THIS HISTORIC DONALD ROSS DESIGN HAS BEEN REDUCED TO NINE HOLES AND IT'S A 'SHOCK TO THE SYSTEM'

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. — I was ready to play MetLinks Golf Course, but I wasn’t ready for the emotional journey.

Metacomet Country Club is dead, never to return. MetLinks will never be able to replicate it, but it does a great job encapsulating what the course was and keeps its spirit very much alive.

But for someone who grew up on the course and spent his formative years there, seeing it in person was quite a shock to the system.

My history

I wasn’t a member at Metacomet Country Club. I grew up a few streets away and, when I was 15, started working as a caddie. I learned the game there, fell in love with golf there and whenever I was in between jobs or needed some extra money, it was there for me.

While not every employee had the same experience that I did, there were countless people there, both employees and members, who affected my life in ways they don’t even understand. Many of these people are the same ones who congratulated me when I got hired at The Journal or offer praise about my work when we run into each other because they remember me as a kid chasing a dream.

The year that Metacomet closed, I tried to squeeze in as many rounds as possible. I planned to play the final day it was open, but that was until I rolled a downhill 15-footer on the 18th hole — a putt I’d seen hundreds of times in my life — for birdie a few days earlier. I decided that would be my last golf memory at the club.

A member invited me to be his guest the final night the club was open. It felt very much like a funeral. People told stories, shared memories and celebrated a club that provided so much fun for so many people.

When it came to private golf courses in Rhode Island, many people wanted the status that would come with being a member at Rhode Island Country Club or Wannamoiset. But more wanted to be at Metacomet, because you could play good golf and have a party at the same time.

Heading to MetLinks last Thursday for its grand opening, I took the left-hand turn off Veterans Memorial Parkway and entered the property. You could have put a blindfold on me at that point and I would have been able to park my car without an issue. I might have been better served because what I saw hurt more than I could have ever expected.

It’s one thing to drive around the property and see the overgrown fairways, downed trees and missing greens. It’s another to roll up the driveway and see it up close. I parked my car along the hedges on the left side of the lot, my usual spot, and had to collect myself before getting out of the car.

I got ready to go, slung my bag over my shoulder and walked down the line of hedges. When I turned left, it was difficult to realize that the clubhouse was gone. I knew it wasn’t going to be there. I didn’t see it pulling in but it just felt different as I walked toward the practice green.

The attendant took my bag. I walked into the makeshift trailer to pay and then took a walk around the area where the clubhouse used to be. It was wild standing in front of the old practice green in the back, the spot where I honed my short game as I waited for members to come in, staring out at the 18th hole that was completely overgrown.

I never thought I’d get emotional about a piece of property. But as I continued to stare out at all the visible back-nine holes, it was tough not to.

The course

I didn’t know what to expect from MetLinks. I was playing with The Boston Globe’s Dan McGowan, who did a hole-by-hole breakdown that prepared me for some of the changes, but reading them and seeing them are two wildly different things.

The first tee box at Metacomet is gone, with the No. 1 tee box at MetLinks up about 30 yards. It’s the same blind tee shot that it was before — you still have to deal with the wind coming off the bay and you’re still hoping to miss the small creek in the left-side rough. It felt so good to hit the same approach to the same green, minus the fact that I yanked it into the left-side bunker.

MetLinks continued the nostalgia tour on No. 2, which remains the same as it was when Donald Ross designed it. Fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have blinked at trying to carry the water over the dogleg-left par 5, but older now, I know better. I hit a 220-yard shot to the fairway, very safe from the water’s edge, a coward line, hit the same hybrid club into the bunker, blasted out and two-putted for a par.

The third hole hadn’t changed much since the last time I saw it. It was Metacomet’s signature hole, needing a soft cut off the tee to try to get to the top shelf of the fairway that would make an approach easier to handle with the devious false front on the green.

MetLinks’ redesign pulled the trees out from the left side, replaced by fescue. That was my old miss, because if you hit it far enough, you could still end up with a clean look at the green. I blocked it right, but it went far enough for me to stick a wedge on and two putt for another par.

I can’t remember the last time I’ve started three holes feeling as comfortable as I did at MetLinks. Every shot was so familiar and it really helped with my confidence. While it was apparent the greens were not Metacomet greens — they were average public course speed and very forgiving — it felt no different than any round I had played there before.

