BRETTON WOODS, N.H. – When the leaves start to turn, there’s nothing like a round in the New England mountains to stir the senses. Picture bright sun, cool breezes and crisply-struck drives rising against a vivid backdrop of foliage-dappled peaks.
Just a few hours north of Boston, two mountain retreats bring the vision to life: New Hampshire’s Mount Washington Resort and Maine’s Sunday River.
Near the base of its namesake peak, the highest in the Northeast, the Mount Washington Resort boasts a stately old hotel that dates to 1902 and 27 holes of golf, including the recently restored Mount Washington Course, a Donald Ross design that opened in 1915.
In its early years, the course hosted golfing luminaries from Bobby Jones to Babe Ruth. As part of a $15 million resort renovation, ownership hired New Hampshire-based architect Brian Silva to restore it starting in June 2007. Using copies of Ross’ original plans, Silva sought to reveal the prolific architect’s intent. Reopened in August 2008, the course boasts many of Ross’ strategic design elements.
While offering golfers sweeping views of the Presidential Range, the most imposing summits in New Hampshire’s White Mountains, the restored layout evokes the links of Ross’ native Scotland, with fairway bunkers prominent throughout. Built perpendicular to the line of play on most holes, the hazards demand strategy and precision off the tee. With steep faces bordered by fescue that’s thicker than Frankenstein’s eyebrows, the bunkers usually exact at least a one-stroke toll.
Stretching to nearly 7,000 yards, the par-72 course doesn’t play especially long from the 6,378-yard blue tees. But blind shots and visual deception add to its challenge, and its greens, which Silva imbued with Ross’ trademark crowns and contours, repel imprecise approaches.
Open to the public, the Mount Washington course typically charges $125 per round during peak season, but because a harsh winter significantly damaged the turf on its greens, the resort has offered a discounted rate of $75 (cart included) throughout 2009. Although the greens still have some bumpy patches, their condition subtracts little from a rich golf experience.
About 60 miles east of Mount Washington, Sunday River is known for skiing. But since 2006, the resort has offered golf in the shadows of the picturesque Mahoosuc Range, one of the most rugged stretches of the Appalachian Trail. Keeping with the resort’s character, the Robert Trent Jones Jr.-designed Sunday River Golf Club has a few fairways that resemble slalom runs and a log clubhouse that would make a fine ski lodge.
With a 75.2 rating and 146 slope from the tips, Sunday River is as tough as a black-diamond trail. The par-72 layout is kinder from the blues (6,558 yards), but autumn winds and greens that make Usain Bolt look slow can wreak havoc.
Sunday River has several memorable holes, none more so than the last, a dogleg-left par-4 that plays 414 yards from the blues. Off the tee, a golfer aims for Old Speck, the Mahoosuc Range’s highest peak. Flanked by waste bunkers left and out-of-bounds right, the fairway tumbles gently downhill to a green with an unbeatable backdrop: clubhouse in the foreground, mountains behind.
Golfers can play Sunday River for $95 (cart included) from Sunday through Thursday, and it costs $120 on Friday and Saturday. The resort offers golf packages that include stays at its two hotels, while the nearby town of Bethel has several inns and B&B’s.
If you’re planning a fall trip to the New England mountains, be advised that golf season in these parts typically winds down in mid-October. Which means, as a skier might say, there’s still time for one last run.
Mike Cullity is a freelance golf writer based in Manchester, N.H. Email him your thoughts.