John Torsiello, Contributing Golf and Travel Writer
Bolton Landing, NY (Sports Network) -
Perhaps one of the most under-appreciated great bodies of water in the U.S. is Lake George in eastern upstate New York.
While it's overall size pales in comparison with nearby Lake Champlain and, of course, the Great Lakes of the northern Midwest, Lake George serves as a stunningly beautiful backdrop for a late summer or autumn vacation.
The still wild Adirondack Mountains seemingly merge with the lake at its shoreline, which is dotted with summer cottages and homes of various sizes and shapes. Numerous islands hide retreats for the wealthy and offer fabulous spots for camping.
The jewel of Lake George is The Sagamore, one of the truly magnificent lakeside resort hotels in the world let alone the U.S. An evening's boat ride offers a view out of an Alps tour book, with the majestic, sprawling hotel glistening white in the distance and framed by the mountains rising from the shore.
One of my most memorable boat rides on the hotel's "The Morgan" sloop was in early spring when a snowfall had made the mountaintops seem as if they had been sprinkled by an unseen hand with sugar. The setting sun splashed color off various parts of the evergreen forest towering above the lake.
The Sagamore is a multifaceted resort with various recreational opportunities, such as sailing, boating, fishing, tennis, cycling and hiking. Or you can just while away the days sipping a cocktail and reading a novel dockside or on the patio. Recently renovated dinning rooms create a rich, relaxed mood and offer views of the lake.
But we have come here for the golf and 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 supreme test of skill, with a number of doglegs and elevated greens placing a premium on accuracy and proper club selection.
The owners of the property have invested millions over the years to bring this true classic back to its original form. Recently, extensive drainage improvements have further enhanced then playing conditions year round.
One of the best holes is the 425-yard seventh, which winds sideways up a hill to a green that is protected by a yawning bunker in front and woods to the right.
I love the 10th, a 442-yard par four that drops down into a vale at about the 300-yard mark. The second shot is thus struck usually downhill to a green framed by tall trees.
The 11th is a deceiving, 175-yard par three that demands a straight mid-iron to avoid bunkers and a sharp drop off on the right side of the putting surface. The hole is a superb example of a typical Ross par-three that rewards a well-placed tee shot but punishes, severely at times, the wayward.
The 13th is a great par four, measuring 446 yards from the tips. The tee shot must find a landing area protected by water on two sides with the approach to an elevated green. Par here feels like birdie. Indeed, the birdie I recorded on this hole two years ago with a driver, three-wood and 60-foot putt still resonates in my mind.
Number 16 is a wonderfully designed 366-yard, dogleg-left par four that again shows Ross's brilliance in his use of topography and land that was available to him. The tee ball must be placed perfectly to allow for an unfettered approach across a ravine to a slightly elevated green guarded by bunkers and drop offs. You can make birdie here or walk off with a double bogey.
The Sagamore's golf course has a 73.8 rating and 137 slope from the back tees (6,831 yards). It is a wonder how home head pro Tom Smack, a dabbler on the Senior (now Champions) Tour, managed to record an eight-under-par 62 from the tips. Hint: Don't let Tom get you into a match, no matter how many strokes he's willing to part with.
The Sagamore Golf Club offers views of Lake George from the first tee and the surrounding countryside from the rest of the course. There is a quaint 1920's style grille and taproom, framed by tall pines, that lends a nostalgic and peaceful feeling to the club.
Call 518-743-6380 or visit www.thesagamore.com.
Here are some other Lake George-area golf courses you may want to check out if your staying in the area for a while.
MacGregor Links Country Club, Gansevoort. Designed by the legendary architect Devereaux Emmet, the linksy-feeling McGregor offers a solid test of golf, with its 6,656-yard back tees carrying a slope of 133. Those who have played both say McGregor offers similarities with Emmet's most famous work, Congressional Country Club in Bethesda, Maryland, site of several U.S. Opens. Opened in 1921, McGregor is one of the better values in the area and is kept in fine condition.
Glens Falls Country Club, Queensbury. Donald Ross also designed Glen Falls Country Club, which opened in 1912. The track is relatively short -- 6,450 yards from the back tees -- but features many of the elements Ross became famous for such as smallish, pushed up greens, ample bunkering and fairways that roll easily over the natural terrain. Beware of the blind tee shots you'll face on a number of holes. Keep it straight and the flags are very approachable. Miss your shot and you're scrambling for par.
Saratoga National Golf Club, Saratoga Springs. The drive down from Lake George to Saratoga Springs is worth taking to play one of the best new courses to open in the Northeast, Saratoga National Golf Club. Another of Roger Rulewich's superb designs, Saratoga National has won rave reviews and offers a scenic challenge that will have you wanting more. The course is full of great holes and has some of the best par threes you'll ever play.
Cronins Golf Resort, Warrensburg. The course at Cronins Golf Resort is a fun play, measuring just 6,121 yards from the tips. But the par-70 track has enough danger to keep even the best players honest. It was designed by Patrick Cronin and opened in 1930. The club remains in the family with John Cronin managing the course as owner. Good golf for the price.
Tee-Bird Golf Club, Fort Edward. Tee-Bird is a 27-hole facility that offers a very playable 18-hole course that can be enjoyed by accomplished golfers and high handicappers. It plays 6,164 yards from the tips and has a par of 70 and slope of 106. Another good value.
Airway Meadows Golf Club, Glens Falls. A sound golf course that was designed by James Heber. The somewhat hilly layout features fairly wide-open fairways and water on a number of holes. It plays to a yardage of 6,427 from the back markers.
Queensbury Country Club, Lake George. A nice, 6,047-yard layout that plays to a par of 70 and offers a relaxed round. There are a number of short par fours that can be attacked by big hitters. Designed by Mark Cassidy and opened in 1954.
Top Of The World Golf Course, Lake George. As the name suggests, this course offers some wonderful views of the area and is a good course for the entire family.
Brookhaven Golf Club, Porter Corners. Designed by George Pulver, Brookhaven opened in 1963. It measures 6,570 yards from the tips and plays to a par of 71.
Kingswood Golf Club, Hudson Falls. Michael Woodbury designed this solid layout, which opened in 1992. It plays to a par of 72 and has a rating of 71.9 and a slope of 128 from the back tees, which measure 6,571 yards. There is plenty of trouble if you wander off the fairways and the greens will test your putting skill.
Pole Valley Players Club, Hartford. One of the newer courses in the area, Pole Valley opened in 2002 and was designed by Steve Forbes. It plays 6,700 yards from the back tees and had a par of 72.
For contact information on these courses visit www.lakegeorgegolf.com.