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by John Cardullo, sportswriter
This is a multi-part series on the local golf courses in the State of Rhode Island by yours truly, a self-admitted weekend golfer who is more of a hacker and duffer than the pros who we watch on Sunday afternoon and wish that we could play like them. The courses are selected randomly and played without prior knowledge of the owners and staff, so to get the experience of every golfer who plays the course.
Harbor Lights Golf Course is a quaint golfing experience that is a must-play 9-hole golf experience that has more than meets the eye going for it.
Tucked away in the upper Warwick Cove section of Warwick Neck you will find Harbor Lights (formerly known as Seaview Golf Course), located at 150 Gray Street in Warwick, R.I. You will need to pay attention to the signs posted on the telephone poles or you will need a GPS to locate the course that offers a beautiful dining facility for events such as weddings or parties. If you want a scenic back drop, this is the place. The course sits among a marina, pool area and an event center.
The course is a par-36, 2,777 yards, with a 118-slope and a 67.0 rating that opened its doors in 1965. Located on the coastline and overlooking Warwick Neck Cove. Opened as a public course to those golfers who could not afford joining the pricey private country clubs of the time and welcomed local players from all over the beach area in Warwick offering golf to everyone. I had played the course a few years back when it just had been sold to the current ownership. At that time, the course was a little run down and was neglected. Going in I was not sure what to expect, arriving to the course I noticed improvements to the parking area, going from crushed seashells to a paved area with lines for cars to park in an orderly fashion.
As we approached the Pro Shop to pay for our round, we passed a new outside dining pavilion, which we would have to wait for later. We set a tee time, so we did not have to wait to get the show on the road. Teeing up on hole number one, a 313-yard par 4 straight out hole, I remembered that the course was tight from one fairway to the other, with a mis-hit could put you near the fairway of holes going into the opposite direction. A water hazard comes into play on six of the nine holes.
The course is considered small by comparison to most other 9-hole venues that we have played, but the skill factor is if you can hit it straight and stay in your fairway you will score well. My opening drive fell short of the stream cutting across the fairway but left me with 120 yards to the green, which I pushed right a chip and three putts later I walked away with a double bogey 6.
The 2nd hole was a 233 straight out par 4 from the tee, the green was guarded by 4 sand traps in the front of the green. A small pond is to the left and the creek cuts across the fairway and flows into it. I drove my tee shot just short of the left side sand trap after a pitch and a two putt I was off with a 5. The putting green on hole two was a lot faster than hole one plus the small breaks and bends really make you focus on reading the greens.
The 3rd hole was a short par 4 at 195 yards, any shorter it would be a par 3. Straight with a sand trap on the left side of the hole. Off the tee the pond that affected hole 2 was in the same position going the other way. Off the tee my ball landed 20 yards off the green, a pitch onto the putting surface and a 20-foot putt that found the bottom of the hole, I recorded my first birdie of the season!
Moving onto the first of two par 5’s on the course. Hole #4 501-yard nightmare that is surrounded with trees on both sides of the fairway and out-of-bounds that make the fairway even tighter. Hitting another good drive off the tee (I was having a good luck off the tee today for some reason), my second shot I mis-hit and found trouble which I piled on with a poor 3rd shot, I ended up walking off with a double bogey 7. All the good will I had on hole 3 was gone after hole 4, but that’s golf, and we had five holes left to play.
The next two holes #5 and #6 were both par 3’s which I found to be odd to have back to back par 3’s. Hole #5 was (yes you guessed it) a straight hole that was 120 yards from the tee. Sand traps surround the hole on all sides, I fortunately landed on the green, then I went onto 3 putt for a bogey 4. Hole #6 prove to be tougher, a 167 yard straight out hole with the creek coming into play as it runs from tee to green along up the right side and two sand traps protect the front of the green. My tee shot landed into the right trap and I was able to get out of the trap but barely made the putting surface. Three putts later I recorded another double bogey 5 and the hole that has always frustrated me on this course was waiting for me next.
The 7th hole at Harbor Lights is one that keeps you up at night. It is a 286 yard straight slightly elevated hole that has trees along the left and water along the right and about 150 yard off the tee is this huge tree in the center of the fairway. Your choice to get by that tree is to go over, hit at it and hope for the best or go right and hope you land on land and not the water. I attempted to go over, bad choice, my drive found a branch and the ball ended up in the water. Frustrated, I re-teed and aimed directly at the tree, to my amazement I ended up by the tree and about 50 yards away from the green, a pitch and a putt later I walked off the green with an improbable bogey 5. Hole #8 was a tight straight hole of 256 yards with a huge sand trap guarding the front of the green, a line of trees run along the left of the fairway and heavy trees and bushes are along the right side with out-of-bounds stakes make precision and staying as close to the middle of the fairway essential. My drive went right but my ball hit something hard and ended up in the fairway, lucky for me. I mishit my pitch into the sand trap, unlucky for me! Getting out of the sand trap and barely onto the green left me with a long putt for par which went by the hole and I ended up putting out with a double bogey 6.
The 9th hole is a 413-yard par 5, that you have to go over a pond, get past a fairway trap and doglegs to the left. Sand traps surround the green which you cannot see until you are virtually on top of it. Off the tee to the bend is elevated and from the bend to the green the green drops off. My tee shot didn’t quite make the bend, but it was longer than I thought My second shot was a mis-hit that was to go over the trees but I pulled it left, again to my amazement I missed a cluster of trees and landed pin high on the left side of the green. A pitch and two putts later, I ended the round with a par 5 and a round of 46 for the day.
The thoughts about the course by my golf-mates was the course is very tight with little room for error. For those of us who have played the course before and after the sale, we agree that the improvements were impressive and the course itself was in particularly good shape. The greens where inconsistent by had enough nooks and crannies, small bends, and slopes to keep you on your toes. Harbor Lights has both a putting green and a small driving range, so be surprised if you find range balls around holes #5, #6 and #9. The larger structure is obviously for course events and rentals, the pavilion was the perfect place for the 10th watering hole. The menu offered just enough without going overboard the beverage selection was plentiful and satisfying the wait staff was attentive and the view overlooking the cove was perfect.
I would rate the experience at Harbor Lights as a solid A, the narrow fairways can be concerning when golfers are teeing up in all directions. But the challenging greens and your choice of taking a risk to score better on some holes can be rewarding or can ruin a round. The staff from checking in, to the ground keepers to the pavilion staff was excellent. Harbor Lights is located at 150 Gray Street, Warwick, RI and is open 7 days a week, tee times are encouraged by calling 401-737-6353.
John Cardullo, sportswriter