Combining Golf & Tennis in Newport, R.I.

By: John Torsiello


Golf and tennis go together like . . . well . . . the words "country" and "club." The two sports have been synonymous since men and women thought it would be a nice idea to have a place all to themselves where they could recreate and socialize. Today, most true country clubs still offer both golf and tennis, and many members enjoy both activities. I have a number of friends who alternate the sports on various days of the week.

The Tennis Hall of Fame

Golf and tennis had the beginnings in a more genteel, refined age when exercise and relaxing on the veranda of the clubhouse with a cocktail were highly regarded by cultured individuals. If you enjoy both sports, I've got the perfect place to blend them together on one memorable road trip: Newport, R.I.

The little town by Narragansett Bay, once the summer home to the mega-wealthy of the country and whose "cottages" still serve as a primary tourist attraction, is also the site of the National Tennis Hall of Fame (www.tennisfame.com), a non-profit institution dedicated to preserving the history of the game.

The Hall of Fame was actually the site of the first U.S. National Championships in 1881, officially-sanctioned by the U.S. Tennis Association in 1954, and recognized by the International Tennis Federation in 1986. Over the last decade, the complex and museum were completely restored and updated thanks to a $7.5 million renovation and endowment.

If you love tennis this is a must-see. The galleries are full of the history of the game, with interactive exhibits, videos and memorabilia galore. A cool sidelight is that the gallery is set in the original club rooms of the old Newport Casino, which was designed by none other than Stanford White, one of the masters of American architecture.

There's another neat thing about the Tennis Hall of Fame: you can actually play on the grass courts the Hall maintains through a rental program. If you've never played on grass you have no idea who much fun the experience is. You feel transported back to another time when you step onto the green surface and look around at the Hall of Fame and spectator seating that is full when the facility hosts its annual professional tournament each summer, one of the few grass court events left in the U.S. The Hall also holds its annual induction ceremonies during the summer.

Newport National Golf Club

When you have had your fill of the tennis, it's time to play some golf. And there is hardly a better place to play in the Northeast than Newport National Golf Club (www.newportnational.com) in Middletown, a short drive from downtown Newport. Remember, I'm talking about Newport National Golf Club and not Newport Country Club, which hosted the first U.S. Open and is off-limits to all but its members.

Routed on 200 acres of a former orchard and designed by Arthur Hills and his associate Drew Rogers, Newport National has an Irish or Scottish links flavor to it, with wide-open fairways, tall fescue that grows off the short grass, lots of bunkers, and greens that allow for run-up shots. It really is one of the more beautiful and well-maintained tracks in New England, offering sweeping vistas of the Sakonnet Passage, Atlantic Ocean and Narragansett Bay. By the way, Golf Channel commentator and noted author, Matt Adams, serves as general manager of the club.

Newport National

At a whopping 7,244 yards from the back markers, where it has a slope of 138, Newport National features greens, tees and fairways consisting of 100 percent seaside bentgrass. The wind often blows off the water, making the venue resemble a true seaside links. There are four other sets of tees that make the course playable for golfers of all abilities. My advice? Play down one or two tees.

The course begins with a 550-yard par-5 that sweeps to the left around a large natural area. The third hole, a 198-yard par-3, is reminiscent of early 20th Century designs, with a raised green surrounded by bunkers.

The fourth hole is the best short par-4 on the layout. It plays just 327 yards from the tips and big hitters can cut off distance by taking the tee shot straight over bunkers and high grass that guard the left side of the fairway. The eighth is a dogleg right, 567-yard par-5 that finishes at a rectangular green which makes you think of classic Scottish courses and their quirky putting surfaces.

Number 17 is a beefy par-4 measuring 489 yards from the tips. A long and deep, serpentine bunker guards the left edge of the fairway, and if the wind is in your face it's almost impossible to get home in two.

I recommend three other courses in the Newport area - Fenner Hill and Beaver River golf clubs and Laurel Lane Country Club. All three facilities are located with a few minutes of one another along or just off Route 91, and offer top-notch golf and superb conditions at very affordable prices.

