Review: Wannamoisett Country Club

Course Name: Wannamoisett Country Club

Designer: Willie Campbell (1898), Donald Ross (1914, Redesign)

Location: Rumford, Rhode Island

History: Few courses can match the rich golfing history Wannamoisett has. Originally founded in 1898, the course received immediate acclaim, as Harry Vardon played an exhibition match here in 1900. In 1914, Wannamoisett commissioned famous architect Donald Ross to redesign the course. The resultant course was even better and Ross remarked, “This is the best layout I have ever made. A fine course on 100 acres. No congestion, fine variety, and excellent golf.” A century later, and Ross’s words still ring true. In 1931, Wannamoisett hosted the PGA Championship won by Tom Creavy. In 1962, the first Northeast Amateur was played at Wannamoisett. One of the four “majors” of amateur golf, this annual tournament has been played at Wannamoisett ever since and has featured winners like Dustin Johnson (2007), Luke Donald (2000, 2001), Notah Begay III (1995), David Duval (1992), and Ben Crenshaw (1973). Tiger Woods also played in the event twice before turning pro. PGA Tour Pro Luke Guthrie holds the course record with a 61. In 2016, the Junior PGA Championship was played at Wannamoisett. Garnering national acclaim, Wannamoisett cracked the GolfDigest Top 100 courses in America in 1975 and is currently ranked 144 in America in 2017. It is also ranked number 2 course in Rhode Island behind Newport Country Club in 2017 by GolfDigest.

Conditions: 10/10, there isn’t a blade of grass out of place at Wannamoisett and that’s a testament to the amazing job Mark Daniels does as greenskeeper. The teeboxes at Wannamoisett are better than greens at some courses, and the fairways are meticulous. The rough at Wannamoisett is notoriously thick and long and sometimes necessitates a lay-up for even the best players. The most impressive feature about Wannamoisett are its greens, which Ben Crenshaw called his favorite in the world. These poa annua greens are perfectly smooth, and infamously fast, sometimes running at a 13-14 on the Stimpmeter.

Value: N/A, this is a private course.

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Blue                         69          6732                72.8               135

White                      69          6427                71.3               132

Gold                         73           5884               68.6              125

Red                           73           5723               72.6              128

Best Score: 72 (White Tees), 9/16/2017 with Dylan (Front 9) and Chris R. (Back 9)

Front 9 Best: 36 (White Tees), 7/31/2012 with Ryan S. and 2 others in the Junior Member Guest, 9/16/2017 with Dylan

Back 9 Best: 35 (White Tees), 8/2/2012 with Tim R. and one other person

Hole Highlights: Built on only 100 acres (a feat nearly impossible by today’s design standards), this charming par 69 is an architectural masterpiece. Donald Ross seamlessly designed 18 unique holes with strategic bunkering and difficult green complexes that continue to befuddle the best amateurs in the world.

The first four holes at Wannamoisett are often described as the hardest opening stretch in the state. Getting through this stretch at +1 or +2 means you are likely in for a very good round. The 1st hole is an intimidating 420 yard par 4 that runs slightly uphill. The patio is directly behind this teebox, and you will undoubtedly be nervous with so many eyes on you. There is a pond between the tee and fairway that only really catches topped drives. Two bunkers line the right fairway about 200 yards from the tee while another lines the left side at 240 yards from the tee. All of these bunkers have tall lips, and pretty much require a lay-up. The green on this hole is fairly receptive to balls that run up, but has several slopes that can leave some daunting putts. Two tiny bunkers guard the front 2 sides of the green while a grass bunker full of thick rough lines the back of the green.

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The view from the 1st teebox
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Approach to the par 4 1st

At 460 yards (and over 500 yards from the back tees), the beastly number 1 handicap 2nd hole plays as a par 5 for most members. The fairway is rather generous here, with tall trees lining this wide fairway on both sides. The fairway plateaus at about 230 yards, and drives that are short of this plateau will have no shot at the green in two. After the trees end on the right side at about 270 yards, the right fairway is guarded by 4 long bunkers. At the same time on the left side, out of bounds in the form of a parking lot looms all the way to the green. The layup for this hole must be short of a small creek, which runs about 60 yards before this green and collects more balls than it should. This large green runs hard back-to-front and is flanked by 3 bunkers on both sides.

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Your approach on the long par 4 2nd

The only real relief on the first 4 holes is the short par 3 3rd hole that plays only 131 yards. This hole is a perfect example of a good short par 3; good shots will be rewarded and lead to many birdies, but bad shots will make getting up-and-down a real challenge. This hole requires a carry to an elevated green, which is surrounded by a moat of bunker on the left and short. Behind this green is fescue, while the right side is guarded by the creek. While birdies can be had, this green is again sloped from back-to-front and can be very speedy.

