New England Trip, Days 1 & 2: Wicked Good Times

I flew into Boston yesterday for an extended 4th of July holiday weekend. I’m hunkered down tonight on Long Island as a big storm is rolling in. Hopefully it won’t ruin my BIG golf plans for tomorrow, but we’ll see how it goes.

The adventure started last night as I crossed off a big non-golf bucket list item. Anybody that’s been following me the past few years will also know I love me some baseball. Last night was my long-awaited chance to finally catch a game at historic Fenway Park.

It was quite a drubbing by the visiting Cubs, but I didn’t have a rooting interest and just enjoyed the sights, sounds and tastes of the ballpark. From a delicious Fenway Frank for the main course and a sugar-topped fried dough disc for dessert to the traditional 8th inning sing-along to “Sweet Caroline,” it was an experience I’ll always remember.

For the seat I had in the right field box level, the price I paid (about $65) was a surprisingly good deal at a place known for being pricy. The prices jumped dramatically the closer you got to home plate or up near the Green Monster, but I had a perfect panoramic view of all the iconic parts of the park. And of course, I did some walking around to check out some different angles. The parking was the most expensive part ($40) and it is a real pain to get around that part of town on a game night, but me and my rental car survived the night.

Some pictures from Fenway Park (7/2/14):

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I went to bed as soon as I got back to my hotel, because I had to get up early in the morning today. I might have been too ambitious in my plans or didn’t carry enough respect for how “compact” I thought New England was. It’s not that easy to get around here with a tangled freeway system and so many rural country roads in between that aren’t always easy to navigate.

I left my hotel around 3:30 to get up to my first golf stop before my 7:06 tee time, but I wiggled my way through New Hampshire and eventually found my way to southern Vermont with a little time to spare…

Okemo Valley Golf Club • Ludlow, VT • 7/3/14

I knew I’d be one of the first off the tee, so there were just a few of us golfers arriving around the same time. I ended up going off first a little before 7:00 with a nice New England guy, who only played the front nine. I zipped around the back and it was great being the lead rabbit out there. The price was just under $100 (literally $99 and some change) with a cart.

The fog was pretty heavy most of the front nine, so my pictures will not reflect the beauty of that side of this great course. By the time I finished, though, enough sun had poked through to really light this place up and bring the course to life.

Whether it was the improving weather or the course itself, I thought almost every hole at Okemo Valley was prettier and more interesting than the one before. The 18th isn’t anything too exciting after all the build-up, but this is a really wonderful course.

Okemo Valley Golf Club is affiliated with the popular Okemo Mountain Ski Resort. You can see the mountain and snow-less slopes from much of the golf course, which provides a nice backdrop.

Like Vermont itself, the course is framed beautifully by plenty of trees. I really liked the overall contouring of the fairways and rough here. Everything is well-defined and interesting to look at. There aren’t many flat lies on the course and the greens are big with a lot of undulation, though it’s a fair layout. Good shots are rewarded and bad shots are rightfully punished.

Okemo Valley is considered Vermont’s first “heathland” style course, which in simple terms is kind of hybrid between old school links and more modern parkland designs. There’s a ton of fescue grass lining the edges of every hole. Probably my only real complaint is that they decided to cut a lot of it down to match the primary cut of rough in order to help playability for guests. They’ve retained some of the outermost edges, but I can only imagine how much cooler it looks (and tougher it plays) if all those areas were grown out. Still, it’s a beautiful and fun layout no matter what.

The course was in nice overall condition, especially considering they just opened the front nine for the season a few weeks ago. You can still see where they were working on some of the greens that had significant damage, but they were playable enough. Just a little shaggy and slow in places that are still mid-repair. Otherwise, the fairways, tee boxes and primary rough areas were lush and green.

Okemo Valley is way out of the way, but I’m glad I made the trek. It is generally ranked as one of the top public courses in Vermont and I can see why. If you are in Vermont during the summer for whatever reason, it’s a must play.

Some pictures from Okemo Valley Golf Club (7/3/14):

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By the way, the negative space created by the trees framing this shot above bears a striking resemblance to the shape of Vermont itself. Lucky coincidence with my photography angle or amazing design work? You decide.

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Of course, I stopped for some breakfast in Ludlow. I ate at a tiny little place called The Hatchery and had some pancakes with real Vermont butter and, of course, pure maple syrup. It was pretty good, but I have to admit I like the not-so-pure syrup better than the real thing and I don’t care for super-thick pancakes like they make here. At least I can say I did it while there, though!

After my bite to eat, I headed a little southwest of Ludlow and back into Massachusetts. Because of the routing I had planned out for the trip and the fact this next course was ranked as the best public one in the state by Golf Magazine (also in the Top 100 overall), I decided to make it my official Massachusetts course choice rather than something closer the Boston area.

Taconic Golf Club • Williamstown, MA • 7/3/14

This is a classic old course in the northwest corner of the state and home to Williams College. Technically the course is on the campus, which you can see next door. It’s a really neat-looking old New England kind of school with all sorts of interesting buildings, towers and steeples.

I got there a little before noon and they got me right out. They saved me a few bucks with their Tuesday/Thursday summer special, which was around $105 after tax compared to the regular $145 rate. I’ll take what I can get, I guess! I played through one group on the front nine and didn’t really catch the groups ahead until about the 12th hole. It was fairly slow going after that, but it was still a fantastic three-hour pace.

Taconic seems to get the majority of its play from members of the club. Though they allow public guest play (I’m not sure if there are any time/day restrictions), I definitely felt like the only one there who wasn’t a regular. Either way, they treated me nice with that great New England hospitality.

Taconic had a very nice “East Coast” feel to me with a traditional design. They used the hills and subtle elevation changes to shape a really good-looking and relatively challenging layout. The club has a rich history dating back to 1896 with the construction of the original seven-hole course. Parts of that old layout were used when they constructed the full 18-hole course designed by Stiles and Van Kleek in 1927. Famed modern architect, Gil Hanse, “renovated” the course in 2009. So what you have now is a nice blend of the classic old course (with some funky and dangerous routing, as is typical with those old designs) with some new design touches by Hanse.

There are no man-made water hazards at Taconic, just a small creek that runs across a handful of holes and OB along the outer edges of the property.

The course was in pretty good overall shape, still coming into its own for the summer and early fall. The greens were dappled with a couple different grasses, but they rolled consistently. The fairways, tees and rough were mostly good to great, and the bunkers I found were also very nice.

Taconic probably didn’t “wow” me as much visually as Okemo Valley, but the layout is fantastic on all levels and I’m extremely glad I got to play it. It offers anything you could ever want from a course and more. I don’t know if it’s quite worth the guest rack rates they charge (especially if that means a big trek to get out to Williamstown), but I can understand why it’s so highly regarded and high prices seem to be the norm in this part of the country!

Some pictures from Taconic Golf Club (7/3/14):

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Day 3: Bethpage (Black) (NY) & Neshanic Valley (NJ)

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