A Hidden Gem in the Ocean State
At 1,206 yards, Rose Hill Golf Club offers everything you could want in a course
By Michael Bamberger
As Texas likes big, Rhode Island likes small. My wife and I were dog-sitting in Little Rhody a couple of weeks ago, and on one drive, going down a narrow lane grandly called Ferry Road, we stumbled upon the Willett Free Library with an irresistible and fitting slogan: “The smallest library in the smallest state.” It’s a charming reading nook with a wood-burning fireplace. You don’t see wood-burning fireplaces in modern public libraries—danger, danger, Will Robinson!—but the Willett library was built in 1885.
Later that day, near dusk, we were on another Rhode Island drive, this one on a commercial two-lane road with a poetic name, Rose Hill Road. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a swath of green acreage. We were by it in the blink of an eye.
This is a semi-common question in the Bamberger car:
“Was that a g-c?” I asked.
Sometimes, what you think is a golf course turns out to be a cemetery or a farm field or a park.
“Go take a look,” Christine said.
I U-turned. It was a golf course.
There was a rectangular parking lot for maybe 50 cars. A rectangular wood-shingled clubhouse with a rectangular bar, with all the expected taps, plus a collection of TVs tuned to sports offerings on this Friday night. Out the back door of the clubhouse was the nine-hole Rose Hill Golf Club, in South Kingstown, across the street from a solar farm.
The barman gave me a scorecard. Nine holes. The shortest was 74 yards (from the back tees), the longest was 178, and it was 1,206 yards, all in. I didn’t have to ask if it was public.
You wouldn’t confuse the Rose Hill bar with the one from “Cheers,” but neither would you confuse it with any of the bars at Newport Country Club, 20 miles away. The first U.S. Open was played at Newport in 1895, and the U.S. Senior Open will be played there next year. Newport C.C. is high cotton. Rose Hill is the rest of the world.
I played it a couple of days later. I gave the man at the register a $20 and he gave me three singles back. The adult rate is $18 and 60 and over is $17. Guess I look it.
“Crowded?” I asked. I knew it wasn’t. It was a cool Monday morning and the parking lot was empty.
“You’ll be waiting on every tee,” the man said, pure New England. He knew I knew. There was one twosome out there and that was it. I played as a single.
Nine holes, three ponds, 10 traps, an 18-acre course. A one-hour round on gorgeous bent-grass greens with some poa annua creeping in. The greens were firm and alive and the ball marks I made were shallow and sandy, easy to fix and there was no mud on the ball. All signs of good health.
I made 7 4s and two 3s and used a tee on every hole, per the hand-painted signs, screwed into the small plastic trash bins, which were attached to green ball washers. The course was about as fun as a golf course could be, and way more pure than any 7,200-yard, par-72, play-out-of-a-cart course I have ever toured. No interest in doing that anymore.
I told the man at the register how much I enjoyed it and about my chip shot from over the 9th green. The roll was true and the ball gathered speed like a sledding child as it tumbled down a modest slope.
The greens at Newport are outstanding. The Rose Hill greens are as good. I mean, certainly much smaller, with less pitch and less history. But for the quality of the grass and the quality of the roll, they are every bit as good. I’ve been lucky enough to play both courses. I’d go back to one with money in my pocket and the other if invited.
Later, I caught up by phone with Jim Manning, the 67-year-old owner. In 1974 he graduated from Bishop Hendricken, an all-boys Catholic high school in Warwick, R.I., and soon after he and his three brothers went into commercial fishing. (Is that Rhody enough for ya?) Later, Manning went into construction. In that capacity, he made regular visits to a small gravel quarry on Rose Hill Road. “When the old-timer who had it went to sell it, I bought it,” Manning said. “I had this brilliant idea of turning it into a golf course.” And he did. Who says a golf course can’t be nine par-3 holes? Rose Hill has been open for play since 2001. Thanks to the pandemic golf boom, he’s breaking even on it and maybe a little better than that.
The course record is 22. “Six or seven guys have done it,” Manning said. Once, a guy made back-to-back holes-in-one and still did not break 40. One day two guys from Connecticut came to play the course. They were dubious, a golf course that had no place to hit driver. They deposited 10 balls in the ponds at Rose Hill. The course is named for the road but Manning doesn’t know where the road got its name. There are no commercial rose growers nearby, not that he knows about. “But I’ve seen wild roses on the side of the road,” he said.
The greens are good, Manning said, because they are sand-based, built to USGA specs, and tended to with care by Manning and his lone course worker.
Asked to cite the inspiration for his clubhouse, wood-shingled and weathered, Manning said, “Traditional New England.” Asked to name the most popular beer at its bar, Manning said, “Miller Lite.” Asked if he had ever made a hole-in-one on his course, he said, “Not yet.”
I asked Manning if Billy Andrade, a native son of Rhode Island and a four-time winner on the PGA Tour, has played his course.
“No, he hasn’t, not that I know of,” Jim Manning said. “But his caddie has.”
That is, Mark “Ziggy” Zyons, from South Kingstown, home to the smallest public course in the smallest state.
Michael Bamberger welcomes your comments at [email protected]
Michael Bamberger was briefly a caddie on the PGA and European Tours, invented a golf club (the E-Club) that Lee Trevino used in his final British Open, spent 22 years as a writer at Sports Illustrated and joined the Firepit Collective in May 2022.
email: [email protected]