'How I Spend My Summer Vacation'
Six writers on their favorite golf getaways
May 10, 2009
Six writers on their favorite golf getaways
SUTTONS BAY, Mich.-- No one would ever confuse the winding little driveway through the cherry orchard with Magnolia Lane or the golf course beyond it with Augusta National, but for some of us, the first trip down the road to the Leelanau Club each summer has a similar power to summon memories and trigger anticipation. Carved into the sandy hillsides of the Leelanau Peninsula -- the "little finger" of Michigan's mitten -- the public track meanders through pine forests and provides an occasional peek at the waters of Grand Traverse Bay.Most of all, it offers a warm "welcome home" for golfers who return each year with their families for a few idyllic weeks in the north woods. The welcome even has a voice. "Hey, the boys are back!" bellows the starter, a man with the sound of a cement mixer and the thick trunk of a pulling guard, the kind of guy you'd call "Coach," even if you couldn't read his name tag. "If you hustle," says Coach, "I can get you out on No. 10, and you'll have clear sailing."There are fine resort courses all around -- Bay Harbor, Arcadia Bluffs, The Bear at Grand Traverse Resort -- and they're great fun to play, despite a bit too much glitz in their clubhouses and the demand for a little too much plastic in the golf shop. The Leelanau Club at Bahle Farms (its official name) has no such pretensions. Although it's pretty well kept for a mom-and-pop operation, it's not exactly manicured. The clubhouse has only half a dozen tables, and the golf shop? Well, it's slightly larger than a walk-in closet.What it does have is this: a very friendly staff and some just plain beautiful holes. The view from the tee on No. 2 is forever etched in my memory: 100 feet or so straight down to a generous fairway that climbs slowly past a pine stand to a sloping, two-tiered green with only the endless horizon beyond. Or No. 4: 202 yards over a pond from the back of another sharply elevated tee. Or No. 13: a wide-open par 4 flanked on the left by an orchard (tart, sweet, or Queen Anne cherries, depending on the month) where I often have to retrieve Mark, my juice-stained, Marathon Man partner. So it goes, until the 18th, a dogleg left, then uphill to an almost blind pin, a great hole to decide a close match.My only (admitted) character flaw is that I join too many golf clubs. The list, happily, includes a couple of legendary ones. But sometimes a golf course is not about lofty Stimps and glen-plaid fairways. Sometimes it's about a friendly nassau for a sleeve ("one-ball press, anytime"), the centerpiece of a lazy afternoon followed by a lakeside family cookout (barbecue ribs with Carol's cherry sauce) or a drive down to the Interlochen Arts Camp to catch a big-name act or, better yet, some of the finest young musicians in the world. Sometimes, it's just a high tee with a hundred-mile view -- the essence of summer -- and a picture in your head that lasts the whole winter.RICHARD SMITH IS CHAIRMAN OF NEWSWEEK.The Leelanau Club at Bahle Farms, not rated, $49-$75, leelanauclub.com, 877-533-5262.
Cool on the Coast
SALEM, ORE.-- As a genetic Norwegian and born-and-raised Oregonian, trapped for two decades in Manhattan until absurdly buying a farm near Nashville, I have a simple recipe for summer golf: anywhere but Tennessee, where from Memorial Day to Labor Day, if not longer, it's so hot and humid you could, without air conditioning, die in the living room. Though I abhor playing out of a cart, it beats being parboiled and then drowned in a pool of your own sweat. So my thoughts turn back to the Beaver State, whose climate seemed cruel to a native son -- it rained constantly, I claimed, from Halloween to Easter -- but at this time of year boasts unbeatable golf weather: dry, sunny, low 80s.Everybody knows about Bandon Dunes, and they're right to consider it possibly the finest destination golf in the country. Fewer know about Pumpkin Ridge, near Portland, where Tiger Woods won his third U.S. Amateur, and whose two 18s by Bob Cupp are of the same exacting standard as his magnificent Crosswater over the Cascades around Bend. But for me, going home means Salem, about 40 miles south of Portland, and that in turn means Salem Golf Club, where I wish I'd been a member as a kid. Pat Fitzsimons was, and before Fred Couples turned up in Seattle, Fitzsimons defined the game in the Northwest; his scorecard for a 58 is framed in the clubhouse. This place feels like golf ought to: democratic, affordable and lovely, with the first and 10th tees, neatly hedged and planted, lying just off the restaurant's veranda, the fairways seemingly sculpted out of massive stands of fir and oak that can gobble balls and help perfect your low, running punch-outs. It was completed in 1928 by Ercel Kay, a noted amateur whose family owns it still, and is a distillation of the Willamette Valley landscape, close enough to the river to flood occasionally.In summer it plays fast and even shorter than the 6,230 yards from the back tees, with five reachable par 5s, but it defends par well with tree trouble everywhere; on the dogleg-right 11th, a long drive that doesn't cut will end up in an old apple orchard that can also catch slices on the fourth and hooks on the seventh. It's fun -- and achingly beautiful -- all the way around, and my nonplaying wife loves to walk it. If you're lucky, a train will blow by on the closing hole, and otherwise you can just look at the osprey nests, then take a table outside for the best food and view in the capital city, washing it down with a local pinot noir. Last year, a Tennessee friend passing through in August was so entranced that he wondered about summer rentals (and said he'd never had a better steak). With a great range right down the tracks, you can spend all day here and watch night fall over fairways that beg for play in these ideal conditions.GARY FISKETJON IS VICE PRESIDENT AND EDITOR AT LARGE OF ALFRED A. KNOPF.Salem Golf Club,__ __, $50, salemgolfclub.com, 503-363-6652.
