2004: Features Placid Splendor
Lake Placid, N.Y.
Pull up an Adirondack chair and watch the dawning of the day. Sun peeks over the mountains; light fog rolls atop Mirror Lake as a sleepy village awakes. Stress is a stranger.
Lake Placid – a quaint village nestled deep in New York’s Adirondack Park – is placid, indeed, offering a perfect escape for relaxation. And golf.
This former Winter Olympics venue – associated most with the 1980 U.S. hockey team’s “Miracle On Ice” victory – typically might not be among an avid golfer’s list of destinations. But its reputation is growing, and justifiably so.
“I think the Adirondacks are being rediscovered again,” said Steve Wilson, co-owner of Saranac Inn Golf & Country Club. “With 9/11, I think people are kind of looking to rural areas.”
Two hours from Albany and five from New York City, the mountains beckon. The trip from Syracuse, three hours away, provides a leisurely drive through mountains to rolling fairways.
Although there are many courses among the Adirondack Park’s 6 million acres, this excursion focused on five layouts within two hours of each other – four within 45 minutes.
The golf is splendid, but the question remains: Why would a region made famous by winter sports also be such a hot spot to play golf?
“Many other resorts don’t have the name recognition that we have,” said Art Lussi, director of golf for Lake Placid Resort’s courses. “That’s a wonderful cache about Lake Placid because we’re a quaint, unique Winter Olympic village in the mountains.”
Lussi acknowledges a short season, but insists golf can be an increasingly thriving entity in the region.
“The reality is our resort business is, and will always be, June 15 to Sept. 15,” he said. “But I am confident that we can make Lake Placid a golf destination because of the fact we’ve got great courses. You’ve got mountain golf. You’ve got parkland golf. You’ve got links golf.”
In the heart of the village next to the Olympic Training Center, Lake Placid Resort overlooks Main Street and the 128-acre Mirror Lake – with Whiteface Mountain as a backdrop.
The resort’s three courses coexist nicely with the surrounding scene and are a short drive from the front desk. The Adirondacks are spacious, but their courses are not a place to look for wide open fairways and large greens. Keeping tee shots in play and precise approaches to small greens are a must or you’ll be searching for golf balls among the deer and squirrels.
There are no contrived holes or housing developments here. Just tees, fairways and greens. Only one house – albeit extremely close to the 12th tee at Tupper Lake Country Club – was spotted during a recent visit.
The area is remote but is becoming more popular. Steve Piatt, communications director for the Lake Placid/Essex County Visitors Bureau, said the area annually draws nearly 2 million overnight visitors to this village of about 3,000.
“Typically, it’s the Olympic history that is the first tie,” Piatt said. “Once here, they’re overwhelmed by the natural beauty . . . the quality, pace of play and accessibility of the courses. It’s a great place to take a family or nonplaying spouse.”
The beauty is evident at the resort’s Links Course, which offers a natural feel and wonderful views of the Adirondacks. When playing the Links Course, just aim for the mountains. Whichever way you turn, the Adirondack peaks capture your eye. The Links plays 7,006 yards from the tips and the relatively small greens and tees are near each other. There are no cart paths. It’s so natural and quiet on the Links Course, the only noise is the hum of the golf cart. (If you prefer to walk, the setup makes for an enjoyable stroll.)
The course’s natural, unkempt – in a good sense – look makes it feel like it has been here forever. (Actually, Seymour Dunn designed the course in 1909.)
When hitting approach shots to the par-4 sixth and the par-4 eighth, aim at the 90-meter and 120-meter Olympic ski jumps that appear to rise from the treetops. Or you can aim at Mount Marcy, which at 5,344 feet elevation is the highest peak in the state.
Among the recognizable names tied to Lake Placid are Melvil Dewey, he of the Dewey Decimel system and founder of the Lake Placid Club (now the resort) in 1895, and Craig Wood.
