Review: Winnapaug Country Club

Course Name: Winnapaug Country Club

Designer: Donald Ross (1922)

Location: Westerly, Rhode Island

History: One of two Donald Ross courses open to the public in Rhode Island (Triggs being the other), Winnapaug opened in 1922 and is currently semi-private.

Conditions: 5/10, the conditions at Winnapaug are the most disappointing aspect by far. The greens are fairly slow, and the fairways and teeboxes are rather barren at times.

Value: 7/10, This may be the Winter Rates, but their site is saying $40 to play 18 with a cart. I think it’s a bit more expensive in the summer, but I always was able to find pretty good deals online.

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 Highlights: Like any Ross course, Winnapaug has 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 here will leave you an uphill wedge to a tiny, extremely undulating green. Balls short of this green will roll down the hill while balls that go long will be OB. A par is a great score here on this gem of a hole. All four par fives at Winnapaug are short and scorable and the 2nd is no exception at 496 yards. This hole snakes in an S shape, with OB right and 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 be 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 both sides will be lost. The fairway narrows quite a bit as you get near the green and the final 150 yards of right fairway are guarded by a pond. Par is a very good score here.

Holes 5 and 6 are far weaker designs than the initial four holes. Hole 5 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 here. 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 pretty severe dogleg right with two elevation changes. Your drive here is straight downhill and pretty picturesque. From the bottom of the fairway, you will have a blind approach shot straight uphill and will have to use a windmill in the background to judge where the green is. It’s just a really fun hole, and the walk up to the green to see where your ball landed gets your blood pumping. Similarly to the 7th, you can really see Ross’s genius on the 355 dogleg leg 8th hole. You only need about 210 yards off the tee here, and balls that don’t draw will be in trouble over 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 whole way and longer hitters will be able to go for this green in two 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 even sniff 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 road, the 10th hole is a rather bland straightaway long par 4 at 405 yards. With the wind and OB to the left and right, this hole is not easy, but there’s not really much going on here. 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), these are out of bounds. 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 beyond 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 whole way, and this fairway narrows quite a bit as you reach this green.

After a lengthy walk across the street, the difficult 405 yard 14th awaits you. This dogleg left is pretty narrow and drives that don’t go at least 250 might be blocked out by trees on the left. While there are no bunkers on this 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 wayward teeshots here will be lost. Drives in the fairway will have a downhill approach to hit this green in two but will just have to avoid a manmade water drain short right of this green that’s been empty both times I’ve played. While the 12th might get more talk, the 16th is easily the best designed par 3 at 179 yards. 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 pulls. 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 17th – the best par 4 on the back 9 in my opinion. This long, straight 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 some of the chips around this green can be devastating. The finishing hole at Winnipaug is an interesting hole. At only 340 yards and downhill, this hole provides a decent scoring chance. The teebox on this hole is also 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 can break heavily.

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 chipping/putting green near the clubhouse. Pace of play has been pretty lackluster both times I’ve played, with severe backups on the first 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 course, but there are definitely some better ones (Shennecossett, Lake of Isles, Meadow Brook) if you’re willing to drive a little farther.

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