The Cabot Trail around Cape Breton Island in Nova Scotia is a gorgeous road that connects golfers with acclaimed courses.

Best golf road trips for Northeast golfers

An incredible variety of golf experiences is just a car trip away.
An incredible variety of golf experiences is just a car trip away.

Pleasant springtimes. Temperate summers. Gorgeous fall foliage. For about seven months of the year, give or take, the Northeast is a paradise for golfers.

But when the weather at home is less conducive to golf, or there's just an itch to get out and about, New Englanders and New Yorkers travel as well and as widely as anyone. From the time I was about eight years old, my parents would pile my sister and me into the car and set out from our home in the suburbs of Hartford, Conn., for vacations in and around Myrtle Beach, S.C. Many times, we made it down the coast in one admittedly grueling day. And we were far from the only New Englanders in the area, looking for sun and - in my dad's and my case - golf. We found so much of it during these family getaways that my parents decided to buy a condo in Pawleys Island, at the southern end of the Myrtle Beach-area "Grand Strand," which they own to this day.

It's not always necessary to venture so far, though, especially in the times of year when the weather supports golf at home. But the world of rewarding golf explodes in size for those willing to make the odd several-hours-long journey.

Another advantage of golf wanderlust when you're from the Northeast: when you head somewhere else, chances are the scenery along the way is going to be good.

Here are 10 golf road trip ideas for you to ponder, both nearby and farther-flung, suitable for day trips, long weekends or week-long excursions.

Municipal masterpieces in Hartford

Keney Park Golf Club, hole 13

The last 15 years have given rise to something of a "Munaissance" in southern New England. In 2004, Pete Dye and Tim Liddy designed Wintonbury Hills Golf Club (up to $79 with cart) for the town of Bloomfield. The result: a splendid collection of holes that play up and over rolling former farmland, with open fairways and more than 100 trademark Dye pot bunkers. Just one town over, Keney Park Golf Club ($62) is a shining example of classic community golf, totally refurbished by architect Matt Dusenberry in 2016. The course's front nine, which opened in 1927, was designed by Devereux Emmet, and Dusenberry brought that Golden Age goodness over to the back nine as well. Keney Park's Tavern restaurant is a great place to unwind after one of the best days you can have in public golf, with a patio overlooking the first tee. If you've only got time for 18, Keney Park gets the nod for its compact, diverse routing and easy walkability.

Up the New York Thruway

Water lurks on many holes at Saratoga National.

Leaf-peepers swarm the Northeast every autumn, and neighboring Upstate New York is a great place to catch prime scenery, as well as big-value golf. Head up along the Hudson River from New York City and you'll encounter several worthy courses. Saratoga National Golf Club (up to $220 during race season) is a higher-end public play, and the nearby Saratoga Spa State Park ($57) course rounds out a nice horse country exacta. The historic Gideon Putnam hotel is a historic place to stay in the heart of the park.

Farther south, two hidden gems stand out. One is Orchard Creek Golf Club ($47) in the town of Altamont. Designed by Paul Cowley, the course is accessible upstate golf at its best, with a few offbeat features that make the course a lot of fun. Each hole is named after a different variety of apple, whose corresponding trees grow alongside, turning a round of golf into a four-hour tasting. Farther south and a little east, Copake Country Club ($59) is one of the best kept secrets in golf in the northeast. A 1922 Devereux Emmet design restored by Mark Fine and Scott Witter, it is a hilly throwback golf experience that any lover of the game should appreciate.

A good bet: the Connecticut casinos

The famously tough closing hole at Lake of Isles North requires two forced carries.

It's easy to treat Connecticut as a pass-through state on the way between the New York and Boston metro areas, but it holds its own in golf (see the Hartford area's great muni courses above), thanks to the two massive casino resorts tucked away on Indian reservations in the state's southeast corner. Mohegan Sun bought out, renamed and renovated the former Pautipaug Country Club about a decade ago, renaming it Mohegan Sun Golf Club ($125). It's a solid, fairly traditional New England course that won't tax visitors too badly. For its part, Foxwoods Resort has the 36-hole Lake of Isles Golf Club, home to two tough Rees Jones designs. The North Course ($195) is open to the public and resort guests.

Cape Cod, Mass.

Playing in the shadow of a lighthouse makes Cape Cod's Highland Links a special nine-hole loop.

