Hallowed Ground: The U.S. Senior Open tees off at Newport Country Club

By Andrea E. McHugh

When the 44th U.S. Senior Open tees off at Newport Country Club in June, it’ll be a marriage of past and present, with the eyes of the world on the City-by-the-Sea

There’s a certain symphony to it all, when the sun casts first light on the rolling greens perched atop Brenton Point’s craggy coastline, and the melodic chirp of songbirds are the only notes floating above the lull of crashing waves. It’s a rhythmic morning ritual on this sacrosanct neck of land in this relatively undisturbed part of Newport, a coastal enclave that seems to see less undisturbed acreage than it once did. But in late June, tens of thousands of spectators will shatter that stillness when they descend on Newport Country Club June 27 through June 30 for the PGA’s 44th U.S. Senior Open Championship.

It’s more than just another renowned golf tournament. This is where it all began. Hallowed ground. And some of Rhode Island’s — and the game’s — best known competitors, including four-time PGA Tour winner Billy Andrade, four-time professional winner Brett Quigley, and Brad Faxon, an eight-time PGA Tour winner and NBC Sports golf analyst, are eager to show off the local turf.

“I’m over the moon,” says Andrade, a Bristol native who played at Newport with his father and grandfather once a year while he was growing up. “It’s just a place that I love. It’s going to be a great experience for me and my family, and for Rhode Island golf. There’s so many great players from Rhode Island and the fans are great …we’ve got so much history. To be a part of it is going to be really special.”

The tournament attracts an international field of top golfers. It is open to qualifying males 50 and older who have a handicap index no greater than 2.4. Past champions include Padraig Harrington (2022), Jim Furyk (2021), Steve Stricker (2019) and David Toms (2018). Each has an exemption allowing him to compete in the 10 Senior Open tournaments held after his victory and is eligible to play this year in Newport.

“A lot of these names, we know them. We’ve been turning on the television and watching them on television for a long time,” said Barclay Douglas Jr., who has served as president of Newport Country Club for more than 30 years. “And now they’re coming to our backyard. It’s so great to be recognized, and that they want to come into Newport and play our course. It’s great for Newport, and it’s great for golfers in this area to see it.”

Bernhard Langer of Germany became the oldest Senior Open champion at 65 when he won the 2023 tournament played at Sentry World in Stevens Point, Wisconsin. But an injury, reportedly suffered during a pickleball match, may prevent him from attempting back-to-back wins. The final roster of players was assembled following the completion of qualifying rounds to be held at 33 sites across the country between May 13 and June 5.

Local golfers Andrade and Quigley have been granted exemptions and are scheduled to be among the 156 golfers on the course when the tournament opens. Faxon also will be there.

“I would go to that tournament whether I was playing, announcing, watching or all three,” says Faxon, who has been a member of Newport Country Club since 2000. (Side note: he could, in fact, be doing all three.) With appearances at the 1995 and 1997 Ryder Cup and four top-10 finishes in major championships, he is a proud son of Barrington, where his family name remains synonymous with golf.

Though he and his wife Dory now call Florida home, both share roots that run deep in the Ocean State. Dory’s family has a home in Newport, and Newport Country Club has long been part of their lives. It was selected to host the 2020 Senior Open, but the Covid-19 pandemic forced its cancellation. Good things come to those who wait though, and there is no place better suited than Newport to welcome senior golf’s most prestigious championship, Faxon says.

Theodore A. Havemeyer, who amassed a fortune in the sugar refining business, was introduced to the game of golf in 1889 while he was in the south of France studying advances in the industry. He, his wife and their nine children spent summers at their home on Bellevue Avenue in Newport, and he is credited with bringing the game to the city in 1890. The “Sugar Refining King,” as he was known, and other Gilded Age titans founded Newport Country Club in 1893. It is one of the five founding member clubs of the United States Golf Association (USGA), which formed in 1894. Havemeyer served as the governing body’s first president.