Then things changed.

The big changes at MetLinks

MetLinks’ rerouting means Metacomet’s brilliant seventh hole is now the fourth. It’s a truly terrific golf hole where everyone who played it knew the three clubs they would need — one for the wind at you, one for no wind, one for wind at your back. It’s tough to earn par if you miss right, tougher if you miss left — although slower greens help.

But the fifth hole, Metacomet’s former eighth, was the biggest shock to the system.

More: Former Rhode Island club (designed by Donald Ross) now slated to become a supermarket and 800 apartments

Eight was an ordinary hole — bang a 220-yard drive, hit a short iron or wedge over a valley to the green. MetLinks turned it into two holes that keep the spirit of the hole very much alive.

No. 5 is a linksy par 4, protected by a waste area, bunkers and plenty of fescue. I don’t know the exact yardage because I didn’t bother to shoot it with my range finder. My hybrid missed the green right, ended up in fescue, but I got it on the green and two-putted for par.

The sixth hole was a wedge over the valley and it's great that they were able to keep the old eighth green alive and bring this shot to the redesign. It’s a ho-hum shot, but you know you can’t miss long, and if you chunk it, you’ll never see the ball again.

Seven was the first major change. Standing on the tee box, which used to be the ninth tee, I could stare down the narrow fairway of the former short par 5, which was home to my first eagle. I loved that golf hole because it always seemed so easy, yet never was.

Now, it’s a short par 3. I think it’s a gorgeous hole. It’s framed beautifully, and while it’s not crazy tough (it’s a wedge) it’s just fun to look at. When the green settles and firms up, it has the potential to be dastardly.

The finish

Maybe the best thing MetLinks did with the rerouting was finish with the two most punishing holes Metacomet had to offer.

The old No. 4 was the only hole I never birdied at Metacomet. MetLinks moved the tee box back and created a very scorable par 5. It’s just fun to play the hole again. Standing on the green after a bogey, it was refreshing to look around and see the first hole, No. 2 surrounding the water, the distant third hole and the path I just took to get up here. This is going to provide quite a view during twilight rounds this summer.

You finish MetLinks with a mid-length par 3. It’s uphill, you can’t see the green and while the wind normally helps, it rarely feels like it does. This hole is home of the first par I ever made and while I made a few more there, I didn’t on this day — but I was OK with it.

Changes MetLinks should think about

I cannot speak highly enough about the redesign. There are going to be many people who disagree but that’s a take based on emotion and not reality. Metacomet was never coming back and, honestly, it wasn’t until last Thursday that I realized that. MetLinks gives people a chance to see the heart and soul of the course and it’s great to have it back.

It’s not perfect. They need to find a way to bring the greens back to what they once were, or at least close to it. The greens were what defined Metacomet and if they can get back to double-digit speeds, it will bring life to the course.

For beginners, MetLinks might be tough. I don’t think it’s a stretch to say this is the most challenging nine-hole course in Rhode Island. The first three holes are beasts and the final two aren’t for the weary either. The short par 3s and short par 4 help, but if you’re not hitting good golf shots, it’ll make for a very long day.

Two other things — they’ll need some signage on the No. 2 tee that will tell players exactly what the carry is over the water. It looks reachable. For 99% of players, it’s not. Signage would also be good at the cart spot near the No. 2 green so players know to bring drivers to the green with No. 3 right behind it.

Is MetLinks worth the price?

This is the million-dollar question, or in this case, the $50 one.

OK, so it’s not quite $50. For non-East Providence residents, nine holes will cost you $46 with a cart and if you want to go around twice, it’s $20 more. Residents don’t save much, but it would be nice if MetLinks gave the locals a substantial break.

You can walk the course, but be warned — it’s a tough one. That walk up No. 3 is sneaky tough and getting to the new fourth tee box isn’t easy. Finishing uphill on the final two holes is a good workout as well.

If you’re passionate about golf and don’t play this course, you’re a bona fide crazy person.

The hardest part about playing it is reminding yourself that it’s not Metacomet Country Club. MetLinks isn’t trying to be that. MetLinks is trying to be exactly what it is — a terrific nine-hole golf course that respects what it once was while adding its own twist.

And the Rhode Island golfing community is better for it.

This article originally appeared on Golfweek: This historic Donald Ross design has been reduced to nine holes and it's a 'shock to the system'

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