Strung like diamonds across the upper Northeast are several of the oldest and finest resorts in the world. And all of these properties, located on what can accurately be called “The Gilded Golf Trail,” possess historic golf courses for visitors to enjoy.
Spaced within a day’s drive of one another, the resorts of The Gilded Golf Trail make for a thoroughly enjoyable and educational week- or two-week vacation. You’ll be playing some of the most interesting and venerated golf courses in the East, many of which have undergone significant upgrades in recent years to bring them back to their former luster in an age when distinction and style really meant something.
Vermont’s Woodstock Inn and Resort sits stately in what has been called a “quintessential New England village.”
Woodstock is steeped in history. It first opened in 1892 and Laurance S. Rockefeller, who created a farm museum and endowed 550 acres of land in town to the National Park Service, bought the inn and 1962, removed the original building and replaced it with the stunning present facility. Reopened in 1969, the Woodstock Resort and Inn quickly jumped onto the list of the world’s most magnificent resorts.
The resort’s Woodstock Country Club traces its roots back to 1895 and opened first on a hillside cow pasture. The course was moved to the lowlands with Robert Trent Jones, Sr. redesigning the course. Only 6,000 yards from the tips, the par-69 tract can play friendly or bite you when you least expect it. Most of the trouble comes from the sparkling clear waters of Kedron Brook, which rambles along 12 of the holes.
Woodstock is full of great par-fours, like the 375-yard third that demands a fairway wood or long-iron tee shot to the front the stream followed by a crisp mid-iron to an elevated green. The fourth hole, a 403-yard par-four, plays downhill over the brook to a landing area and then back across the water to a green protected on three sides by woods.
The course also has some superb par-threes, several of which play over water. The 15th is only 149 yards but demands a nerves-of-steel tee shot over Kedron Brook with bunkers also protecting the green.
We hop into our car and head south to The Berkshires of Massachusetts where the Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club waits.
Cranwell, located in Lenox, was constructed during the Gilded Age and welcomed wealthy industrialists and writers of the day. Frederick Law Olmstead, the man who created New York City’s Central Park, was commissioned to design the grounds at what was then a mansion called Wyndhurst owned by the furniture baron John Sloane.
Cranwell, having had much of it original grandeur restored, offers a relaxed and elegant approach to life with a new spa opening in doors in 2002. There’s an extensive golf practice facility on the premises manned by PGA pros.
Cranwell’s 18-hole course was designed by Wayne Styles and John Van Kleek in 1926. This is a picturesque, traditional New England resort course routed over the hills surrounding the resort and through mature woodlands of the area.
Number five, a 233-yard par-three, is one of the most demanding short holes in the region and is the only hole on which you will find water. You had better score well on the front side because the inward nine is much more difficult, with several brutal par-fours and some very good par-threes waiting.
Number 11 is perhaps the course’s signature hole, a 200-yard par-three that plays from a chute of trees to a wildly slopped green below. Massive bunkers guard the putting surface.
The Mount Washington Resort, located in Bretton Woods, New Hampshire, first opened in 1902 and is considered a National Historic Landmark. Conceived by industrialist Joseph Stickney, it has long been a summer haunt for “poets, presidents and princes.” A grand example of Spanish Renaissance architecture, the hotel stands stunningly below the mountains from which it takes its name.
There are 27 holes of superb golf at Mount Washington, including an 18-hole track designed by Donald Ross and opened in 1915. The course has hosted four New Hampshire Opens and will reopen this summer after a major renovation and upgrade, led by noted architect Brian Silva, that gave the layout a new luster while sticking to Ross’s original design intent. The course features bunkers crafted in a classic flair and varied shot values. Both the par-four 11th hole and the par-three fifth hole offer stunning views of the Mount Washington Hotel and the surrounding mountains.
The nine-hole, par-35 Mount Pleasant course opened in 1895 and offers a shorter golfing alternative or an additional nine for those who simply can’t get enough on those longer summer days. Early greats, like designer Alex Findlay, British Open champs Harry Vardon and J.W. Taylor and U.S. Open champ Willie Anderson, all played the course during the early 20th century. The layout was also upgraded in 1989 by Cornish and Silva Golf Course Architects with input from Gene Sarazen and Ken Venturi.
Poland Spring Resort, about 35 miles north of Portland, Maine, features a course that is considered one of the oldest courses in the country. It was designed by Arthur Fenn in 1895, with Donald Ross adding another nine holes and refurbishing the existing nine in 1912. It’s listed on several publications’ must play lists.
