RICHMOND, R.I. – There is little doubt that the owners of the newly reopened Meadow Brook Golf Club will tout theirs as the “longest course in the littlest state.” If so, they’ll have a clever marketing angle on their hands, even if it has little relevance to the everyday golfers who actually will play this daily-fee course in southern Rhode Island.
Why bother to expend the extra acreage for the tees needed to get a public course up to 7,468 yards? If one-half of 1 percent of all rounds are played from those markers, it would constitute a revolution in market share – and even then, the bulk of such play would come from nonrevenue scratch golfers such as PGA pros and varsity collegians.
Everything about Meadow Brook is big – except the green fee. The course sits at the center of a 260-acre parcel formerly occupied by a small golf course of the same name that was plowed over and rebuilt anew in 2008-09 by designers Roger Rulewich and Dave Fleury. The driving force behind the project was the owner/development team of Patrick and Jay Hendrick. Father and son, they are self-described “swamp Yankees,” a term used to designate hard-working, salt-of-the-earth folks from the region. They manage two other golf courses nearby and have strong views on everything from course construction to maintenance and operations. Rulewich, a 50-year veteran of the trade who used to be Robert Trent Jones Sr.’s right-hand man, describes the Hendricks as “the most unusual clients I’ve ever had.”
That’s meant to denote both their ingenuity and their stubbornness. They would have been happy to build the whole course themselves, and though they eventually relied upon Rulewich, Fleury and their shaping crew to mold the course, both Hendricks operated big shaping equipment and were scarcely away from the site for a day.
Along the way, the builders moved a lot of dirt, much of it to satisfy the Hendricks’ insistence that drainage be achieved through a combination of surface movement and percolation of water through the natural subgrade of sand and gravel. The result is a course with no drainage pipes under tees, fairways, bunkers or greens. Instead, the course has raised greens and tees, lots of movement in and around bunkers, and many low spots for water collection in areas that immediately adjoin in-play zones.
The multiform shaping and elevated greens makes golf at Meadow Brook almost exclusively an aerial game. Few greens are accessible via the ground game. Thus, everyday golfers are forced to fly the ball in. Sure, the greens are enormous – averaging 9,000 square feet. But even so, many of them roll out on the edges and fall away to reject shots, making it extremely difficult to shape approach shots that feed in from the edges.
The slope and rating seems unduly light here: 74.4 rating/130 slope from the 7,478-yard markers. But numbers aside, Meadow Brook represents something of an achievement in a southern New England market where quality and affordable access is in short supply.
1.) Routing: 5
Sequence of holes is not a naturally suggested path but rather a series of switchbacks. Opening nine heads off toward a busy road but gets more peaceful in the middle. Back nine has a more appealing sensibility, but reliance upon mounds to separate adjacent holes is overdone.
2.) Quality of shaping: 4
Lots of movement, with bulky, sprawling bunkers that are inefficiently massed. Superfluous mounding behind greens (12th and 16th holes) cuts off elegant views and simply imposes the arbitrary principle of isolating each hole, thereby undercutting any possibility of integration with the site as a whole.
3.) Overall land plan: 6
Completion of new clubhouse away from the road will help give integrity to the site. There’s no practice/warmup range, nor are there plans for one.
4.) Greens and surrounds: 5
Big greens, perfectly well groomed and running very smoothly, but too many are tipped outward and leave the same kind of lob wedge recovery.
5.) Variety and memorability of par 3s: 7
From the 6,532-yard tees, I hit 3-wood, 8-iron, pitching wedge, 7-iron. The shorter holes have interesting greens, but the long, uphill fourth hole is bunkered left and falls off sharply right, in the process exposing the folly of back tees that makes this a punitive 261-yard hole from the tips.
6.) Variety and memorability of par 4s: 5
Eleventh, 13th and 18th holes – all dogleg lefts – have interesting fairway bunkering and strategy, but the bulk of the par 4s simply require you to hit the ball straight twice.
7.) Variety and memorability of par 5s: 4
Relatively shorter, reachable-in-two second hole is compelling and requires thought on the second shot; the others seem largely designed to occupy long ground and lack spark or even a compelling hazard.
8.) Tree and landscape management: 4
For all the clearing on a heavily wooded site, they didn’t make the corridors very wide on the parkland holes. The fairway on the par-5 eighth hole is only 18 yards wide. Parts of many greens were shaded during midday of a near summer solstice day, suggesting that more tree clearing is needed.
9.) Conditioning: 8
Impeccable greens (NuPenn bentgrass), and the Colonial bentgrass/fine fescue fairways are establishing nicely. A few thin patches in the roughs are to be expected, especially with recent heavy rains. Bunkers are big, with too much sand, creating fluffy lies that are tiring to play.
10.) “Walk in the park” test: 5
Easily walkable, with only 25 feet of elevation change on site. But you do feel like you’re meandering rather than out for a brisk walk, and the interior views of the course get repetitive.
Meadow Brook GC is a pleasant layout, competently designed and priced smartly in a market that is looking for value and will find it here.
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• 163 Kingstown Road (State Route 138), Richmond, R.I. 02898
• 401-539-8491; www.meadowbrookgolfri.com
• Par 72; 7,468 yards (74.4 rating/130 slope)
• Daily-fee course
• Green fees: $50 walking ($60 with cart), Monday-Friday; $60 walking ($70 with cart), Saturday-Sunday