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View of the world-famous par 3 3rd

The 429 yard 4th hole is no longer the number 1 handicap hole but is still a very challenging hole. This teebox is elevated and requires a carry of 125 yards over a valley to reach this fairway. This hole turns sharply left once you reach the fairway and requires a draw but overzealous hooks will go OB. Four bunkers line the right side of this fairway, while a narrow 50 yard long bunker lines the left side of the fairway. Once you get past the bunkers on the right, tall trees run to the green and pretty much require a punch-out if you drive it underneath them. The uphill approach to this large green is pretty straightforward, but a myriad of undulations on this green make it prone to three-putts.

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The view from the dogleg left 4th tee

Judging by the scorecard, shorter holes 5-7 should provide relief from the difficult holes, and tee-to-green they do. However, this is the hardest three hole stretch of green complexes in the state. The 5th hole plays only 363 yards, and can play even shorter if you cut this dogleg right’s corner. Three large bunkers with tall lips line the right side of the fairway and drives that cut too much will find these unless you get lucky. Drives that run through the fairway will be stuck in the thick left rough and won’t be able to spin their approach shots. The approach shot to this green is one of the most difficult on the course, even though most players only have a short iron in hand. This green is elevated, guarded by bunkers on three sides, and features a false front that many balls will collect in. Even more deadly is going over this green (which is common with a back pin). A heavy back-to-front and right-to-left slope will make it hard to keep your ball on the green if you go over.

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The “church pew” bunkering style is prominent on the par 4 5th

At 415 yards, the slight dogleg left 6th calls for a draw off this tee. Hooks will be lost OB left while a series of bunkers and trees lines the right side of this fairway. The most difficult aspect of this hole is the green, which in my opinion, is severely underrated as far as difficulty goes. There are several plateaus on this green, and pin placements can often be found on these plateaus, making speed miserable to judge.

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The approach to the par 4 6th

At 335 yards, the straightaway par 4 7th offers the best chance at birdie of any par 4 on the difficult front side. Straight drives will be rewarded here, but wayward drives on both sides of this fairway will be most likely be blocked out by trees or bunkered. At about 250 yards, this fairway slopes hard to the right and most good drives will trickle down here, leaving an uphill approach shot. Like the 5th hole, the 7th green also features a brutal false front and runs hard back-to-front. There is a deep bunker long right of this green that is almost impossible to get up-and-down on. One year when caddying in the Northeast Amateur, my player made a 9 on this hole only 120 yards out from the green due to the false front.

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The 7th approach at sunset

The 8th hole is a beautiful downhill par 3 that plays 179 yards. Three bunkers guard the front of this green while a long slender one guards the right side. Balls that travel long left (common occurrence here) will find a thick grass bunker. As a tribute to Donald Ross, a replica of this 8th hole was selected to be part of Boyne Highlands Resort, a course that features 18 Ross holes from his best courses.

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The medium-length downhill par 3 8th

Although holes 5-8 can be had, the number 3 handicap 9th hole is a return to the difficulty of the first four holes. At 435 yards, this hole proves very difficult, especially for shorter hitters. While the fairway is pretty generous, bunkers and thick rough line both sides of this long par 4. The fairway runs out at about 320 yards to give way to a pond players will have to carry to get to this elevated green. Two bunkers guard the left side of this green, while another false front collects many balls that couldn’t quite reach the green in two.

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The approach over water on the par 4 9th

All in all, the front 9 at Wannamoisett is one of the most difficult 9’s in Rhode Island, as evidenced by my best score of +2 36 despite hundreds of tries. There are very few birdie holes, and avoiding a bogey requires almost perfection. In contrast, the back 9 is much more gettable and even features the lone par 5. The 10th hole is a complicated 403 yard par 4 that features 12 bunkers. Three line the right fairway at about 210 yards, while six line the left side along the entire fairway. For long hitters, the most nefarious bunker is a crossbunker in the center of the fairway 285 yards from the tee. The approach shot to this hole is blind, as this large, relatively flat green is hidden by a large hill about 40 yards before the green. As a result, this flag is the tallest on the course, and often all you can see.

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Eventual Northeast Amateur champion Collin Morikawa putts on the 10th green

While there are no bad holes at Wannamoisett, it’s hard to argue that the 11th isn’t the most bland. At 384 yards, this hole is straightforward with a wide fairway. Trees and bunkers line the fairway starting around the landing areas of drives but most straight drives have no trouble avoiding these. The most difficult part of this hole is the large green, which features three plateaus and runs hard back-to-front.

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The view from the 11th tee during Fall
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The approach on 11 at sunset, PC: Dylan Kane

The 12th hole is one of my favorites on the course and one of the most unique par 3’s I’ve ever played. At 195 yards, this hole runs straight uphill and requires a wood for many players. This green is a bowl and funnels to the center, so most balls that find the green will lead to good birdie opportunities. Three tiny bunkers line the left side of this hole while a huge bunker nicknamed the “Sahara” lines the right side of this hole for about 40 yards. Needless to say, you want to avoid this bunker.