The Ghosts of Gullane
EAST LOTHIAN, SCOTLAND-- Golf in summer presents me with a major problem: the avoidance of heat. I hanker for the prospect of fresh, cool air, even on a sunny day, and so that need leads me inexorably to Scotland, to the seaside, to a links. I've played on a lot of the links around East Lothian and Fife, but my favorite is Gullane No. 1, about half an hour by car due east of Edinburgh.I first caddied on this course as a child (for my father) and later came to play it many times. There are many delightful links on this, the southern shore of the Firth of Forth -- Longniddry, Kilspindie, Gullane and North Berwick, for example -- and it's hard to choose among them, offering as they do the generic pleasures and trials of golf by the sea in Scotland. Gullane (pronounced "gullen") is typical. Level, narrow fairways, few trees, a club-trapping rough of longish, hardy, wind-combed grass and patches of impenetrable gorse and whin. Beyond the golf course's edge lie wide, sandy beaches set in shallow bays.Gullane seems slightly more elevated than the others somehow, if only because of the spectacular views from the seventh tee (the 398-yard Queen's Head). On a clear day, the panorama is spectacular: You can see north across the wide mouth of the Firth of Forth to Fife, some 10 miles distant, to Kirkcaldy and Leven and East Wemyss, and due west gives you a distant prospect of Edinburgh.No doubt there will be a stiffish breeze, off the Firth, keeping the clouds scudding by briskly, the temperature down and requiring you to hone your golf skills -- such as they are -- to cope with the particular challenges of a links: hitting the ball with as low a trajectory as you can muster, constantly resorting to pitch-and-run, trying to avoid the deep bunkers with their fearsome cliff-edge faces and hoping to negotiate the huge greens with their baffling, undulating contours.Gullane Golf Club was founded in 1882 -- the year Virginia Woolf was born and Robert Ford assassinated Jesse James, as it happens -- and the No. 1 course (there are two others, almost as venerable) is highly regarded. It's an extra frisson to play Gullane imagining those 19th-century golfers attempting the same holes as you are, but, in fact, records show that golf has been played on these East Lothian links for more than 300 years. The golf ghosts are older than you think.WILLIAM BOYD IS A LONDON-BASED AUTHOR AND SCREENWRITER WHOSE MOST RECENT NOVEL IS RESTLESS.Gullane G.C. (No. 1), ranked 20th in Scotland according to Golf Digest's Planet Golf, $125-$147, gullanegolfclub.com, 011-44-1-620-842-255.
Peace, Love, Golf
BOULDER, COLO.-- Four years ago my daughter announced she would attend -- in fact, would apply to -- only one college: Naropa University in Boulder, a tiny, New Age-y school and one of the few Buddhist-affiliated colleges in the United States.I replied -- sensitively, I thought -- "Over my dead body." Long story short, she graduated last year.I've made many trips to the aromatherapy-heavy town of Boulder and, in addition to what I have learned from my daughter -- meditation is fun and relieves stress, for example -- I have found there are scores of great public golf courses in the Denver/Boulder area.The Dunes course at Riverdale Golf Club is tops on my list. A Pete and Perry Dye-designed links in the prairie town of Brighton, about 20 miles east of Boulder, it plays 7,067 yards from the tips and offers a typical Dye challenge on every hole. Water comes into play on nine of them. And what would a Dye course be without railroad ties? This one's got lots. You'll get into trouble at some point. So lift your eyes to the distant, snow-covered Rockies and consider your insignificance. Ommmmm.Those wanting an easier outing should try the Dunes' sister Knolls course, a wide-open 18 with views of large homes sitting baronially atop sere hills and oil-well heads nodding slowly in pastures. If you time it right, you could combine your 18 with a visit to a rodeo at the adjacent Adams County Fairgrounds.Perhaps the area's most unusual course is Fossil Trace Golf Club in Golden. Fossil Trace bills itself as "64 Million Years in the Making," and it has the evidence. The front nine is fun, with blind tee shots and quirky downhill holes, marred somewhat by intrusive power lines and a jail that's in view on many holes. The back nine, however, is sublime -- and unforgettable. Built into an old stone quarry donated to the county, it features many greens set in deep bowls -- every one interesting and challenging. The signature hole undoubtedly is the 585-yard (from the blacks) 12th, with stone monoliths rising to divide the fairway. Just to the left of the 12th green are the fossils that give the course its name: the petrified remains of ferns, plants and a pterodactyl.Boulder has all the amenities to make any golf trip memorable. The most luxurious place to stay is the St. Julien Hotel & Spa, though the less-expensive Marriott has similar amenities and a wonderfully attentive staff. The best local restaurant is Frasca, a world-class Italian place you'll never forget. Also, don't miss The Kitchen, for its fantastic breakfasts and its fresh, organic, locally grown meats and produce for lunch and dinner. Need a pick-me-up? Try Tonic Oxygen Bar on 10th Street. Forget the multiple tattoos and piercings on the other customers. You're in Boulder! Breathe deeply of the O2and elixirs. Perhaps it'll improve your game.JAMES W. SEYMORE, FORMER MANAGING EDITOR OF ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY, IS A CONNECTICUT-BASED WRITER.Riverdale G.C., (Dunes __ ½__, Knolls__ ½__) $39-$46, riverdalegolf.com, 303-659-6700; Fossil Trace G.C., __ ½__, $58-$62, fossiltrace.com, 303-277-8750.
