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Grand Old Golf

The Courses of the Storied Eastern Resorts Offer a Primer in the Game's History to Those Who Play On Them
Jeff Williams
From the Print Edition:
John F. Kennedy, Nov/Dec 98

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At 6,890 yards and a par of 70, the course is narrow and demanding. The first hole is a dramatic 435-yard par 4 with a view of the lake, the tee some 100 feet above the fairway. It is a proper example of what is to come, of a rolling terrain where unlevel lies and blind tee shots are the norm. The 425-yard seventh hole is No. 1 on the handicap card, an uphill fairway sloping severely from left to right that demands a drawn tee shot to hold the ball on the fairway. There are short par 4s, too, almost all of them sharp doglegs with significant elevation changes. If there is any drawback to playing here, it's that a difficult course combined with plenty of players yields at least five-hour rounds.

If you want to follow Ross's trail to the north, try two grand old resorts in New Hampshire,: the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods and The Balsams Grand Resort Hotel in Dixville Notch. Each hotel has a classic Ross course and 27 holes, and each hotel gives you that fortress feeling, of being sheltered and protected from the daily humdrum of life.

At the Mount Washington Hotel, Ross oversaw the construction of a 6,638-yard par-71 course built in 1915 that is fairly flat, especially on the front nine, but which has some old-style bunkers that must be avoided. This isn't a particularly difficult course, but it's worth playing if for no other reason than the dynamite view of the Presidential Range in the White Mountains. From the championship tee, the par-5 10th hole, at 549 yards, is as long as it gets, while the par-3 fifth, at 140, is the shortest hole. When mist descends from the mountain and covers the course with its cool blanket, you could imagine yourself in a Scottish glen. The nine-hole course, built in 1895, was rebuilt in 1989 by the firm of Cornish and Silva Golf Course Architects. It presents somewhat more of a challenge, with several holes running along the Ammonoosuc River. There is also an 18-hole putting course at the Mount Washington.

At The Balsams in Dixville Notch, Ross built a somewhat longer and tougher course, in 1912. The Panorama Course is 6,804 yards from the back tees, playing high on the western side of Keyser Mountain. The course is a scenic masterpiece, with holes flowing naturally over the mountainside. The fairways aren't as wide as they might seem at first glance and few level lies are to be had. The greens are small, roundish and frequently domed. The nine-hole executive course, the Coashaukee, is next to the hotel and makes for a quick warm-up round after a long drive. It's also a good place for high handicappers and beginners. A decidedly nice feature about golf at The Balsams is that it is free to registered guests of the hotel.

The Equinox in Manchester Village, Vermont, does not have a Donald Ross course. Instead, it has a course originally designed and built by Walter Travis in 1926, then significantly and masterfully redone by Rees Jones in 1997. It's now called the Gleneagles Golf Course in honor of its sister property in Scotland, the Gleneagles Hotel. The hotel underwent an extensive renovation in 1992, bringing it up to modern standards but not forgetting its past.

In the redesign Jones made the fairways wide and greens small, giving resort guests a break off the tee and offering them a challenge to their approach shots. The course is a quite manageable 6,423 yards from the back tees. Not only are there extravagant mountain views of the Green and Taconic ranges, but the view back into town from the 13th green and 14th tee is something special, the gold dome of the courthouse and the white spire of the church sticking up like ornaments on a verdant cake.

Another course that's close by is The Monster at The Concord. Once a bastion of Catskills elegance, the hotel has fallen on hard times. Several investor groups hope to upgrade the facilities, but don't expect much luxury there now. The course is a different story. From championship tees, the Monster stretches to 7,966 yards. From the middle tees, you get a true 6,989-yard test. It's a great course that's being kept in near top form. The par-five fourth is a good example: the second shot requires a draw over a pond that's guarded at the far end by a tree, and the green is surrounded by bunkers--the safe shot is across the water to a narrow landing area. The par-5 12th also tests the big hitters. With a solid drive, you're left with a 220-yard carry over water to the green; it's not for the fainthearted.

A grand final gesture in this journey through mountain golf and days past is to head to the sea in Maine, to end up at the Samoset Resort in Rockport on Penobscot Bay. This course has been called "The Pebble Beach of the East," but it's not nearly the course and not nearly the price. Instead, thanks to a $3 million renovation that included the construction of four new holes, the course is a treat on a delightful summer's day, and a real bear if a nor'easter should blow up.

Five of the course's holes run along Penobscot Bay and pose a decided threat to players who draw the ball from right to left. Errant tee shots to the left may end up on the rocks, providing playthings for gulls, lobsters and seals. The Rockland Breakwater, a nearly mile-long protective barrier against an overactive Atlantic, provides a stunning backdrop to some holes, and 14 holes have views of the water.

From Penobscot Bay to Hot Springs, the great old resorts of the Northeast have uniformly held their own when it comes to service, style and great golf. Increasingly, the golf world is overrun with golf "meccas," megamalls of courses that are strung more like sausage links than golf links. At places like The Homestead, The Greenbrier and the other sanctuaries of the Northeast, golf as a grand old game still reigns supreme.

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