The village-owned course – Craig Wood Golf & Country Club – is named after the 1941 Masters and U.S. Open champion. Small greens and nearby tees also await at this 6,853-yard layout as do narrow fairways and blind shots. The front nine plays longer (3,600 yards, par 37 and three par 5s) but the back nine offers more variety in elevation changes, including the picturesque, downhill 178-yard 13th.
If you are here at the right time – mid- to late September – this is the course to play when fall foliage is at its peak. Again, the ski jumps and mountains are always in view.
Adventurous tourists can take a chairlift and 26-story elevator ride to the top of the 120-meter ski jump or ride down the bobsled track. If you want more subdued recreation, leisurely gondola rides up Little Whiteface Mountain and boat tours of 2,173-acre Lake Placid, slightly north of downtown, are available. Or enjoy a quiet, window-shopping stroll down Main Street, only steps from the 400-meter outdoor speed skating oval in front of the high school. So close you almost can hear five-time gold medalist Eric Heiden’s skates cutting the crisp ice surface.
Because Lake Placid remains an Olympic training venue, it’s not uncommon to bump into former or current Olympians – such as Canadian Olympic freestyle skier Steve Omischl or former New York Rangers goaltender Mike Richter, who enjoys retirement at his home on the banks of Lake Placid.
Back on the fairways, don’t pass up Saranac Inn.
This cozy, quaint course nestled in the pines was once part of the 60,000-acre Saranac Hotel property. After the round, you can take a short drive down the road and see where the 276-room inn once stood and check out some of the guest houses in use today as private residences. Back in the day, the Duponts, Rockefellers and Morgans vacationed at Saranac Lake. The Rockefellers’ former retreat, The Point, still operates. If you really want to splurge, an all-inclusive stay at the 11-room property goes for $1,250 per night.
Saranac Inn’s course equals the Links Course in conditioning and charm. Although it plays only 6,557 yards from the back, don’t be fooled.
The course offers an enjoyable stretch of holes from Nos. 4-10, including the unique 223-yard, par-3 seventh. A large mound guards the green, making only the top of the flag visible. Take enough club, however, as the green is 20 yards past the mound – actually a large rock covered by grass that was not moved when the course was built in the early 1900s because of lack of earthmoving equipment. The short 303-yard, par-4 eighth has the tee nestled in the woods. Don’t be surprised if a deer makes an appearance – and doesn’t flinch – with the crack of your drive. The 10th hole, a 471-yard par 5, plays back to a view of Whiteface Mountain.
“I think the Adirondack Park in Lake Placid, Tupper (and) Saranac Lake have a lot to offer for any golfer,” said Tupper Lake pro-superintendent Brent Smith.
“All the courses aren’t in perfect pristine condition, but we’re in the mountains now and they’re mountainous courses . . . they’re not going to be perfect all the time. But they’re still fun to play and they’re good golf courses.”
Tupper Lake, a 1932 Donald Ross design, offers opposite nines over the 6,153-yard layout. The front nine – resodded with bluegrass several years ago – provides a scenic, tree-lined, challenging test. The back nine offers more elevation changes and blind shots – a common trend to golf in the mountains.
Whether entering or leaving the Adirondack Park, the Donald Ross/Russell Bailey-designed Thendara Golf Club should be on your play list.
Relatively short by today’s standards – 6,426 yards from the tips – Thendara, like Tupper Lake, offers two distinct nines. The front is wide open with undulating greens, including the hump-back green on the 208-yard, par-3 ninth – the No. 2 handicap hole on the course.
“The back nine is relatively tight,” said pro Dave Geiger. “Although not as tight as it appears.”
Thendara’s back-nine greens are flatter and easier to putt than the opening nine.
“I think we deserve a look when people are thinking about making their golf plans,” said Saranac Inn’s Wilson. “It’s quality golf. It’s reasonable. And the other amenities the area has to offer with the Olympic venues, the outdoor recreational activities . . . they’re endless. It’s a destination in the sense it’s beautiful here. There’s a good lifestyle here.”
You have played your round, and enjoyed a quiet meal. Now settle in, pull up an Adirondack chair and watch the day fade to night.