Easy Does It
PAWLING, N.Y.-- Frustration can trump exhilaration in late summer. If your game (or mine) was ever going to improve, it should have done so by now; August is where excuses go to die. In the face of such annual reminders of my chronic mediocrity, I return to the neighborly confines of the Dutcher Golf Course in Dutchess County, a little more than an hour north of New York City.If a great golf course is a test, Dutcher is a quiz; grading is on a gentle curve, like those in the foothills of the Berkshires, which are visible from every hole.Dutcher's address is on Main Street, which gives some idea of how old it is. The course was built in 1890, just steps from the center of town, and it claims to be the oldest nine-hole course in the United States. Certainly Dutcher feels venerable, with its tiny greens and ancient stone walls snaking through several holes. With two sets of tees for each hole, the full course plays to 4,471 yards, longer than a pitch-and-putt but not exactly a modern track, either. Still, at $20 on weekdays and $23 on weekends, a round is a steal, especially because you might have the place practically to yourself.I started playing Dutcher as a teenager, and I still associate the course with the end of school. Freshly liberated from homework, my post-ninth-grade self drifted around the course in a happy haze. (These memories are only slightly marred by the recollection that, while searching for lost balls at Dutcher, I once contracted an excruciating case of poison ivy.) Now I come to Dutcher in the summer, when I need to be reminded that the game is not impossible after all -- that even I can sometimes break 40 for nine holes. The sleepy days of summer are now when I can prevail upon my 16-year-old son, Adam, to leave his computer (and soccer ball) long enough to join me for an easy nine.The hottest season, of course, is the time to chill -- to duck the rigors of work, but the demands of golf, too. Dutcher has no water hazards, no GPS, no waiting times -- and, for me, no worries. It's just the pull of the game -- and the sweet illusion of endless summer -- that draw me back to Dutcher every year.JEFFREY TOOBIN IS A STAFF WRITER FOR THE NEW YORKER & A SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST FOR CNN.Dutcher G. Cse., not rated, $20-$23 for nonresidents, nine or 18 holes, 845-855-9845.
BELEK, TURKEY -- Every summer, my Irish/Turkish/French/Scottish/English/Swiss/American relations and I converge on a defenseless fishing village in southwest Turkey, where our family owns a house. It's a place of blue sea; tall, blue headlands, and, for breakfast, fresh, blue figs.But after about a week of blue-colored bliss, various males in our party begin hankering for something greener and more grueling; and so, after a terrifying session of diplomacy (i.e., begging), a four-ball of fathers sets off furtively into the dawn and, speeding through the mountains of ancient Lycia and the booming modern city of Antalya, eventually comes to Belek, a region of pine forests and eucalyptus groves and, in recent years, golf; and once in Belek, we head masochistically for the National Golf Club.The masochism is twofold. First, the National is horribly demanding: When the 2008 Turkish Open on the Ladies European Tour was played there in May, five over par was good enough for second place. (Belek has plenty of relatively benign but nevertheless challenging alternatives: I particularly like the Pasha course at the Antalya Golf Club and its mischievous 13th hole, a zigzagging par 5 that will tempt even most cautious players to whack a second shot to the green and gamble with watery disaster.) Second, we play in late August, when it's so hot (95 degrees plus) that the National lies all but abandoned, and accordingly the tees can be less than perfectly set up and the greens slow and sandy. Always ask in advance about their condition.But it's wonderful to have the real thing to oneself, and the National is the real thing: a wander through woodland so magical you half look for a candy house and a witch. It's thrilling right away: The first hole is a skinny, timbered, double-dogleg 5 par that puts you on immediate notice of the straight-hitting you'll need to thrive here. The second, a glorious par 3 to an island green, is the 17th at the Players Stadium Course at Sawgrass, only in Turkish.The National, designed by David Feherty with tweaking by David Jones, never lets up. Marshes, elevations and a naturally bifurcated fairway come into play; and the 18th, which requires a gulp-inducing second shot to a green that's on far-too-close terms with a lake, is just the hole to deliver you to the cool safety of the club-house and a beer that'll wash away all golfing blues. Well, maybe not all ...JOSEPH O'NEILL IS A NEW YORK-BASED AUTHOR. HIS MOST RECENT NOVEL IS NETHERLAND.National G.C., $81, nationalturkey.com, 011-90-242-725-4620.