Local knowledge, easy access and exceptional value are luring Southern Ontarians to the New York Golf Trail

By Ted McIntyre

Rod Christian grew up in the Finger Lakes, and if you spend a day driving or hiking around the region, you get an idea of why the founder of the New York Golf Trail is still there. Named for a group of 11 long, skinny freshwater lakes stretching essentially north to south in the west-central section of Upstate New York, the enchanting region of rolling hills appears from above to have been vigorously scratched out by the hands of God as he carved those distinctive water elements.

Ringing three of the lakes (Keuka, Seneca and Cayuga), the latter two of which are among the deepest in the U.S., is a treasure trove of nearly 100 wineries, breweries and distilleries. Want to know a particularly good vineyard or craft brewery? Christian will highlight them in your itinerary. Want to know a great place for Italian food? “Check out Otto Tomotto’s in the town of Victor, and try the Tubolare—a deep-fried Italian bread, tossed with cinnamon and sugar and stuffed with your choice of butter cream frostings for $6!” he offers.

Ithaca Falls on Fall Creek

There’s nary a trail, waterfall, restaurant or hotel, much less a golf course, that Christian hasn’t personally experienced. And he is eager to share that insider’s knowledge with each client of the New York Golf Trail, a sterling collection of 24 courses and 17 accommodations that meanders from Buffalo to New York City. And while the U.S. exchange rate is keeping some Canadian golf tourists at bay, the smart ones are arriving to Upstate and Western New York in increasing numbers. That’s because both the value and quality of golf less than a three-hour drive from Southern Ontario is rather good—stupid good, in fact. Tracks that would command well over $100 in Ontario can be had for $60 US—with a power cart—as part of Christian’s Trail.

Some of the layouts are hard to put a price on because, well, there isn’t really a price. Niagara Frontier Country Club in historic Youngstown, for example—a 100-minute drive from downtown Toronto and just a few minutes from the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge—is a private club. Rated a whopping 4.7 out of 5 by GolfAdvisor, the 85-year-old course was renovated in 2000 by master Canadian architect Doug Carrick. Even better might be Seneca Hickory Stick. Ranked the 12th-best public course in the state last year by GOLF Magazine, the Robert Trent Jones II design weaves its way across a truly gifted slice of topography.

Enjoy some wine while in the Finger Lakes region

As part of the Niagara Summer Package, guests can play both courses, with two nights’ accommodations at Lakeview Motel & Cottages, for $260 US per person. “Lakeview is a unique little place,” says Christian of the Youngstown facility, which is rated an impressive 4.5 out of 5 by TripAdvisor. “I was really impressed with it. It’s fairly new. The cabins have flatscreen TVs, BBQ grills and porches. It’s a real throwback. And you have access to the beach, as Lake Ontario is right across the street. You can also rent cottages right on the lake.”

Looking for a little more après-golf action? The Finger Lakes (the area of which, incidentally, is bigger than the state of Delaware) and the city of Rochester at the northwest corner of the scenic region offer multiple attractions, notes Christian. “There is entertainment and special events throughout the summer. And if you stay in the East End entertainment district of Rochester, you really don’t have to drive at all. And there are some great restaurants in the area, including The Mendon House, Jeremiah’s Tavern and Bristol Harbour Resort, where you can enjoy a drink after the round in Adirondack chairs in front of the clubhouse overlooking the lake. These are the sort of places that you wouldn’t know about unless you lived here, which is why we like to tell our guests about them.”

Bristol Harbour Golf Course

Home to a 1972 Robert Trent Jones creation, Bristol Harbour is one of the Trail’s six Finger Lakes layouts, which also include Mendon GC, another private club Trail that Christian’s clients can access. Laid out over 150 impeccably groomed acres that include a creek, two lakes and a wooded back nine, the course has hosted a pair of U.S. Open qualifiers and one U.S. Amateur qualifier in the past three years.

Summer packages in the Finger Lakes region, which run to Aug. 30, start at $265 per person (when paired with the Best Western Plus Inn & Suites in Victor), with a slight increase for the area’s other three accommodations: the Hampton Inn & Suites and Holiday Inn Express in Victor, and the East Avenue Inn & Suites in the heart of Rochester’s East End. Guests can choose any two of the area’s six courses.

Christian has a long list of recommended stops for visitors to both the Niagara and Finger Lakes regions, from the Thirsty Turtle sports bar in Victor to the Brickyard Pub in Lewiston, and from boutique shops in Rochester’s Park Avenue district to the sprawling, upscale Eastview Mall in Victor, just a two-minute drive from the local hotels.

Mead Square in Victor, NY

But it’s the beauty of the region and its courses that evoke the most positive feedback from New York Golf Trail visitors. “We’ve been doing guest surveys for the past five years, and it’s hard to find a negative comment,” says Christian, whose one-stop-shop allows guests to make only one call or email, and the Trail staff will handle the rest, including tee times, hotel reservations at group rates, as well as billing individual members of your group so you don’t have to.

They also like the $20 per-person discount Canadians can get by including “Looney” in the Promo Code box of the website, Christian notes.

“But they really love the golf courses,” he says. “Our goal is to become the No. 1 golf destination in the northeast U.S. And I think we’re well on our way.”

New York Golf Trail: nygolftrail.com; (800) 614-7450