The Clubhouse at Newport Country Club. | USGA/Fred Vuich

“To be able to do [the U.S. Senior Open] at one of our founding clubs means a whole lot to us,” says Hank Thompson, senior director of the event. He called Newport the “North Star” of the USGA’s charter clubs, which include St. Andrew’s Golf Club at Hastings on Hudson, N.Y., Chicago Golf Club, Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in Southampton, N.Y., and The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.

William F. Davis designed Newport Country Club as a nine-hole course in 1894. It was expanded to 18 holes five years later. Newly acquired land led to a redesign in 1923 by A.W. Tillinghast, one of America’s most celebrated golf course architects. Ron Forse oversaw a restoration in 2005.

Architect Whitney Warren designed the Beaux Arts-style clubhouse, which was deemed an architectural marvel when it was completed in 1895. The New York Times wrote: “It stood supreme for magnificence among golf clubs, not only in America, but in the world.” Newport Country Club hosted the first U.S. Amateur Championship that year, and Charles Blair Macdonald, considered the father of American golf course architecture, took top honors. The first U.S. Open followed that same year, solidifying the club’s entry into the annals of sporting history.

Brett Quigley | Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Nearly 130 years after its founding, the unmistakable prestige of Newport Country Club continues to make the same, indelible impression. “When you pull up the driveway to that clubhouse, it looks like it belongs there. It’s amazing to see that clubhouse,” says Quigley, who currently is playing on the PGA Tour Champions. He also grew up in Barrington and has an illustrious golfing pedigree. His father Paul is a three-time state amateur champion and Rhode Island Golf Hall of Famer. His uncle, “Ironman” Dana Quigley, is a PGA Tour Champions legend.

Brett Quigley has competed on golf courses around the world, but Newport holds a special place for the seasoned pro. “The history there, the course being in existence that long, and the connection with the USGA events… just walking around there and thinking about it brings a smile to my face,” says Quigley, whose top-15 finish in last year’s Senior Open earned him a spot at Newport this year.

Thompson, the tournament’s senior director, says most of the golfers in this year’s senior field have not competed at Newport Country Club. There’s a handful who played in the U.S. Amateur when it returned to Newport in 1995 as part of the USGA’s centennial celebration. Some have expressed an interest in playing in the Senior Open this year to experience a full circle moment, Thompson said.

Tiger Woods, at just 19, won the Amateur tournament in 1995 and hoisted the Havemeyer Trophy over his head to mark the second of his three consecutive Amateur titles. In 2006, Newport hosted the U.S. Women’s Open Championship, where Annika Sorenstam shot a 1-underpar 70 in an 18-hole playoff to claim her third U.S. Women’s Open victory.

While Rhode Island’s golfing royalty might be familiar with the course they won’t necessarily enjoy a hometown advantage. The USGA is reversing the front and the back nine for the Senior Open. The course will be set at 7,070 yards and play to a par of 35-35 for 70. Longtime club members like Faxon know the course’s extraordinary location — just a stone’s throw from the sea — invites Mother Nature to play a big role in overall performances. “I’ve played Newport Country Club where the first three holes go south, and then the fifth through the ninth go north,” he explains. “And you could play every one of them into the wind.”

Andrade, a member of The Aquidneck Club in Portsmouth, concurs. While he has played golf at Newport Country Club many times over the years, this Senior Open marks his first competitive play there. “Being right on the Atlantic Ocean, you never know what the weather’s gonna be like, and that’s gonna really dictate the whole week. Dictate the scores, dictate how the golf course will be played,” he says. “It really is a big deal, especially when you’re that close to water and volatile wind and stuff like that. It should make for a great challenge.”

Douglas, the country club’s longtime president, said members are excited about the upcoming tournament and look forward to welcoming both players and spectators. “Newport Country Club, yes, it’s a private course,” he said, “but it becomes everybody’s course when something like this happens.”

Quigley anticipates a fantastic turnout of competitors and fans. “Even before last year’s Senior Open, [players] were asking me about Newport, what it’s going to be like,” he said. “They’ve heard so much about the place … the town, the golf course. And a lot of the golfers know the history of the area, so everybody is excited to get there and play and to get a taste of the whole experience.”

For more information about the tournament, visit championships.usga.org/ussenioropen.html.