New England Trip, Day 4: Little States With Big-Time Golf

I’m back here in Boston tonight, right where I started. I have an early flight back home to Southern California tomorrow and then back to the “normal” life again…at least until I plan another golf trip!

I finished up my New England adventure with two more stops today on the way back up toward Beantown. The morning round was in the beautiful state of Connecticut…

Lake of Isles (North Course) • North Stonington, CT • 7/5/14

Lake of Isles is the golf course complement to the massive Foxwoods Casino/Resort. They have two courses here–North and South. The North is open to the public and the South is mostly private. I say “mostly” because they do allow some resort guest play on certain days of the week (and for a hefty stay and play fee). I wish I had the time and money to try and play both, but I just stuck with the North Course. It is rated as the top public course in Connecticut, according to Golf.com, after all.

I had booked a 7:30 tee time, which would be first off in the morning. The price was a hefty $160, which is the most I paid for a round this week, but sometimes you just have to suck it up to play the “best.” And as I’ve mentioned, really good golf just isn’t cheap on the East Coast. They did have a special going and gave me a voucher good for a second free round that could be used on any weekday over the next few months. Unfortunately, I know I won’t get back to Connecticut this year and the voucher was non-transferable, so it was a bit of a waste. I did give it to one of the guys I played with, so maybe he’ll be able to do something with it. I sure hope so.

Anyway, I was paired with three other guys as the lead group on a picture perfect morning. Yesterday’s storms took all the humidity with them and only left some strong winds behind. The winds made play a little tough at times, but it sure was refreshing after really hot/humid weather the first day and gloomy/rainy weather the second.

Things started off a little rough on a very tough 1st hole and then one of the carts died on the 2nd tee box. Luckily, two of us were singles with our own carts, so we were able to reshuffle and continue on. Once we settled in, it was smooth going and we finished in four hours.

If anyone saw my tweets this morning (@golfnomadbaa), you may have noticed the repetition of the word “wow” in reference to Lake of Isles. This course definitely has the wow factor. It was designed by Rees Jones and clearly the tribal ownership has spared no expense to create a world-class resort golf facility. The clubhouse is massive, the course was very well-conditioned (outside a few tiny bad spots as the fairway grass still recovers from a harsh, cold winter) and the staff is friendly. It’s a Troon-managed facility, so that’s almost always a sign of great service.

As for the course itself, it’s a knockout. Easily my favorite of this trip. It is absolutely gorgeous everywhere you look and the layout keeps you interested, challenged and entertained all the way through. There is no let-down visually, from the occasional granite rock outcropping on the edge of a hillside to the abundance of mature trees to the native marshy areas with tall reeds to the views of the shimmering lake itself (which does have some tiny islands in it, hence the name). It’s a feast for all the senses and a beast of a layout, too.

It twists and turns up, down and around the hills. Each hole is framed beautifully with dramatic contours that are equally intimidating and inspiring to look at. Fairways go from wide to narrow in an instant and force you to hit good shots. Many of the greens are elevated and very well-protected by bunkers, false edges and mounds to make approach shots tough to judge. The putting surfaces can also be deceptive. They don’t break as much as they look and they are built sloping up and away from the hillsides, so it’s kind of an optical illusion trying to figure what is uphill and what is downhill once you are standing on them.

Both the 1st (long par-5) and 10th (par-4 that plays longer than its yardage) holes are very tough, yet stunning-looking openers for each side, but the real show-stopper is the par-3 11th. It’s kind of a peninsula green out on the lake and it’s just awesome to behold. I won’t say for sure, but there’s a very good likelihood it’s going to be a calendar picture next year!

Foxwoods is a popular resort and Mohegan Sun is also nearby, so if you are visiting either one for any reason, don’t pass up an opportunity to play Lake of Isles North. It costs a little bit more than your average round, but it’s well worth the splurge. One of the prettiest courses I’ve ever played and it’s a fantastic layout, so it’s hard not to gush a bit.

Some pictures from Lake of Isles (North Course) (7/5/14):

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I hit the road east, though there’s not a real direct route over to the Newport, Rhode Island area where I planned to play in the afternoon. The drive took a little longer than expected and I stopped at a Friendly’s burger/ice cream place for some lunch. Delicious “build your own” burger with a ton of toppings to choose from. Disappointing milkshake (or as they call it there, a “Fribble”). Menu claimed they were thick, but mine was way too runny. More like milk with some soggy, mashed-up oreo bits in it rather than a rich cookies and cream shake. They did have a lot of flavors to choose from, so I hope the milkshake maker just had an off-day.

