Driving into Saratoga National Golf Club in Saratoga Springs, New York, one has the impression of entering a high-end horse farm, what with a white, split rail fence lining the roadway and acres of green spreading as far as the eye can see. And once you arrive at the facility’s fabulous clubhouse you are greeted by statues of horses, further lending an equine air to the property.
It’s all quite natural, you see. For the land that Saratoga National’s stunning golf course is laid out over once served as a horse farm. But now, instead of stallions prancing in the tall grass there are golfers in pursuit of their own version of glory.
Saratoga National opened in 2001 and won immediate rave reviews for its routing and skillful use of the natural terrain, ponds and wetlands to create a challenging yet very playable course. The track is considered one of Roger Rulewich’s best designs and has been listed among the top 100 public courses in the United States by Golf Digest magazine.
Myself, and golf buddy Tony Ponte, had the opportunity to visit the club in early May when most courses in northern New York were still shaking out from their winter freeze. But the conditions at the layout, so lovingly cared for by superintendent Joe Lucas and his capable staff, were already mint.
The large and undulating greens were receptive to all types of approach shots and rolled true, the tee boxes large and level, and the fairways mown tight so as to allow for crisp iron shots on the par-fours and sweeping long irons and metal woods to the par-fives. The rough areas, which were all sodded, were a bit punishing but not so deep as to forbid a well played shot from reaching the putting surface.
Of course, when summer breaks the course really comes to life in all its lush beauty. The fescue grass that lines many of the fairways grows tall, further imbuing the track with a sense of links golf. It’s also when vacationers to nearby shops, inns, museums and venerable Saratoga Raceway flock to Saratoga National to sample what has been described as one of the top daily fee clubs in the country.
“We do 40 percent of our 24,000 or so rounds a year during the six-week window of race season, which runs from late July to the beginning of September,” said Peter Tavares, director of golf for the facility. “Being in such a desirable location as Saratoga Springs, with its history and attractions, is a major plus for us.”
When we visited, the club was in the final stages of a several-million-dollar addition to its clubhouse that will accommodate a 260-person banquet hall featuring a tasteful interior and majestic views of the property and course.
The new facility will allow the club to upgrade its public restaurant as well as encourage the hosting of large functions. Successful local restaurateur Angelo Mazzone has taken over the food and beverage operations at the club’s comfortable restaurant and promises to deliver a memorable cuisine.
“Many people look at our clubhouse and the course and think we are private,” said Tavares. “We are lucky to have an ownership that does what it takes to make our club and course better every year.”
Added Addy Waldie, events coordinator for the club, “It’s a great property with a great staff and we are at a maturity level where the property sells itself to some degree.”
Said Tavares, “We have become a destination for many people and we want to continue to build upon that.”
The course is a magical mix of holes that are each unique and set apart from one another. You can stretch the track to beyond 7,000 yards from the back tees, which have a slope of over 140. But there are four other sets of tees to meet the playing ability of all visitors, and it is wise to play one or two horseshoe markers down from the back the first time you tee it up here.
Water comes into play on a number of holes and there are 16 forced carries on the course, but none so daunting as to discourage the average player. As mentioned above, the fairways are generous so that driver is never out of the equation. There is bail out area usually on one side or the other of each hole and enough bunkers to catch your attention off the tees and on approach shots.
One of the best holes on the front side is the 438-yard par-four third that bends dramatically from left to right. Big hitters can take their tee shots over the rough and bunkers that guard the right side of the fairway and shorten the hole.
Number seven is a great par-three. It measures 208 yards from the back and plays over wetlands and a pond. The front side finisher is a fun, 395-yard par-four that doglegs to the left. Again, big boppers can fly the ball over a large mound off the left side of the fairway and shorten the way to an elevated, well-protected putting surface.
The back side has two of the best par-fives you will ever play. The 10th is a 552-yarder that calls for a skillfully placed tee shot and a second shot to a position near a stream that runs in front of the green.
The 590-yard 13th is a real gem. Water guards the left side of fairway starting about 230 yards out from the tees all the way to the green. Pull your drive or second shot left and you are in the drink.
Saratoga’s National’s “signature hole” is the 195-yard 15th. It’s a delightful par-three that plays over water with a wetlands area behind the green to gobble up too forceful a shot. When the wind blows, club selection is made even more difficult.
The massive 470-yard 18th is a perfect way to conclude a memorable round. The tee shot is across a natural area and the approach to a green that is bordered by wetlands to the rear and left. The putting surface sits below the grandiose clubhouse, creating a spectacular sight.
Saratoga National also offers a comprehensive natural grass practice area, putting green and a popular golf academy. Mulligan’s at the Turn offers up a wide array of food and beverages between the ninth green and the 10th tee.
We were duly impressed with the friendliness of the staff--from Tavares, Waldie and the assistants in the well-appointed and fully-stocked pro shop to the starter and rangers that occasionally visited to chat about the course and offer recommendations.
The greens fees at Saratoga National range from a low of $90 for 18 and a cart during “twilight” time to $185 primetime during peak summer season. The club also has “stay and play” packagers with local hotels.
Saratoga National Golf Club
Saratoga, New York