Just south of the border awaits a golf trail teeming in affordable first-rate designs from master architects
By Ted McIntyre
So here’s the question: When you live in Ontario, why would you want to cross the border to play golf in the summer? It’s not as though we don’t have great golf courses here, right? In fact, many of the scenic tracks of cottage country are just a two-hour drive for Torontonians—OK, three hours on weekends.
But what if you had a bevy of memorable layouts at your disposal for, say, half the price, at the same distance? What if you could take a 90-minute drive to Seneca, N.Y., and play the 4.5-star Robert Trent Jones II design of Hickory Stick for less than $50 US, or a host of other equally impressive layouts along the New York Golf Trail for similarly modest fees—carts included?
“We get a lot of consistent feedback from Canadians who can’t believe how affordable the courses are for the quality,” says Rod Christian, founder of the New York Golf Trail, a marvellous string of 24 courses and 17 hotels and inns that stretch across seven regions, from Niagara Falls in the west to the Hudson Valley, just north of New York City.
Christian rules the vacationing golfer empire in the Empire State, and his collection of many of New York’s finest public (and a few private) clubs includes such standouts as the 106-year-old Leatherstocking GC at Otesaga Resort in Cooperstown. Awarded 4.5 stars by Golf Digest, the natural contour of the course sweeps along the western shore of Lake Otsego.
Arguably even better is Malone GC in the Lake Placid region, just south of the Quebec border, another RTJ creation awarded 4.5 stars from Golf Digest. “I think that’s our signature course of the Trail,” says Christian of the 36-hole facility. People rave about it. A lot of pine trees, great service, a new clubhouse, fantastic conditioning and a private club feel. The pro there, Derek Sprague, is now the president of the PGA of America. Babe Ruth once played there. It’s $60-$75 and is included in our Lake Placid package.”
While vacationers can choose their courses, accommodations, attractions and number of days, the packages (including two rounds with carts, two nights of shared accommodations and even the odd meal) begin at $245. Canadians receive the enticement of a $20 deduction to help deal with the exchange rate.
Most enticing to Ontarians are the easily accessed Niagara, Buffalo, Rochester and Finger Lakes regions. “Ironically, in my mind, two of the best values in the state are right there—Niagara ($250 pp spring, summer and fall) and Finger Lakes (spring rates of $245 pp),” says Christian.
The ease of negotiating the New York Trail website is part of the service that distinguishes Christian from his competition. “There are a lot of golf travel companies out there, but we’re the only one concentrating on New York State,” he says. “And most don’t make your tee times and hotel reservations—which we do at group rates—or offer suggestions for restaurants and attractions like we do. We’re a one-stop shop, which was part of my intent in establishing the Trail—to make it as easy as possible for people to take advantage of New York golf. You just hop on the website and fill out a quick quote request. Within 24 hours we’ll get your quote back.
You can cancel 24 hours out with a full refund, and tee times can be booked up to eight months in advance. And we’ll also bill the members of your party individually so you don’t have that stress.”
For the handful of Trail courses and accommodations that he has not personally visited, Christian has a short list of confidantes who have.
And when it comes to the lodging side of the equation, he isn’t exactly throwing darts at a board.
“I’ve paid as much attention to the accommodations as the golf courses. I am really proud of them,” says Christian. “We offer the trusted chain hotels like Hampton Inn, but each of the seven regions has a quaint local inn where you can enjoy the local flavour, such as the historic Red Mill Inn right on the Erie Canal in Central New York, the East Avenue Inn & Suites in Rochester, which is right near the nightlife, or the Inn at Saratoga, which sits right on Broadway in Saratoga. It’s such a fun town.”
It’s a pleasant reminder that while Trail guests are there to swing their sticks, travellers want to soak up the sights as well. The main attractions are Niagara Falls, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, the famed Saratoga Racetrack, the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in the Hudson Valley, Finger Lakes wineries and a new craft beer trail just outside Rochester. But there’s also something for those seeking a little adventure.
“One of the great trips my family ever had was to Lake Placid,” Christian relates. “I didn’t realize you could ride a bobsled down the Olympic run, go see an ice show at the arena or experience summer downhill ski jumping on the actual Lake Placid jump. And now they have skeleton and gondola rides at White Face Mountain! It all makes it a great town to visit in the summer!”
Christian loves the variety, which makes for an eclectic guest list. “We have a group of 16 coming this spring, who have specifically requested Malone GC on their way back home. And we also have a couple from Germany for two weeks this summer who are flying into NYC, driving to the Hudson Valley and up to Saratoga, then Cooperstown, then Finger Lakes.
“The quality is there no matter what you want to spend,” says Christian. “Golfers can spend $500 for three nights and three rounds for higher-end courses and accommodations, but we don’t hard sell. I’ll let people know that they can save $100 by substituting X for Y. We try to be really cognizant of cost.
“Our goal is to become the No. 1 golf destination in the northeast U.S.,” Christian continues. “I think we’re well on our way.”
New York Golf Trail: nygolftrail.com; (800) 614-7450