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

Globe columnist Dan McGowan hits off the fourth tee at Newport Country Club.Glenn Osmundson for The Boston Globe

The first US Open golf tournament was played on a single October day in 1895 at the Newport Country Club. Horace Rawlins of England shot 91 on his first 18 holes and 82 on the second 18 (it was only a nine-hole course at the time) to emerge from an 11-player field that included three guys named William and three more named John to become the tournament’s first champion.

Horace Rawlins was awarded $150, a $50 gold medal (he's wearing it) and the Open Championship Cup, which went to his club in England.THE U.S. OPEN

Somewhere in heaven on Thursday, as Rawlins was toggling through Peacock,, the USA Network, and NBC to track the 122nd US Open at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., I’d like to believe that he placed a side wager with all those Williams and Johns that a guy (me) who plays a cheap ball because a British coach he’s never met says it will go straighter couldn’t step on to this hallowed track in Newport and best his scores from 126 years ago.

Those guys definitely owe Rawlins a couple of pints now.


With the Open making its return to Massachusetts this week, I figured this was the perfect opportunity to convince my editor to feed my ever-growing golf addiction. Last year, I hired a coach 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 simply means that I’m no longer going through a dozen balls per round.

So I got in touch with Barry Westall, the director of golf at the Newport Country Club, and he told me that I could play a round as long as I promised to keep my greasy public course fingers off the lockers, restrained myself from taking selfies that look like I always hit fairways, and didn’t ask my caddy to fill up an empty water bottle with sand from a bunker. I agreed, but had my fingers crossed the whole time.


The drive from Providence to the club gives you a lot of time to get inside your own head. You start by telling yourself that you want to make a statement and at least make par on the first or second hole, and soon you’re driving by mansions, playing Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” as you assume this is the last time they’ll ever let you near such a prestigious place.

The clubhouse at Newport Country Club.Glenn Osmundson for The Boston Globe

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

It’s famous enough to have been name-dropped by Thurston Howell III on an episode of “Gilligan’s Island” in the 1960s, and you get the feeling that every member is somehow connected to the Vanderbilts. The course, which was expanded to 18 holes a few years after the first Open, is known for its unpredictable winds, and measures more than 7,000 yards from the furthest tees (I played from the more manageable white tees).

As my photographer, Glenn Osmundson, reminded me, there’s way more history at this club than just hosting the first US Open. He said the last time he visited the course, it was to snap pictures of a hotshot young player named Tiger Woods, who won the 1995 US Amateur here.


Rawlins. Tiger. McGowan.

Let’s go.

Dan McGowan listened to his caddie 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 around course was Wells Robinson, a student at Trinity College in Connecticut who is going to make a fine US senator one day because he has that special skill of making you feel good even in your worse moments, like when I hit my six-iron a pathetic 18 feet out of thick grass on the par-five fifth hole.

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

Oh, and Robinson is already more skilled at keeping secrets than most of the politicians I cover. He said every member of the club is lovely, and they all seem to hit it straight. At one point, he told me that the water even tastes better at the club, and he said the Goldfish Crackers in the clubhouse are delicious because they’re extra salty.

So how did I play?

The combination of my nerves and a reckless decision to not hit balls at the driving range before my round got me off to a slow start, although I managed to make 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 at fancy courses.


On the front nine, I shot a 50, which is bad even by my low standards. I found every bunker, and was slicing my ball to the right on almost every tee shot. It didn’t feel like I was playing that bad, but those sevens can really add up.

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

But Robinson correctly pegged me as a back nine player, and he was determined to help me rally.

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

Then came my moment of the day.

The 11th hole is a short par four where Robinson told me I could drive my ball all the way to the green. But by that point, I think he would have told me I could dunk a basketball, too. Love the optimism.

He was right.

I hit my drive dead straight and before I could even see where it landed, Robinson was handing me a putter and giving me a fist bump. A player watching one hole ahead yelled “go make an eagle” and I gave him a cheesy thumbs-up like the Little Leaguers I coach when they get their first hit.

We didn’t eagle, but we definitely rolled in a birdie.

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


The next major 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 just 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 bit friendlier. Mr. Rawlins may have won this round, but I’ll be back. Count on it.

Dan McGowan can be reached at Follow him @danmcgowan.