Newport Country Club, home of the inaugural US Open, is always special. And really difficult.


These guys definitely owe Rawlins two pints by now.

With the Massachusetts Open returning this week, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to convince my editor to feed my ever-growing golf addiction. Last year I hired a trainer to help me get over 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 passing a dozen balls a round anymore.


So I contacted Barry Westall, the golf manager at Newport Country Club, and he told me I could play a round as long as I promised to keep my greasy fingers from the public course out of the lockers, preventing me from taking selfies that make it look like I’m still hitting the fairways and didn’t ask my caddy to fill an empty water bottle with sand from a bunker. I accepted, but I kept my fingers crossed the whole time.

The drive from Providence to the club gives you plenty of time to get in your head. You start by telling yourself you want to make a statement and at least make par on the first or second hole, and soon you’re walking past mansions, playing Eminem’s “Lose Yourself” because you assume it’s the last time they will ever let you near such a prestigious place.

The Newport Country Club Pavilion.Glenn Osmundson for the Boston Globe

You’ve heard of the Five Mafia Families of New York, haven’t you? 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.

He’s famous enough for being named by Thurston Howell III in an episode of “Gilligan’s Island” in the 1960s, and you get the feeling that each 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 over 7,000 yards from the farthest tees (I’ve played from the more manageable white tees).

As my photographer, Glenn Osmundson, reminded me, there’s a lot more history to this club than hosting the first US Open. He said the last time he was on the course was to take pictures of a young star 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 left 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 make a good U.S. senator because he has that special skill to make you feel good even in your worst times. , like when I hit my six iron a pathetic 18 feet out of thick grass on the par-five fifth hole.

Everything about Robinson was “you got that” and “don’t give that a hole” and “perfect”. He was like a gym trainer 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 better at keeping secrets than most of the politicians I cover. He said everyone at the club was lovely and they all seemed to be straight to the point. At one point he told me that the water even tasted better at the club, and he said that the Goldfish Crackers at the clubhouse were delicious because they were so salty.

So how did I play?

The combination of my nerves and a rash decision not to hit any practice balls before my round got me off to a slow start, even 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 front nine I shot a 50, which is bad even by my low standards. I found all the bunkers and clipped my ball to the right on almost every tee shot. I didn’t feel like I was playing that badly, but those sevens can really add up.

Dan McGowan hit from a bunker on the third hole.Glenn Osmundson for the Boston Globe

But Robinson correctly identified me as a back nine player, and he was determined to help me get on board.

I pared the 10th hole, which Robinson said was important ground during the Revolutionary War. (I didn’t check this, but he seemed very sure of himself.)

Then came my time of day.

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

He was right.

I hit my forehand and before I could even see where it landed Robinson was handing me a putter and punching me. A player staring at a hole in front of him yelled “go eagle” and I gave him a thumbs up like the little leaguers I coach when they get their first hit.

We didn’t eagle, but we definitely birdied.

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 played even a little better on the par-three hole, I would 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 be graduating from Trinity by then, but he’s just as excited as any of the members.

As for me, I will continue to practice at Triggs in Providence and at 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 on Twitter at @danmcgowan.