A seaside retreat for centuries, Cape Cod has much to offer. At the historic nine-hole Highland Links ($65 for 18 holes) out in Truro, golfers can enjoy one of a scant few public-accessible golf courses that dates back to the 19th century. Closer in, the Starboard and Port courses at Captains Golf Club in Brewster are prime options, as are Old Barnstable Fairgrounds and Hyannis Golf Club. Troon recently took over and renovated the new Cape Club ($120).

Cape Cod also has several opportunities for visitors to play otherwise private courses if they stay on-site. The Club at New Seabury opens its Ocean ($170) and Dunes ($150) courses to visitors who stay in its on-site cottages, and Ocean Edge Resort & Club ($140) and Cape Cod National Golf Club ($265) both have similar access opportunities.

Turning Stone Resort

Another great golf destination for those with a gambling streak, Turning Stone sprouted up from nothing in the mid-1990s, first a bingo operation. Today it is a major boon to the Oneida Nation, employing hundreds of members of the tribe and taking in millions of dollars in annual revenue from its casino, hotel and golf operations, which include four courses. Of these, the jewel is Atunyote ($225), a Tom Fazio design that opened in 2004. The Shenendoah and Kaluhyat courses ($150), at the main casino complex, are also popular.

Lake Placid, N.Y.

A deep bunker shows the rugged look of the Lake Placid Club's Links course.

A destination most popularly associated with winter sports as the home of the 1980 "Miracle on Ice," when the United States triumphed over the Soviet Union in Olympic hockey, is also a summer retreat for golfers. The Lake Placid Club's classic Mountain and Links courses ($80), plus the par-3 Pristine Nine ($25) are open to the public, as is the nearby Craig Wood Golf & Country Club ($45), named for the native son of Lake Placid and golfer who won the Masters and U.S. Open in 1941. The Whiteface Club ($105) is another classic design, part of a community that includes homes and cottages available for vacation rentals. Down the road, the Saranac Inn Golf & Country Club ($70) is another gem.

Niagara Falls, New York/Ontario

Whirlpool Golf Course sits beside the parkway and opened in 1951.

The Falls is one of America's (and Canada's) classic drive-to tourist attractions, and golf has sprung up accordingly on both sides of the border over the years. Most of the standout golf is on the Canada side, including both the Battlefield and Ussher's Creek courses at Legends on the Niagara Golf Club ($69), Grand Niagara Golf Club ($115) and Thundering Waters Golf Club ($90), as well as the Stanley Thompson-designed Whirlpool Golf Course ($89). On the New York side, the modern Seneca Hickory Stick Golf Club is a popular choice.

FROM $157 (USD)
NIAGARA FALLS, CAN | Enjoy 2 nights' accommodations at your choice of two hotels and 3 rounds of golf at Legends on the Niagara Battlefield and Usher's Creek courses, and Whirlpool.

Vermont and New Hampshire

View of the 14th hole at The Mountain Course at Spruce Peak

These two states are modest in size, but they're sneaky-strong in terms of golf road trip possibilities, especially in the autumn when the leaves turn from green to red, orange and yellow. The north-south orientation of both states rewards a multi-stop approach to golf in each.

In Vermont, the best golf is along scenic Route 7, and it actually begins few miles south of the border in Williamstown, Massachusetts, with Taconic Golf Club ($160). Owned by prestigious WIlliams College, Taconic is a terrific Wayne Stiles/John Van Kleek design spruced up in recent years by Gil Hanse. Heading north into Vermont, the town of Manchester is home to the historic Equinox Resort and its course ($149), designed by Walter Travis and remodeled by Rees Jones. Rutland Country Club ($74) is another Stiles/Van Kleek design that dates back to the turn of the 20th century. Up around Burlington, Vermont National Golf Club ($135) is a modern semi-private Jack Nicklaus layout, and The Links at Lang Farm ($38) is a fun executive course across the street from The Essex, one of the state's best hotels. Pressing north toward Canada, the Mountain Course at Spruce Peak ($250) and Stowe Country Club ($130) are staples of that quintessential New England mountain town.

If you venture farther off of Rte. 7, you'll find several solid courses associated with other popular ski areas, like Okemo ($100) and Stratton Mountain ($99). Woodstock Country Club ($145), part of the Woodstock Inn & Resort, is another popular place for a game.