Poland Spring Resort has three inns and 11 cottages that surround the property’s golf course. All meals are served at the Maine Inn, which also contains Rick’s Pub, a library and nightly entertainment. The Presidential Inn was built in 1912 and fully renovated in 1982. It houses the resort’s fitness center. The Motor Inn is located on the 12th hole of the golf course and a nature trail leads to the Maine Inn.
Poland Spring Golf Course is a classic resort track, short (6,116 yards), but a layout that places a premium on accuracy and wise club selection. The course features a number of short par-fours that set up risk-reward tee shots and a few, such as the beastly, 447-yard 15th, that will test the stamina of even the best players.
The classic Mansion at the Ocean Edge Resort in Brewster, Mass. dates back to 1912 and is an enhanced version of what was originally known as Fieldstone Hall, which banker Samuel Mayo Nickerson built for his only son, Roland, his wife and their children in 1890. After fire destroyed the original house, a more grand home was constructed in 1907 on the same site, with the Mansion containing 16 rooms, all outfitted with Italian marble fireplaces and fine wood interiors.
The Mansion remained in the Nickerson family until 1945 when it was sold to a religious order, which used it as a seminary and home for wayward boys until Corcoran Jennison bought the property in 1980 and opened the resort in 1986. The Mansion and carriage house have been upgraded to include 12 meeting rooms, state-of-the-art audio-visual electronics, plasma screen televisions and wireless Internet access.
Jack Nicklaus and his company did a masterful job reshaping the golf course at Ocean Edge. The track, which reopened this spring, now plays 7,011 yards from the tips and quickly took a place among the great layouts of the Northeast.
Several of the holes from the existing course were lengthened, such as the 10th hole, which used to be a short par-four but now is a 420-yard dogleg left par-four that is truly splendid in character and challenge.
Perhaps the new course’s signature hole is the 17th, which plays around 600 yards from the back. The par-five dogleg works its way up a hill and is a true three-shot par-five for even the longest hitters.
Nicklaus also imbued the new course with the area’s unique setting, a landscape that includes mature stands of trees, a rolling topography and subtle elevation changes.
The Equinox Resort and Spa, nestled in the tiny hamlet of Manchester Village, Vt. and just down the street from many outlet shops and the main Orvis fishing store, features a new $5 million spa and offers such eclectic recreational activities as fly fishing and falconry.
Located a short stroll from the hotel is The Gleneagles Golf Course, originally built in 1927 and designed by the legendary amateur player Walter J. Travis and restored in 1992 by Rees Jones. Travis’ original routing has a Scottish flavor to it. Although the track is relatively short--only 6,423 yards from the tips--fairway and greenside bunkers and elevated greens pose a challenge.
The Otesaga Resort Hotel sits grandly by scenic Lake Otsego and only a long home run away from the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. After breakfast you can amble over to The Leatherstocking Golf Course, built in 1909 and designed by Devereux Emmet, the man who created famed Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland.
The layout is a true delight. It’s a well kept routing that is challenging, scenic and fun. Revel in the layout’s quirkiness. A demanding 411-yard par-four is followed by a relatively straightforward 362-yard four par on the front side, which ends with a testy 186-yard par-three that demands a pure shot to an elevated green hidden from view from the tee box.
The Sagamore in Bolton Landing, N.Y. is one of the magnificent lakeside hotels in the country. The Sagamore is home to a superb Donald Ross golf course, designed by the master in 1928. Ross’s signature elements--hogback greens, cross bunkering and deep greenside bunkers--are in evidence. The par-70 layout is a test of skill, with a number of doglegs and elevated greens placing a premium on accuracy and proper club selection.
New Hampshire’s The Balsams, located in Dixville Notch of Presidential elections fame and a short drive from the Canadian border, is another truly legendary New England resort. With its trademark red roof and gleaming white spires, The Balsams has been welcoming visitors since before the Civil War when it was known as The Dix House.
The Panorama Course at The Balsams is yet another Ross design that has 15 of its original greens in play. Ross crafted the course in 1912, an expansion of the resort’s initial experiment with golf, a six-hole track built in 1897. The course is both scenic and challenging.
For a truly memorable and significant golf vacation during summer or fall it’s hard to beat The Gilded Golf Trail.