Championship courses. Hidden gems. Enjoyable nine-hole layouts.
Welcome to golf in Essex County.
The quality - and quantity - of the golf available in the county and all of the Adirondacks is sometimes overlooked. But more and more golfers are discovering the lush fairways, well-manicured greens and superb designs.
Nowhere is that more true than in the Lake Placid area, where no fewer than five championship courses - four within a 10-to-12-minute drive - offer outstanding golf and scenery.
The largest of these golf complexes is the Lake Placid Resort, with 45 holes, highlighted by the 4-Star Golf Digest-rated Links Course, a Scottish-style layout designed, appropriately, by a Scotsman -Seymour Dunn, who left his signature on several local layouts. The Links Course, a par-71 track known for its native fescue, cavernous bunkers and undulating greens, can play to over 6,700 yards from the back tees, but accommodates all levels of golfers from the whites, reds and golds.
The Mountain Course is an antique layout that received a 1913 facelift under the direction of Alister MacKenzie, who went on to design the famed Augusta National. A bit shorter than the Links course at just over 6,000 yards, it challenges golfers with rolling terrain, a couple of blind tee shots (including a par-3), and small greens.
The Lake Placid Resort also offers The Executive, or Pristine Nine, a short nine-holer that's the perfect place to hone your short game or take a beginning golfer.
Another championship layout, Craig Wood Golf Course, is also steeped in history. The town-owned 18-holer is named in honor of the former U.S. Open and British Open champion who was born and raised in Lake Placid.
Craig Wood is marked by distinctly different nines. The front is longer and more wide open, with a trio of par-5s, while the back nine offers several memorable shotmaking challenges, none more so than the par-3 13th, a dramatic one-shotter across a ravine to a green tucked into a sloping hillside.
Across town, the scenic Whiteface Club on the shores of Lake Placid has been entertaining golfers since 1898, although it wasn't until 1930 that the layout was enlarged to 18 holes - and that was 15 years after a second nine-hole track was built closer to the Whiteface Inn. The course was designed by John Van Kleek, and golf legend Walter Hagen consulted on the work.
At just 6,490 yards from the back tees, Whiteface won't overwhelm you with its length. But the tight fairways, often guarded by wooded areas, as well as elevated greens and well-placed bunkers, will grab your attention and hold it.
Whiteface is known for a pair of outstanding holes: the par-5 sixth, with a dramatically elevated tee that demands an accurate iron shot to a narrow fairway with Whiteface Mountain rising as the backdrop; and the par-3 14th, at 218 yards one of the toughest one-shotters in the Adirondacks.
While the Saranac Inn Golf Club, located about 25 minutes outside Lake Placid, isn't located in Essex County (it's in nearby Franklin), it's included in the Lake Placid mix for several reasons. Perhaps the biggest is that it's arguably the finest conditioned in the Adirondacks and on every visitors "must play" list.
Another Seymour Dunn masterpiece (in fact, he called Saranac Inn his finest work), Saranac Inn is best-known for its exquisite putting surfaces - even the three-tiered ninth, a reachable par-5 where your birdie - or eagle - putt always seems to be up or down one tier.
This is a course that grabs your attention early, with a 408-yard opener, and keeps it throughout, with long-ish par-4s and a delightful blend of par-5s and par-3s. There's a rhythm to Saranac Inn, with splendid conditions, a friendly atmosphere and a peaceful setting off Upper Saranac Lake.
While the Lake Placid area serves as a hub of Essex County's golfing opportunities, a pair of championship layouts along Lake Champlain continue to attract attention.
Generally regarded as one of the best of the lot is the Westport Country Club, a century-old 18-hole course designed by Thomas Winton. Westport offers superb playing conditions amid stunning views of the Adirondacks as well as Vermont's Green Mountains.
The golf is exceptional, with a 6,544-yard track that yields pars grudgingly, particularly after the opening five holes.
Westport's signature hole is undoubtedly the downhill 12th, a par-4 of 412 yards to a green guarded by a pond and brook. The 440-yard eighth is easily the toughest hole on the front nine.
Just down the road is the Ticonderoga Country Club, a popular championship test for both a thriving membership as well as visitors to the region. It's more than a golf course - it's an historic site, for on this course was fought the "Battle on Snowshoes," where British troops waged a bloody battle in 1758 with Native Americans.
Another Dunn design, Ticonderoga offers a unique 37-34-71 layout, with a trio of par-5s on the front nine. Also notable is there isn't a bunker on the course, but with Trout Brook snaking its way through the property and coming into play on seven holes, no sand is necessary.
In addition to the championship golf courses in Essex County, there are a series of fine nine-hole routes that cater to visitors and members. Notable among that list is the well-conditioned Schroon Lake Golf Club; the challenging Elizabethtown Golf Club; an enjoyable layout at Willsboro Golf Club; and the bustling Moriah Country Club, as well as courses at Ausable Valley, Port Kent and Saranac Lake.
(On the Web: www.lakeplacidgolf.com)