Opened in 1926 and renovated by Rees Jones in 1991, the Golf Club at Equinox is the premier amenity at the historic Equinox Resort & Spa in Manchester, Vermont. It's also available for public play!
MANCHESTER, Vermont -- Walter Travis had barely taken up the game of golf after coming to America from his native Australia. But four years after his first round, he won the 1900 U.S. Amateur. That was the same year his first work in golf course design debuted: the Ekwanok Country Club in Manchester Village, Vermont.
Travis did the course as an associate of John Duncan Dunn and somewhat drifted away from course design as his playing career flourished -- three U.S. Amateur wins and one British Amateur. But he returned to the drawing board to turn out such classics as the Garden City Country Club, the West Course at Westchester Country Club and, in 1927, what was then known as the Equinox Links Club.
Oddly enough, the Equinox Course was his last, fairly abutting Ekwanok, his first, making the picturesque town of Manchester the alpha and omega of his design career. (And, for that matter, his final resting place -- in Dellwood Cemetery, just down the road from both courses.)
Ekwanok is among the handful of private golf courses in Vermont. What is now the Golf Club at Equinox is open to all, part of the Equinox Resort & Spa that is fully justified in its slogan, "Serving the Republic since before there was a Republic."
The Marsh Tavern, now one of the Equinox Resort's dining areas, opened for wayfarers in 1769. By the middle of the following century, Manchester Village had established itself as a year-round resort destination, and the hotel was the prime magnet, especially after Mrs. Abraham Lincoln and her two sons visited in 1863. (Robert Todd Lincoln would later settle in Manchester and serve as president of Ekwanok.)
The resort's fortunes rose and fell over the years, and it steered near destruction in the early 1970s. But its addition to the National Register of Historic Places saved it. It reopened grandly in 1985 and is now under the helm of HEI Hotels & Resorts.
It is arguably the top resort in the state; and where else on the eastern seaboard can one also indulge in a Land Rover Driving School, the nation's first British School of Falconry or an Orvis fly-fishing school?
Golf Club at Equinox: The course
The golf course is managed by Troon Golf, and it underwent a $3.5 million renovation in 1991 under the auspices of Rees Jones. Travis had birdies -- not falcons -- in mind, of course. His routing remains, but Jones attended to state-of-the-art drainage and green construction. He also added a good deal of ingratiating fairway mounding and doubled, at least, the number of bunkers to well more than 100.
Most of them seem to be on the left side of the 12th, a short but devilish par 4 that has the compensating factor of the prettiest view on the course, a real Vermont picture postcard back toward a high-steepled church and the surrounding Equinox Mountain. It's particularly a sight to behold in the fall, when the maples are aflame with color.
But if one is concentrating on the golf, the seventh hole actually has more bunkers, a dreadful series of a dozen on the left and right sides of the fairway to catch errant drives, and then another eight guarding the distant, uphill green on what seems like an interminable par 5.
And should one catch a bunker off the tee, the second shot is going to be complicated, indeed, since one must cross a road to hit the next stretch of fairway. Failing to reach it could lead to an accident -- not on the road, where there's little traffic, but on one's scorecard.
There's not a single bunker on the 401-yard 13th, but this hair-raising hole has a monstrous grass wasteland beckoning on the right side of a green perched on a pedestal a good 20 feet in the air.
But all this is more challenging and fun than intimidating. The par-71 course plays to 6,423 yards from the tips, 6,060 from the whites, 5,082 from the forward tees, with respective slopes of 129, 125 and 113 for men. The sand wedge is the crucial tool here, as there's little water to contend with, and balls seem easily found even when straying off the tree-lined fairways. There is plenty of strategic variety, visual enticement and top conditioning.
When the round is over, an Equinox Ale at the clubhouse Dormy Grill will wrap up the day nicely. Or opt for higher-end dining choices inside the resort. Non-golfers will enjoy Manchester, too, one of Vermont's more picture-perfect towns (parts of the Diane Keaton movie "Baby Boom" were filmed here), and a beehive of high-end shopper outlets.