Each August, Saratoga Springs, New York is all about horse racing.
It's when early risers sit in wicker chairs on wide porches of fine old homes sipping coffee, nibbling pastries and checking out their racing forms, while others gather at Siro's next to the track to catch the latest on horses and jockeys from racing mavens or spread out their picnics on the grounds.
But even in August, Saratoga Springs -- named one of the "Best Golf Towns in America" by Golf Digest in 2002 -- is catnip to golfers with a good mix of historic and modern. Prices are a pleasant surprise too, with green fees typically around $50, except for Saratoga National Golf Club, the most expensive track in the area and one that jacks up its greens fees during racing season.
Here are five winners in the area:
Saratoga National Golf Club
Designed by Roger Rulewich, Saratoga National Golf Club flows over more than 400 acres of a former horse farm with wetlands, rolling hills banked by clouds of purple loosestrife, feathery fescue and streams. This is the elite play for those who want a modern designer track along with a handsome clubhouse with all the perks. The course has some interesting traditional elements like sod-walled bunkers and rustic wooden bridges. Although the front is easy going, the back cranks up with carries over water and wetlands capped by a peninsula green. Along with the course, there are 6,500 feet of nature trails laced through the grounds.
Saratoga Spa State Park Golf Course
Set in the Saratoga Spa State Park adjacent to the venerable Gideon Putnam Resort, the lovely Saratoga Spa Championship Course is graced by mature stands of pine and maples that line fairways and greens. This parkland layout is pretty for sure, but many golfers have been challenged, especially from the back tees that play more than 7,000 yards. Still, with five tee boxes, it is a friendly course to all players. Also on the grounds are the historic Roosevelt Baths and Spa, evoking another time when soaking in deep tubs in mineral water was all the rage. If you're not into the bath rituals, the Spa offers an extensive menu of more traditional services and treatments.
McGregor Links Country Club
Designed by Devereux Emmet in 1921, the semi-private McGregor Links Country Club is a treasure with rolling fairways, mounding and roll-up greens. Host to two U.S. Open Regional Qualifying rounds and several New York State Amateur Championships, this is a give-and-take course. The first hole is a pretty easy ride. Then on no. 2, you have a 435-yard par 4 with a tricky green. The third hole, a 225-yard blind par 3, plays to a green protected by mounds and bunkers. And so it goes with the final stretch especially challenging. Over the years, the course has been continually reconditioned and is in excellent shape. In the early days, it was very much a country course with little development. Today, several homes parade along the fairways, and McGregor now has a fine clubhouse, pool and tennis courts.
Airway Meadows Golf Club
When Joan and Jayme Heber built their course in Gansevoort, they carved out 18 holes on their dairy farm, routing it around family owned Heber Airpark. So when you're playing Airway Meadows Golf Club, don't be surprised if you look up and see a skydiver leaping from a small plane -- this bit of scenery just goes with the territory. More open on the front, this well groomed course features large and rolling greens, ponds, three covered bridges and some gentle ups and downs. A walkway under the airport shortens the distance between some holes. Here's an idea: fly in and a golf cart can be waiting for you.
Saratoga Lake Golf Club
You'll seldom see another hole when you play Saratoga Lake Golf Club, designed by C. Michael Ingersoll and spread out over a hillside at the south end of Saratoga Lake. Winding through close to 200 acres of woodlands, water and wetlands, you'll feel like you're in the middle of a forest. You'll love this track, especially if you hit it straight to wide landing areas, but if you slice it into the trees you'll have your work cut out for you. Saratoga Lake is a fun course to play with significant elevations. For example, on the par-4 eighth hole, you are driving from an elevation of about 70 feet over a pond then hitting back up a fairway shaped like a figure eight to the green. This is not a long course, but with the steep drops, your ball will travel farther than the 6,284 yards noted on the scorecard. You get a lot of bang for your buck here.