In New Hampshire, there are good trips to be had in the mountains or closer to the state's coast. Along the mountain route, Bretwood Golf Course's 36 holes ($61) are a good place to start, in the town of Keene. Nearby, Hooper Golf Course ($38), a Stiles/Van Kleek gem, is one of New England's best 9-holers. Another worthwhile classic is Kingswood Golf Club ($76), a Donald Ross design in the town of Wolfeboro. A more modern course, Montcalm Golf Club ($118), recently began opening tee times to non-members. Perhaps New Hampshire's best-known resort is the Omni Mt. Washington Resort, with a grand old hotel and Donald Ross-designed golf course ($109) as the centerpiece.

Closer to the coast, there are some other fine options. Breakfast Hill Golf Club ($63), a Brian Silva design in the town of Grenland, has a classic look despite opening in 2000. Portsmouth Country Club ($110) is a member-owned club with a Robert Trent Jones, Sr. course that allows guests to make tee times three days out. A few miles up the Salmon Oaks River, The Oaks Golf Links ($80) is a Brad Booth design that opened in 2002.

Coastal Maine

A view of the 10th fairway at Cape Arundel Golf Club

With collection of under-the-radar, out-of-the-way, lay-of-the-land classic courses that cost surprisingly little to play as well as some better-known gems, Maine supplies shades of the wandering golf experience visitors to the Scottish Highlands rave about. Old Marsh Country Club ($91) in Wells is a modern Brian Silva design, while the semi-private Cape Arundel Golf Club ($140) and Webhannet Golf Club ($88) comprise a wonderful 1-2 combination in nearby Kennebunkport. Venturing farther "down east," two resorts draw their share of golfers. Samoset Resort's course ($150) has a few holes on the ocean, while Boothbay Harbor's layout ($125) was renovated in recent years by Bruce Hepner.

Maritime Canada

A Trio of spectacular courses on Canada's Cape Breton Island

It's sublime cruising Maritime Canada in summertime, and its rich Scottish heritage lends itself to a charming golf culture as well. In addition to some of the country's best golf courses, there are some remarkable roads to traverse. Prince Edward Island is connected to the mainland by the 8-mile-long Confederation Bridge, and delivers golfers onto a storybook island with a collection of small, friendly fishing villages serving up lobster suppers and plenty of golf courses (some of which serve up free mussels after your round) at a great value. The Links at Crowbush Cove ($89 CAD) is the headliner on the island but Dundarave ($89), Brudenell River ($89) and Green Gables ($100), a Stanley Thompson design in a national park, all present peaceful and fun layouts. 

PEI's topography is gentle. Head to Nova Scotia's Cape Breton Island and it's far more rugged. This beauty is most appreciated on the Cabot Trail, a gorgeous highway that loops around the northern part of the island and features both coastal scenery and lush, inland mountain passages through the Cape Breton Highlands National Park. Cape Breton Highlands Links ($130 CAD) is another one of the great Thompson-designed National Parks Courses of Canada. It's an 8-mile expedition deep into the park and culminating overlooking the ocean. The main event on Cape Breton, of course, is the emerging Cabot Cape Breton in Inverness, home to 36 holes of pure, coastal links golf, the Cliffs and Links ($255 USD). Three of Canada's most celebrated courses connected by the Cabot Trail is unquestionably one of the ultimate road trips for golfers.

(Editor's Note: the U.S.-Canada border is closed to non-essential traffic. Latest reports indicate it won't reopen until at least late July).

More Road Trip Ideas for Northeastern golfers

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Tim Gavrich is a Senior Writer for Golf Advisor. Follow him on Twitter @TimGavrich and on Instagram @TimGavrich.
4 Comments
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Commented on

Glasgow Hills on PEI is the nicest course I have played on the Island.

Commented on

I recommend Berkshire Valley in Morris County, New Jersey. It is a county course. It was built out of an old quarry. The first four holes are carved out of the mountain side, 300 feet above the valley floor giving you spectacular views.

Commented on

Tom, living in simsbury it was great to read about courses close to home. the comments were on point and gave us some ideas for long weekends and roadtrips this summer. Another good muni is simsbury farms and at very reasonable prices and great views of the 'mountain'

Commented on

I would recommend Crystal Springs in NJ as a great road trip/ short stay option.

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