Golfers have long memories when it comes to where they play and how they play their favorite sport. In my more than three decades of covering the game for The Daily Gazette, I’ve seen my share of outstanding golf courses, and many would make for a memorable vacation trip for a family or a group of buddies.
Following are five of my choices for a quick golf excursion within an hour or two of the Capital Region. Creating memories at any or all of these gems is practically guaranteed. Quality shots are not necessarily included.
LEATHERSTOCKING GOLF CLUB
I’ve made the short trip to Cooperstown to play this gem at least a half-dozen times under numerous different circumstances. The scenery is out of this world, and players of all types of ability can enjoy the various challenges of a place designed by legendary course architect Devereux Emmet in 1909.
For the golf purists, the final two holes alone are worth the trip. There’s the 195-yard par-3 17th hole over water, and the par-5 18th hole with an island tee and a fairway located along Lake Otsego. Similar to the famed 18th hole at Pebble Beach Golf Links, the greedier you get with your tee shot, the more difficult the challenge. In other words, if you go too far left over the lake, your ball gets wet and you are forever embarrassed.
My memories of this gorgeous layout are too many to recount, but here are a few.
Competing in a pro-am with the late Schenectady Municipal Golf Course head pro Bob Haggerty Jr., me and a few media buddies won the event and a brand new Titleist golf bag. Until he died about 10 years later, I never tired of him recounting the story of how he led us to victory.
My usual golf group of the time, which included current Gazette sports department staffer Mike MacAdam and former Gazetteer Mark Landolfo, visited the place a few times, and we loved dining at the clubhouse, where you could see fellow golfers trying to conquer the 18th hole.
The Otesaga Hotel is magnificent for dining or staying a night or two. There are plenty of other places to eat in historic Cooperstown, where you can also visit the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Glimmerglass Opera, the Farmers’ Museum, the Fennimore Art Museum or take a cruise on Otsego Lake, which I’ve done numerous times.
TURNING STONE RESORT & CASINO
This place, located less than a couple of hours away in Geneva, is loaded with fun, both on and off the five golf courses.
Whether you play the Atunyote, Kaluhyat, Shenendoah, Pleasant Knolls or Sandstone Hollow courses, you will be challenged and entertained.
I played the Atunyote course, which hosted the Turning Stone Resort Championship from 2007-2010 and also hosted the PGA Professional Championship and the BC Open. One of my most vivid memories was “meeting” Tiger Woods for the first time when he played in a charity event there. The media scrum after the event didn’t allow most of us to get up close and personal with Mr. Woods at the time, but seeing him play was worth the trip.
One of the great things about playing Atunyote was that we were provided official caddies, dressed in the familiar white uniforms that make them look like painters. Our caddie was fantastic, and he gave me plenty of advice, including one tip where he suggested I swing my irons and hybrids a little more like my driver with a lower takeaway. I hit my Tight Lies club to within 15 feet on the next hole, and we made the birdie. Instant feedback.
Going to Turning Stone to play golf is a no-brainer, not only because of the great choice in elite golf courses, but also because of the many other amenities, including fantastic food at all the restaurants, plenty of gambling opportunities at the casino and shows of all kinds.
THE SAGAMORE RESORT
Former Sagamore head pro Tom Smack invited a group of us to the course a handful of times, and it was always rewarding.
The Sagamore Resort, located in Bolton Landing and designed by Donald Ross, is one of the region’s most challenging courses, and the scenery from the first hole, overlooking Lake George, is breathtaking. This is one of the more difficult opening holes in local golf, so don’t get discouraged if you struggle early. Things, like your score, will get better -- or not.
There is plenty of elevation throughout this course, and no matter which tee you play from, you will enjoy the experience. You definitely feel like you are in a special place.
My usual group of buddies and I stayed a few nights in the Lake George region, and that’s one of the perks about this trip. Whether you stay at the historic Sagamore, which is quite expensive (roughly $270 for the month of May), or venture south to Lake George, there is plenty to do and dozens of places to eat.
My best memory of this course was one day when our group finally finished playing during a downpour. Smack was waiting for us as we finished the 18th hole and said he wanted to interview us like I had interviewed him so many times. It was a short interview.
QUEENSBURY COUNTRY CLUB
Located less than an hour away, this public layout is perfect for a quick round that won’t frustrate you.
No matter which tee you play from, this course is fair, and not overly long. You will be required to hit all types of shots, but most of them should be in your repertoire.
I’ve played this course a couple of times. It used to be in my group’s rotation for our annual golf vacation trip to the Adirondacks. The prices there are extremely reasonable, and once you’re finished golfing, you can bring your group – or your family – to all sorts of other entertainment venues, including The Great Escape and Spashwater Kingdom. All types of restaurants are available along Six Flags Drive.
My favorite memory of this place is when Landolfo and I hit our shots into a cemetery bordering one of the fairways. It took quite a while before we figured out where our next shot would be – and it wasn’t from inside the cemetery.
On another occasion, during a heavy rainstorm – sound familiar? – we continued to play and eventually caught the only other group still playing on the course. They let us play through. Why not? They were more soaked than we were.
BLACKHEAD MOUNTAIN LODGE & COUNTRY CLUB
Owned by the Maassmann family, this course is located on Crows Nest Road in Round Top, down in the Catskills. When it gets hot up here, a little trip down south is perfect, especially if you like mountain golf. Half the course was built in 1990, and nine more holes were added in 1999.
This is a challenging and picturesque place that looks easy to play, but when your shots miss their mark and begin to roll back down the mountain, you might reconsider that evaluation.
The course is part of a region that flourished during a different time. Many of the buildings will remind you of the movie “Dirty Dancing.”
Prices are extremely affordable here, and the owners often offer specials that include dinner at the Maassmann Restaurant.
My favorite memory here is when MacAdam, a running enthusiast, decided he would walk all 18 holes, despite the warnings of the owner. He accomplished his goal, but he was exhausted. My suggestion: take a cart and enjoy.
The food is outstanding at the Maassmann Restaurant, and you may decide to stay at the lodge and perhaps tackle a few more of the many Green County golf courses in that region.
Reach Bob [email protected] or @BobWeiner58 on Twitter.