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Doug Ghim plays the 12th in the 2017 Northeast Amateur
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The devastating “Sahara” bunker on the 12th

At only 369 yards, the downhill par 4 13rd is another birdie hole if you can find the fairway. However, balls that miss the fairway here will be in trouble. A thick forest of trees lines the left side of this fairway and requires a punchout while two bunkers and sporadic tall trees line the right side. This green also features two plateaus and is well-bunkered.

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View from the elevated 13th teebox

The 350 yard 14th might be the trickiest 350 yard hole I’ve ever played. This hole is a sharp dogleg right and a large pond guards the right side the entire way. Bold players will try to cut the corner with driver but the further right you go, the farther you will have to carry it to avoid the water. Players that decide to play it safe with 3 wood or iron will have to contend with a large bunker at the elbow of the dogleg and an awkward angle into this green. The green on this hole is difficult, and is surrounded on three sides by a moat of bunker. This bunker is very narrow, and you’ll frequently get downhill lies in it.

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The risk/reward par 4 14th

Despite being the 18th handicap hole, I find the 180 par 3 15th to be the most difficult of the par 3’s at Wannamoisett. This uphill par 3 isn’t the longest hole, but its green is much less receptive than the 12th. This green is well-guarded by bunkers on both sides and features both right-to-left and back-to-front slopes.

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The difficult uphill 18th handicap 15th

At 426 yards, the beautiful par 4 16th is the number 2 handicap hole and probably the hardest hole on the back 9. This slight dogleg left’s teeshot is framed by tall trees on both sides and calls for a slight draw to have the best approach shot in. Most players will have a long iron or hybrid into this large green which slopes hard left-to-right.

You have to wait 17 holes to reach the only par 5 at Wannamoisett, the 530 yard 17th. This long, straight par 5 runs along Pawtucket Avenue and balls hit left the entire length of the hole will find the road. The right rough on this hole is also brutal, but many people end up here because they are afraid of going OB. Farther to the right is the 14th pond, which shouldn’t really be in play, but I’d be lying if I haven’t been there before. While this hole is reachable in two, this green is very well protected by bunkers and requires a near perfect shot to hold the green. The lay-up on this hole is also difficult and should be on the right side of the fairway to avoid two large cross bunkers on the left side.

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View from the 17th green at sunset

At 423 yards, the finishing hole at Wannamoisett is a challenging dogleg left that is pretty confusing the first time you play it. Ideally, you want to cut the corner here to avoid a long shot in, but a large bunker and trees require a 200+ yard carry to reach the fairway. A common aiming point is towards a tall tree on the right side of the fairway that leaves about 190 yards in. Lay-ups on this hole are fairly difficult due to several fairway bunkers about 80 yards short of this green. The green itself on this hole is large and features many undulations. A particularly brutal pin position is back-center on a plateau.

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Theo Humphrey plays the 18th in front of a crowd at the Northeast Amateur

Best Par 3: 3rd hole, 131 yards, 17th handicap. Although I am incredibly fond of the 12th hole, it’s hard to argue against the short 3rd, which was chosen as one of the top 500 holes in World by Golf Magazine in 2000. All short par 3’s should be this good at rewarding accurate shots and punishing poor shots.

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The complex bunkering around the par 3 3rd

Best Par 4: 16th hole, 426 yards, 2nd handicap. With 13 good par 4’s to choose from, deciding on one was not easy and there are several worthy of this honor. However, the 16th is just a fantastic golf hole. It is one of the best driving holes I’ve ever played and fun all around.

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The picturesque drive on the 16th

Best Par 5: 17th hole, 530 yards, 12th handicap. The only par 5 had no competition, but is still a fantastic hole in many ways. The strategic bunkering on 17 is especially salient, with bunkers affecting the drive, lay-up, and approach shots. Birdies can be had here but so can big numbers.

General Comments: The biggest complaint amongst members and pros alike is the fact that you can only hit short irons on the driving range. As an old course that was built on 100 acres, there was no original design for a range and the current one is squeezed in between the 10th and 11th holes. For those looking to hit woods, I recommend using the net in the basement. The short game facilities at Wannamoisett are incredible, with an impeccably maintained huge putting green and chipping green. Pace of play at Wannamoisett is pretty variable, as rounds can range from 1:45 (my best) to 4 hours on a busy Saturday morning. New rules regarding pace of play have been enacted to keep rounds timely. While there is a pool and tennis court, Wannamoisett is first and foremost a golf club and many of the top players in the state play out of here. Junior golf at Wannamoisett is also among the best in the state with numerous successful college and amateur players originating here. PRO TIP: Almost every lost ball you find at Wannamoisett is a Titleist ProV1, and my primary source of new balls is the 14th pond and 4th trees.

Verdict: Simply put, Wannamoisett’s rich history, perfect conditioning, and stellar design make it one of the best classic courses in America. If it were on the water instead of a city, there is no doubt that it would be top 50 in the country.

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