R.I.'s Carnegie Abbey a Place for the Sporting Life

By: John Torsiello

The impression that strikes you as you drive into the Carnegie Abbey Club, located just outside Newport, R.I., is the peacefulness of the place. Of course this is by design, as the developers of the club wanted to create a private sporting enclave far away from the maddening crowds and tourists. Mission accomplished.

Narragansett Bay is On Full View at Carnegie Abbey

Only the name of a small stream, dubbed "Bloody Run Brook," site of a nasty encounter between British Redcoats and the Rhode Island Militia during the Revolutionary War, gives any indication that this spot was not always a refuge from the world, although the Narragansett Indians called the area Aquidneck, or "Isle of Peace."

Wondering about the club's name? Well yes, a Benedictine monastery was established here in 1900 and the monks remain the owner and steward of the coastal preserve. Carnegie Abbey now boasts not only golf but tennis, sport fishing, sailing and an equestrian center, making it a true "sporting club."

But we were here for the golf and the Donald Steele-designed layout doesn't disappoint. Carnegie Abbey was the Scotsman's second American course, the first being Cherokee Plantation in South Carolina. A much underrated architect in this country, Steele is in fact one of the world's foremost links and traditional-style designers. He forged a reputation for his work on seaside links, and was appointed as architect of the Carnegie Links at Skibo Castle in Scotland, three miles from Royal Dornoch. He was also responsible for the major redesign of the No. 2 course at Royal County Down, and the Arran course at Turnberry.

Steele worked magic at Carnegie Abbey. Given a fine piece of property - forested yet close to Narragansett Bay, he routed the course for the most part over the existing terrain and meshed the holes to form a most interesting journey. Steele incorporated Scottish-style, revetted-sod bunkers - not many but enough - into the layout to create real havoc for errant shots off the tee and into the rather large greens.

Carnegie Abbey certainly isn't a long course, measuring 6,675 yards from the tips. But it's all about placement off the tee. You catch glimpses of the ocean from many of the early holes and then the water really hits you toward the end of the round; more about that later.

Steele gives you a fairly uncomplicated par-5, measuring 521 yards from the back blocks, to begin your round. A strong drive and fairway wood get you on or close to the putting surface. Myself and a couple of buddies brought along a local pro, Greg Miller, to test the Abbey and he regularly blew it by us en route to a round highlighted by five birdies. So, you see, Carnegie Abbey won't destroy you, as Greg proved.

The 18th Green at Carnegie Abbey

Anyway, most of Carnegie Abbey's early bite comes over the next several holes, which includes 411- and 410-yard par-4s and a long par-3, the second, which I attacked with a long-iron and found the green. No. 6 is a great par-4, playing 411 yards, with the drive having to bend around or be taken over a cluster of trees on the left. I was able to shorten the dogleg-left by taking it over the trees and had an 8-iron in. But if you miss you pay a price. Take the drive to the right to play safe but for a longer approach.

The front nine concludes with another reachable-in-two par-5 of 500 yards; Greg just smashed his drive and was able to attack the green with relish. It's a nice three-shot hole for us mortals and a pleasant way to end the par-35 outward half.

Here's hoping you mark some good scores on the initial side because Carnegie Abbey gets real tough for average players on the par-36 back. After the par-4, 424-yard 10th, which has a double fairway, you've got to figure out how to find the green on the 225-yard par-3 11th, which plays 210 yards from the "members" tees. I had to hit fairway wood and couldn't find the putting surface. Four isn't a bad score though and I was happy to take bogey and walk away.

The 520-yard 12th is another relatively benign par-5, but the 444-yard 14th is a beast, especially if the wind is blowing, which thankfully it wasn't this day. I hit a fairly good drive and was left with a 3-wood, which I calmly placed just off the green to the right. The four I made felt like a birdie. Two of the next three holes are par-4s measuring well over 400 yards, with a 541-yard par-5 tossed in at 15. All three are good holes and relatively straight-forward with no gimmicks, a nice element of Donald Steele courses.

The best part of the round comes at the end. You get a great view of the bay from the tee box of the tough 202-yard par-3 17th, and then it hits you in the face, quite literally on windy days, as you stand on the tee of the short, 280-yard par-4 finisher.

Carnegie Abbey's closer is one of the neatest holes I've ever come across. The tee sits in the bay and the drive must find a narrow strip of fairway before the stunning clubhouse. On the first go-round here it's difficult to judge the distance you need to find the short grass. Of course, big hitters can try and drive the green, but the putting surface hugs the water so you had better by true.

Carnegie Abbey's Clubhouse

All of us laid up to the fairway, with Greg taking out a 3-wood (way too much club for him) and depositing his ball into the shrubbery in front of the clubhouse. Oops. A free drop later, he got up and down for birdie. The green is sloped, which makes two-putting a challenge, even if you are only coming in with a half-wedge.

After golf we had a chance to hang out in the clubhouse, where the fireplace was roaring on a chilly late winter day. We ordered some calamari and downed a few suds, all the while staring out at the bay. Nice view. True to the flavor of a Scottish club, the bar area boasts an enormous selection of single malts and word is that the members sample each one, but not in one night, of course.

You can rent accommodations at Carnegie Abbey for a night, weekend or a week, actually at quite reasonable prices during the low season. Most rooms have a view of the golf course or the bay. You visit in high-season, i.e. the summer, and you'll pay, just like anywhere you go in Newport, the playground of the rich and famous for generations.

There are also private homes on the property, built in a typical New England-seaside architectural style. They range up to several million bucks in price.

It was with some sadness that we packed up and headed home because Carnegie Abbey is the kind of place - and golf course - that you'd like to try for a few more days, at least. I know I'll be going back.

For more information, visit www.carnegieabbey.com.

John Torsiello is an editor/writer living in Connecticut. He has written extensively about all aspects of the golf industry for a number of national and regional publications. He is a regular contributor to "Golf Course Industry," "Lawn and Landscape," "Golfing" and "Fairway Living" magazines as well as various online publications. He has strong, ongoing relationships with industry professionals and has worked closely with course owners, architects, developers, course superintendents and general managers around the country. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including first place from the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association for a piece that appeared in "Golf Course Industry" magazine.