Newport Country Club, home of the first US Open, remains special. And really difficult.


Those guys definitely owe Rawlins a couple of pints now.

With the Open returning to Massachusetts this week, I thought this was the perfect opportunity to convince my publisher to feed my growing golf addiction. Last year, I hired a trainer to help me break 90 for the first time, and it was worth every penny. I’m a much more confident player than I was last year, which just means I’m not going through a dozen balls a round anymore.

So I contacted Barry Westall, the director of golf at Newport Country Club, and he told me I could play a round as long as I promised to keep my greasy public fingers out of the lockers and refrain from taking selfies. that I always seem to hit fairways, and I didn’t ask my caddy to fill an empty water bottle with sand from a bunker. I agreed, but kept my fingers crossed the whole time.


The drive from Providence to the club gives you plenty of time to get into your own head. You start by telling yourself that you want to make a statement and at least par on the first or second hole, and soon you’re driving past mansions, playing Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” while assuming this is the last time they’re going to do it. never let you near such a prestigious place.

The club house at Newport Country Club.Glenn Osmundson for The Boston Globe

You’ve heard of the five New York mob families, right? Well, Newport Country Club is one of the five founding members of the United States Golf Association, which is why it managed to host the first US Open and the first US Amateur Championship in the same year.

It’s famous enough to have been named after Thurston Howell III in an episode of “Gilligan’s Island” in the 1960s, and you get the sense that every member is connected to the Vanderbilts in some way. Expanded to 18 holes a few years after the first Open, the course is known for its unpredictable winds and measures more than 7,000 yards from the farthest tees (I played from the more manageable white tees).

As my photographer, Glenn Osmundson, reminded me, there is much more to this club than simply hosting the first US Open. He said that the last time he visited the course, it was to take pictures of a young player named Tiger Woods, who won the 1995 US Amateur here.

Rawlins. Tiger. McGowan.

Let’s go.

Dan McGowan listened to his caddy for the day, Wells Robinson, as they walked off the first green.Glenn Osmundson for The Boston Globe

The caddy who drew the short straw to guide me through the course was Wells Robinson, a student at Trinity College in Connecticut who will one day be a good US Senator because he has that knack for making you feel good even in your worst moments. . , like when I hit my six-iron a pathetic 18 feet from the thick grass on the par-five fifth hole.

All of Robinson’s was “you got this” and “don’t give this hole away” and “perfect”. He was like a gym coach who really wanted me to sign up for a few more sessions, although I’m sure he just wanted to play cards and watch the Open with his fellow caddies.

Oh, and Robinson is already more adept at keeping secrets than most of the politicians I cover. He said that all the members of the club are lovely, and they all seem to hit the nail on the head. At one point, he told me the water even tastes better at the clubhouse, and he said the Goldfish Crackers at the clubhouse are delicious because they’re so salty.

So how did I play?

The combination of my nerves and a reckless decision not to hit balls on the driving range before my round had me off to a slow start, though I managed to par on the second hole. The biggest difference between the public courses I play and places like Newport are the greens: putts roll like they’re on ice on fancy courses.

On the first nine, I shot 50, which is bad even by my low standards. I found all the bunkers and cut my ball to the right on almost every tee shot. I didn’t feel like I was playing too bad, but those sevens can really add up.

Dan McGowan came out of a bunker on the third hole.Glenn Osmundson for The Boston Globe

But Robinson correctly identified me as a back nine player and was determined to help me get back on my feet.

I par on the 10th hole, which Robinson told me was important ground during the Revolutionary War. (Actually, I didn’t check this out, but he seemed pretty sure of himself.)

Then my time of day came.

The 11th hole is a short par four where Robinson told me I could take my ball to the green. But at the time, I think he would have told me that I could dunk a basketball too. I love optimism.

He was correct.

I hit my drive squarely and before I could see where it landed, Robinson handed me a putter and punched me. A player looking down the hole yelled “go eagle” and I gave him a cheesy thumbs up like the minor leaguers I coach when they get their first hit.

We didn’t make an eagle, but we definitely got a birdie.

The rest of the round didn’t really matter, but I managed to put together a 44 for a total score of 94. I had four pars and a birdie, and if I could have played a little better on the par three, I would have had a chance to beat the 91. that Rawlins shot in the first Open.

The next big tournament to come to Newport will be the US Senior Open in 2024. The course was supposed to host the tournament in 2020, but COVID-19 ruined everything. Robinson will have graduated from Trinity by then, but he’s as excited as any of the members.

As for me, I’ll keep practicing at Triggs in Providence and Fenner Hill in Hope Valley, where the rough is a little friendlier. Mr. Rawlins may have won this round, but I’ll be back. Count on that.

Dan McGowan can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @danmcgowan.