Review: Winnapaug Country Club

Course Name: Winnapaug Country Club

Designer: Donald Ross (1922)

Location: Westerly, Rhode Island

History: Winnapaug opened in 1922 and is one of two Donald Ross courses open to the public in Rhode Island (Triggs is the other).

Conditions: 5/10, The conditioning at Winnapaug leaves a lot to be desired. The greens are on the slow side, and the fairways and teeboxes are rather barren at times.

Value: 6/10, A round at Winnapaug won’t break the bank with weekend rounds with a cart costing $55. It’s only $35 to walk on weekdays and there are discounts for twilight, seniors, and military as well.

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Blue                         72           6391               70.6               124

White                      72           5944               68.6               120

Red                          73           5183               69.1               119

Best Score: 88 (White Tees), 6/7/2015 with Ben S., Evan S., and Sam P.

Front 9 Best: 41 (White Tees), 6/7/2015 with Ben S., Evan S., and Sam P.

Back 9 Best: 44 (Blue Tees), 7/7/2013 with Dad

Hole Descriptions: As you’d expect from a Ross course, Winnapaug features some really strong holes. The 1st hole is one of the best as a 369 yard uphill par 4. For the first 250 yards or so, the hole is completely flat and pretty wide open. For the next 100 yards, the fairway runs straight uphill and narrows considerably, with dense forest on both sides. An ideal drive of about 240 yards will leave you an uphill wedge to a tiny, extremely undulating green. Balls short of this green will roll down the hill, while going long brings OB into play. A par is a great score here on this gem of a hole.

All four par fives at Winnapaug are reachable and the 2nd is no exception at 496 yards. This hole snakes in an S shape, with OB right and sandy mounds on the left. While you’ll always be able to find your ball to the left of this fairway, some of the lies are rocky and can get pretty nasty. Bunkers guard this sloping green on the right and behind. At 169 yards, the par 3 3rd is all about club selection, as this hole features a 40 foot elevation drop. This tiny green is difficult to hit and slopes hard back-to-front. The 4th hole is the number 1 handicap hole at 425 yards. This slight dogleg right is fairly generous off the tee, but wayward drives on either side will be lost. The fairway narrows quite a bit as you near the green and the final 150 yards of right fairway are guarded by a pond. Par is a strong score here.

Holes 5 and 6 are far weaker designs than the initial four holes. The 5th plays 338 yards uphill and to the left. This hole is pretty tight, and I don’t recommend taking more than a long iron off the tee. This green slopes hard right-to-left and a giant, deep bunker guards the left side of this green. As you stand on the 6th teebox, Westerly Airport is directly to your left and sometimes you can see planes landing. Unfortunately, this airport may be the most exciting aspect of this short, straightaway 127 yard par 3.

The 7th hole is a fantastic design, and one of the best on the course in my opinion. At 356 yards, this hole is a severe dogleg right with two elevation changes. Your drive here is straight downhill and pretty picturesque. From the bottom of the fairway, you’ll have a blind approach shot straight uphill. Pro Tip: Use the windmill in the background to judge where the green is. It’s just a really fun hole, and the walk up to see where your ball landed gets your blood pumping. Similarly to the 7th, Ross’s genius is on full display on the 355 yard dogleg left 8th. You only need about 210 yards off the tee here, and balls that don’t turn left will run through this fairway. This approach shot is once again uphill to a funky green guarded by a bunker short right. At 525 yards, the par 5 finishing hole is the longest on the course. However, this hole plays downhill the entire way and longer hitters will be able to reach this green with a good drive. Trees line both sides of this fairway, and the hole slides right about 150 yards from this green.

While you can’t see the Ocean on the front 9, the back 9 literally feels like you’re on the beach on some holes. The wind really comes into play on these holes, and some of the cart paths are littered with seashells. Visible from the Shore Road, the 10th hole is a rather bland straightaway 405 yard par 4. Out of bounds to the left and right coupled with the wind make this hole one of the more difficult at Winnapaug. The 11th hole is much more interesting as you tee up in the dunes on this 352 yard par 4. Swampland guards the left side of this fairway while backyards line the right side. However tempting it may be to play out of a perfect lie in someone’s backyard (Yes, I’ve been there), this is OB. Deep bunkers line both sides of this tiny green. Had the 12th hole been in better shape, it would easily be the prettiest on the golf course. This 167 yard par 3 usually plays straight into the wind, as tidal waters lie just behind this green. With your back straight to the water, the 487 par 5 13th is a supremely reachable hole, especially with the wind at your back. This dogleg left features OB on the left the entire way, and this fairway progressively narrows as you near the green.

After a lengthy walk back across Shore Road, the difficult 405 yard 14th awaits you. This dogleg left is quite narrow and drives that don’t travel at least 250 yards might be blocked out by trees on the left. While there are no bunkers on the entire hole, this green is tiny and slopes hard back-to-front. At 461 yards, the short par 5 15th is one of the easiest holes on the golf course but also one I’ve had serious trouble with. This drive is blind and narrow and any wayward teeshots here will be lost. Drives in the fairway will have a downhill approach to this green and will just have to avoid a manmade water drain short right of this green. While the 12th might get more talk, the 179 yard 16th is easily the best designed par 3 at Winnapaug. The teebox is elevated here, and the green is perched. Between you and the green is a valley with a large tree on the left that will knock down any leftward shots. Dense woods behind this sloping green provide a beautiful backdrop, and also collect any deep balls.

Winnapaug follows the best par 3 with the 435 yard 17th – the best par 4 on the back 9 in my opinion. This long, straightaway par 4 features woods on the right and mounds on the left. The approach shot to this severe back-to-front green is downhill, and chips around this green can be very difficult. The finishing hole at Winnipaug is an interesting one. At only 340 yards and downhill, this hole provides a decent opportunity to gain one final shot back. The teebox on this hole is pretty neat, as it is surrounded by rocks. There is a famous rock on the left side of this hole as well that looks like a meteor. Sparse trees line both sides of this sloping fairway, and the approach shot here is uphill to a perched green. Some of the putts you get on this hole break heavily.

Best Par 3: 16th Hole, 179 yards, 18th handicap. A dramatic par 3, this hole requires a carry over a valley to an elevated green. Pretty much any miss will leave a difficult up-and-down to a heavily sloping green. Shoutout to my friend Evan for nearly acing this hole and then missing a two-footer.

Best Par 4: 7th Hole, 356 yards, 15th handicap. I’m actually a big fan of the par fours at Winnapaug, as you can see Donald Ross’s influence on most of them. This is my favorite hole on the course with two elevation changes and a completely blind approach to an undulating green.

Best Par 5: 13th Hole, 487 yards, 16th handicap. The par fives at Winnapaug are short overall, but the most reachable is the 13th, a great risk/reward three-shotter. With the wind usually at your back off the Ocean, this dogleg left plays shorter than its yardage, but a pond short left of this green brings big numbers in play for bold golfers.

General Comments: You would expect an old public course in an area with very high property value to have no room for a driving range, but Winnapaug is an exception (barely), as their range spans only about 150 yards. There is, however, a fairly reliable practice green near the clubhouse. Pace of play has been pretty lackluster both times I’ve played, with severe backups on the 1st tee.

Verdict: Winnapaug is a conflicting course for me. There’s a lot to like – a good Ross design, reasonable price, and location on the beautiful RI seashore. However, slow pace of play and mediocre conditioning have never put Winnapaug at the top of my list. For visitors to Watch Hill/Westerly, Winnapaug is a solid option, but there are definitely better ones (Shennecossett, Lake of Isles, Meadow Brook) if you’re willing to drive a bit.

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