Rhode Island has its share of outstanding courses

John Torsiello, Contributing Golf Writer

Newport, RI (Sports Network) - The United States Golf Association is bringing the U.S. Women's Open to one of the country's most venerable courses this year--Newport Country Club.

The charming, old-world, links-style course played host to the first U.S. Men's Open in 1895 and in 1995 hosted the U.S. Amateur, won by none other than a young Tiger Woods.

From June 26 through July 2, the Women's Open will lure the top female players in the world to this tiny, affluent enclave known for its massive "cottages" along the ocean, great restaurants and expensive yachts cruising in the harbor.

If you are planning to be in the area to attend the Women's Open, why not hang around a few days and play some golf yourself. There are a number of solid tracts in the area, the best being The Orchard Course at Newport National Golf Club, located not far from Newport Country Club.

You'll be hard-pressed to find a better conditioned and more visually stunning public golf course in southern New England than The Orchard Course at Newport National Golf Club.

This a true delight, both for the senses and the avid golfer in all of us. The Orchard Course stretches to 7,200 yards from the tips and provides a stern test for even the most accomplished players. True to the links-like design of the course, the layout plays differently from day to day. When the breeze blows hard off the nearby Atlantic Ocean or Sakonnet Passage it can make the course play as difficult as the legendary Scottish links on a windy day.

The Orchard Course was designed by Arthur Hills and his associate Drew Rogers. They fit the routing well into the natural environment of the Rhode Island oceanside. Fescue lines the bent grass fairways and the tee boxes, which presents the impression that the track could just as easily be sitting in Ireland or Scotland than in the Ocean State.

The Orchard Course opened as a private facility, but new ownership and management decided to make the change to semi-private several years ago. Lucky us!

"The response we have had to the course has been incredible," said Matt Adams, a Connecticut native who serves as president and general manager of Newport National Golf Club. "I don't think there is another premium golf course that is available for play in this area. There isn't anything that compares to the challenge, beauty and experience at Newport National."

We certainly aren't going to argue the point. The holes at The Orchard Course offer a pleasing blend, ranging from the long and difficult, to the short and sublime. The fairways are ample and the greens on the large side with some undulation.

There are indeed no weak holes on the layout. Unlike some courses that give you a patsy to start with, The Orchard Course comes out swinging with a 522- yard, dogleg left par-five that has water guarding the left side from 150 yards away from the green to the putting surface. It's rated as the seventh toughest hole on the course.

Number eight is a slight dogleg right par-four that demands a tee shot over a waste area, as does the relatively short, 391-yard par-four ninth where birdie awaits two good shots.

Number 13 is perhaps the best par-three on the course. It measures 170 yards from the tips and plays over water to a large, oblong green that has bunkers guarding each side.

And the 17th may be the toughest par-four on the course, playing almost 490 yards with a huge bunker protecting the left side of the fairway landing area. The Orchard Course, built on a former nursery farm, has multiple teeing areas to meet the abilities of all players.

"I like to say that the land Newport National was built upon was the canvas Arthur Hills and Drew Rogers created their masterpiece on," said Adams, who has worked as a commentator for the Golf Channel and has authored several books.

There are a number of other very good courses in what is known as the South Country region of this tiny state.

In fact, there are 18 daily fee layouts (nine 18-holes and nine nine-holes) located within a short distance of one another in South County. Tourism officials and golf course owners have joined hands to market a "golf course trail," leading from South County to Newport in the southeastern corner of the state.

The South County Tourism Council is working with local inns and hotels to develop great stay and play golf packages. The Council offers golf and/or recreational packages on its website, www.southcountyri.com.

There is a high density of very good courses and a scenic route leading into Newport from the west and south. And once in Newport, there is much to do, whether it's the harbor cruises, gawking at the stately mansions, taking the cliff walk, or fine dinning. And there are the sparkling beaches of the Rhode Island coastline and plenty of great hotels and bed and breakfast establishments in the area.

Here are several other courses to visit: Foxwoods Golf and Country Club: Foxwoods Golf and Country Club in Richmond is a par-70, 6,004-yard "championship" golf course. Carved out of the woods of South County, the course is a respectful tribute to the classic New England golf course. Incorporated into the design are dramatic elevation changes offering panoramic views and natural contours of the scenic terrain that surrounds it. Accuracy and course management are required for this layout. Straight shots are more important than length as well as shot selection. Multiple tees accommodate players of every skill level. The elegant clubhouse is home to the popular Fountain View Grille. (401) 539-0300.www.foxwoodsgolf.com.

Fenner Hill Country Club: Rolling hills, water hazards and lush fairways combine to create a challenging golf course in Hope Valley. The course design and panoramic views capture the natural beauty of New England. The rolling hills, wide-open fairways and magnificent 17th century stonewalls are part of the course's unique charm. This par 72, 18-hole layout measures 6,636 yards from the back tees. (401) 539-8000. www.fennerhill.com.

Richmond Country Club: Richmond Country Club is the only public course in Rhode Island rated "Four Stars" in Golf Digest magazine's "Places to Play." The 18-hole, par 71, 6,515-yard layout is sculpted out of a pine forest and gives the feeling of playing at a course in the Carolinas. The lush bent grass fairways and greens are what you would expect at a private club. The clubhouse is nestled between the fairways with panoramic views of the golf course and offers fine dining. (401) 364-9200. www.rigolf.com.

Pinehurst Golf Club: One of South County's newest golf clubs, Pinehurst Golf Club, located appropriately enough in the town of Carolina, is a nine-hole course is set among the beautiful South County pines. There are three tee boxes on every hole, offering every caliber player a challenge on this par-35, 3,010-yard course. Pinehurst offers rolling fairways and bent grass greens as well as tough 540-yard par-five to test your skills. (401) 364-8600. www.pinehurstgolfri.com.

Rose Hill Golf Club: This 9-hole, par-three course in Richmond has multiple bent grass tee boxes for every skill-level. Bent grass greens provide the "true roll" all golfers come to expect in a quality course. Bunkers are strategically placed around the course. Rose Hill's open vistas with rolling mounds and a scenic pond provides challenges in a "family-friendly" environment. (401) 788-1088. www.rosehillgolfclub.com.

Beaver River Golf Club: Beaver River Golf Club in Richmond prides itself as being one of the finest public golf courses in Rhode Island. With beautiful use of the existing terrain, there are spectacular views throughout the layout. With three to four sets of tees on every hole, generous landing areas, greens that have subtle contours, fair but demanding bunker placements, and bent grass from tee to green, Beaver River offers a private atmosphere for the public golfer. This 18-hole, par-70 course plays 6,006 yards from the back tees and presents a fun test of golf that makes the golfer use a variety of shots. (401) 539-2100. www.rigolf.com/beaverriver.

Laurel Lane Country Club: Situated in the picturesque farmland of South County this course says it is "Rhode Island's best kept secret." Laurel Lane, located in West Kingston, offers visitors pristine golf conditions in a peaceful surrounding on a course that is challenging, forgiving and thus appealing to all skill levels. The greens and fairways are very well conditioned. Before your tee time, you can hone your game on the driving range and two practice greens. This 18-hole, 6,000-yard, par-71 course features rolling terrain, lush fairways and requires skillful shot placement. (401) 783-3844. www.videttagolf.com.

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