Opened only a few years ago, Richmond's Beaver River Golf Club features solid conditions and great greens. The course favors careful course management and a thoughtful approach to each shot, rather than brawn.

Beaver River (www.beaverrivergolf.com) plays only 6,006 yards from the way-backs, but narrow, tree-lined fairways - many of which are bend one way or the other - and plenty of hazards can turn a seemingly easy hole into a double-bogey. The 333-yard second hole is a prime example of the risk/reward philosophy that dominates Beaver River's routing. You can cut off a huge chuck of yardage on the dogleg-left by drawing your tee shot. But miss it left or straight and the woods come into play. Several other holes on the front side dare you to take a driver over the trees framing the doglegs to shorten the hole.

The 10th is a great, short par-4, measuring only 342 yards from the tips. But a pond guards the right side and a large tree along the left of the fairway stands ready to gobble up and spit out shots. A well-hit driver will leave you with a short pitch to the green, but can also cause headaches if not struck precisely.

Number 12 is by far the toughest hole on the course. It's a 453-yard par-4 that demands a superbly positioned drive to leave a clear shot to a green protected by wetlands and bunkers. Par here feels like birdie.

Number 18 is a good finisher. It plays 410 yards from the tips, with the drive needing to stay clear of woods left and right and a large fairway bunker. The approach is to a deep green that has a pond guarding the left side. Beaver River is a course that will leave you wanting more.

Laurel Lane (www.laurellanecountryclub.com) in West Kingston bills itself as "The Gem of South County," and features immaculate conditions and a player-friendly routing. This is another relatively short (6,128 yards) course that has two par-4s - the first and 10th - that play over 400 yards, with a number of short two-shotters which allow the player to get it as close to the green as possible with driver or play safe with a fairway wood or long-iron off the tee.

The toughest hole on the track is, ironically, the first. The 400-yard par-4 opener seems pretty straightforward. But a pond protects the right side of the landing area and three bunkers gobble up shots that wander too far left.

Number 18 is a fine finishing hole, measuring 536 yards from the tips. The layout in fact ends with an interesting mix of two par-3s and two par-5s.

Fenner Hill Golf Club (www.fennerhill.com), located in Hope Valley and another track that is only a few years old, is another shot-maker's delight. Longer than Laurel Lane and Beaver River at 6,650 yards from the back tees, Fenner Hill places a premium on accurate drives and careful approaches. There are a number of forced carries here, which can complicate matters but also add to the thrill of playing.

The No. 1 handicap hole is the 579-yard par-5 eighth, which is just one beast of a challenge and a true three-shot hole for most. The 15th is perhaps Fenner Hill's signature hole. Starting at a raised promontory, the 325-yard par-4 has a pond protecting the right side of the putting surface and three bunkers standing sentinel front and left of the green.

Number 17 is a very nice example of a short but tough par-4. It plays only 315 yards, but doglegs left and the drive must clear a waste area and stay away from fairway traps on either side of the landing area. The 18th is a difficult way to conclude a round. The par-4 stretches 455 yards from the tips and requires a second shot over a waste area to a slightly elevated green. Get home in two and make par and you'll feel uplifted as you head to the 19th hole.

If staying in Newport, there are lots of great restaurants and funky bars near the marina area. The place is really hopping during the summer months when the college kids are home and tourists flock to the town to check out the action. For a side trip, visit the America's Cup Museum in nearby Bristol that pays homage to the yachting race that was held for many years just offshore from Newport.

John Torsiello is an editor/writer living in Connecticut. He has written extensively about all aspects of the golf industry for a number of national and regional publications. He is a regular contributor to "Golf Course Industry," "Lawn and Landscape," "Golfing" and "Fairway Living" magazines as well as various online publications. He has strong, ongoing relationships with industry professionals and has worked closely with course owners, architects, developers, course superintendents and general managers around the country. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including first place from the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association for a piece that appeared in "Golf Course Industry" magazine.


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