the rear. Deviously, the rear part of the green is a preferable landing area, which avoids the treacherous bunkering at the front and sides. This was strictly a hit and hope hole for me. It was difficult to follow the shots because of the fog but mine felt fairly good and once we reached the green, I saw that I was on the front left quadrant of the green. It’s a very strong par 3 and full of strategic challenge.
The Eighteenth is a 391 yard par 4. Playing uphill, the fairway tilts from left to right and there’s a couple fairway bunkers on the left coming into play off the tee. A couple bunkers then show up on the right closer to the green just short of it, while longer bunkers line the rear and left side. The approach is blind to the green for the most part. For us, pretty much every shot was blind at this point, but we managed to finish and head to the refuge of the clubhouse.
The back nine is picturesque, varied and never really eases off except for the par 5. I would rank them 15, 17, 12, 10, 11, 14, 13, 18, 16.
Generally, Wanumetonomy is a gem of a classic in a spectacular setting that clearly demonstrates Raynor did not need template holes for a great design. Taking cues from the land and boundaries, the course relies on angles, hillsides and bunkering for its interest. A barrage of short par 4’s set themselves apart with those angles and green complexes with their undulations and bunkers, as well as how they’re configured to the fairways. This could be the only Raynor design I have come across without a Biarritz green, but I never noticed because I was too busy thinking my way about the course. Mind you, the Eden, Maiden green and Seventeenth green with some vestiges of a template are there and well done, but the course seems to concern itself with flow and playing the right way in line with its setting. This it does handsomely. Drawing inspiration from the seaside and watching the ball bounce joyously about the hills, there’s a pleasant antiquated feel to the game here. It made that fog rolling in like it did fit in perfectly with that so to speak. While a planned restoration should certainly enhance the strong suits of the course and tree removal would go a real long way, as it stands Wanu is a solid unsung charming venue.
The stage was now set for New England as the round settled my senses from the initial drive. Continuing up north, through Boston and still up even further, there was much more to take in. No rest for the weary and all that and as soon as my head hit the pillow, it felt like the alarm was going off. I had one of the first tee times of the day so before most of the hotel was even stirring, I was off again in that foggy unknown.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Set at the top of the hill and taking advantage of the views, the patio and bar are great places to hang out and take it all in.
Practice area: A range and putting/chipping green near the First tee.