Anyway, onto the golf. Rhode Island was my final stop on this crazy three-day, six-state adventure…

Newport National Golf Club (The Orchard Course) • Middletown, RI • 7/5/14

Though Newport National presents itself like an old seaside links course that would appear rich in history, it’s actually a relatively new course. It opened in 2002 amidst the modern golf boom and the trend of throwback links style courses. If you didn’t know it was new, though, you’d think it’s been there forever.

I’m not sure why they subtitle it “The Orchard Course” because there is only one course at this facility. I don’t know if they had plans to build a second course at one time or if there is additional meaning to it. I do know it was built on what used to be old apple orchards, so I understand where they got the name, but it’s kind of weird with both names in play.

The clubhouse (really just a couple trailers) and unassuming driveway are easy to miss as you’re driving down the tiny road to the course. The driveway and cart paths on the course itself are all crushed clam shells, which adds to the rustic feel. I’m sure it’s the remnants of a whole lot of New England clam “chowdah.”

I walked on as a single and it was easy to get out at a reasonable $75 afternoon rate. Best deal I’ve had on this trip by far. They had me go out to the first tee right away to get ahead of a big group of guys. I must say these guys made me laugh to myself for my own jaded reasons…

Imagine your stereotypical rich, white New England trust fund frat boy. Think the Winklevoss twins from “The Social Network” or James Spader’s character form “Pretty in Pink”–or those horrific d-bag Izod commercials with Webb Simpson. I couldn’t help but envisioning Newport National is the place where they go to “slum it” and let loose after their morning crew and/or lacrosse practice–rather than going to one of their father’s private clubs in nearby Cape Cod. In my head, I had one of the foursomes going by the names of Lauren, Hilfiger, Abercrombie and Fitch.

Okay, enough of my New Englander bashing, though I’m sure they have their own perceptions of West Coasters. It’s just such a different lifestyle here than I’m used to. The real truth is everyone I’ve met and/or interacted with on this trip has been super nice. That includes the folks I ultimately joined up with to play the final few holes at Newport National. I went off by myself around 2:00 and played through a foursome on the second hole. Then I hit the wall on the 7th hole and it was slow going after that. I eventually paired up with the threesome in front of me to finish out the round.

The course itself is a great one. It’s not dramatically different from some other modern links courses I’ve played over the years, but it’s a nice setting and the conditioning was exceptional. It was a great way to end the trip. Newport National was designed by Arthur Hills and Drew Rogers and probably reminded me most of Olivas Links back in SoCal, which coincidentally I’ll be playing next weekend at a GK event!

It’s just an enjoyable course all around. The signature stretch is on the back nine, where an old rock wall lines some of the holes and a run-down old farmhouse sits right in the middle. Clearly nobody has lived there for years, but it’s kind of a neat touch to keep in the middle of the course to connect with the land’s orchard history.

The fairways are wide and the greens are massive with plenty of undulation. Bunkers dot the layout to enhance the old links look and design style. The outer edges are lined with deep patches of golden fescue, which looks beautiful flowing with the wind.

In my research of Rhode Island’s public course options, Newport National appeared to be the hands-down choice and everyone I talked to here confirmed that reputation. I’m not sure what else to say about it other than if you are playing in Rhode Island, this is the place to be. Turn your collar up and practice your secret frat-bro handshakes, then enjoy a beautiful and fun course in America’s tiniest and cutest little state!

Some pictures from Newport National Golf Club (The Orchard Course) (7/5/14):

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One of the guys I played with at Lake of Isles is from Boston, so he recommended I go to “the best pizza place in town” called Santarpio’s. It’s a small little place that’s been around for almost 100 years. A pain to get to but worth it. Very delicious, though not ideal for a single diner if you want pizza. It’s a pretty big pie or nothing. Luckily, I was able to give the second half of mine to the hotel employees where I’m staying. I hated to waste any of it.

Well, it’s sad to see this little trip come to an end, but I’m also glad to be going home after a hectic few days in this region. I really got a great variety on this trip and a nice taste of what each state has to offer.

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