Wood River Golf Club is a labor of love for Wes and Kate Thompson.By John Torsiello | Photography by Mark William Paul
Wes Thompson had a mid-life crisis about 15 years ago. The result of this life-altering experience led to Wood River Golf Club in Hope Valley, Rhode Island, where everybody seems to know your name and the game is affordable, fun and friendly.
“I told Wes (a custom home builder in his former life), ‘Why don’t you just buy a Corvette,’ ” says his wife, Kate, a former schoolteacher, realtor and assistant to her husband in his previous career.
Instead, he built a golf course.
Wood River Golf Club opened with nine holes in 2000 and had a full 18-hole layout by 2003.
It is a workingman’s golf club, and that’s not meant in a deprecating way. The conditions are sound and the course is lovingly cared for by Thompson, the couple’s son, Matt, and son-in-law Robert Treat. Although the routing is short at 5,349 yards, it is pleasingly eclectic and the price is more than reasonable. Where else can you play 18 holes and then enjoy dinner for two with two adult beverages for less than $50?
The course was designed by Thompson, a math major who laid it out with a simple transit before putting his design on graph paper. He then played his planned routing with two clubs. Interestingly, there are no sand bunkers on the course. “We knew we just couldn’t maintain them properly,” Kate says.
Wood River sits upon a former chicken farm. The property was in receivership when the Thompsons approached the bank about purchasing the land. But they only had $20,000 to put down. Still, the bank lent them the money to buy the property and build the golf course.
“They liked the idea that we were going to keep the land as open space. There were a few houses on the property that we sold for survival over the years,” Wes says.
Most of the course is wide open, which provides beginners and high handicappers with a delightful place to learn the game and improve their skills. However, the 13th through 17th holes are somewhat frightful to behold, even for an accomplished player. The 16th is only 330 yards, but the tee shot must land within a 30-yard radius atop a rise in order to leave an unfettered approach shot of approximately 150 yards through a chute of trees to an elevated green.
The 17th hole is another short par 4 that measures just 305 yards. But the tee shot from an elevated box is blind and the fairway slopes dramatically left to right.
The Thompsons are constantly upgrading the course. The bent-grass greens run smooth, and the fairways are better than at some other clubs that charge higher greens fees. “Our goal has always been to offer affordable golf and a friendly place to play,” Wes says.
“The course had 18 holes in 2003, but the back nine was very rough, so I have been working on that ever since to make it more playable,” he adds. “We make improvements every year. There was a chicken farm on the east side of the course and the back was just woods with lots of rocks. I kept saying that we had to deal with the land that we had, and we have done that.”
The after-golf amenities are another of Wood River’s attractions. Kate and Wes’s daughter, Kim Treat, and Pat Sunderland prepare meals that would befit a quality, mid-price range restaurant. And there are always interesting specials. In addition to the 2-for-$22 offer, the club hosts “Wino Wednesday,” where for $31.95 you receive two dinners and a bottle of wine. The cuisine is perhaps best labeled comfort food with a flavorful twist. “Most of the food is homemade and we source a lot of what we use locally. We make our own desserts,” Kate says.
It’s a family affair and the hours are long. But the Thompsons seem to savor every minute of it.
“I love that the family is involved,” Kate says. “There isn’t a day that you come here and you don’t see a smiling face.”