Those of us in the Finger Lakes region of central New York know how to savor the days in the short summer season, when we can play golf without bundling up to our eyeballs with thermal wear, knit hats, gloves and hand warmers.
Sometimes we get lucky and can play into November, but then courses in the region close until April.
My favorite Finger Lakes golf courses run the gamut from well manicured designer tracks with expansive clubhouses to pretty little plays, perhaps close enough to a dairy farm to catch a whiff of good old country air. Many offer green fees less than the cost of a couple of sleeves of ProV1s.
Going east to west, here are 13 choices from my favorite play list.
Green Lakes Golf Course
Located in Fayetteville in a state park of the same name, Green Lakes Golf Course starts off with a bang with a downhill drive to a sloping fairway. Just consider it your lucky day if you get a level lie. Bunkers are deep and water is definitely in play on some holes. A wildly scenic Robert Trent Jones design, this is one of the best values around. And fall? Oh my.
Timber Banks Golf Club
Timber Banks Golf Club in Baldwinsville, the only Jack Nicklaus-designed course in the region, is a good choice for those looking for a polished and honed layout with smooth rolling greens. As the focal point for a real estate community, some fairways wind through neighborhoods. At 7,331 yards, it's a good challenge for heavy hitters.
West Hill Golf Course
Don't turn your nose up at this par 3. West Hill Golf Course in Camillus is one of the best of its kind in the state. Blessed by a virtual arboretum in trees, the front nine is less dramatic than the back nine, where a lake brings water into play on several holes. It's a perfect fit for those who aren't up to a full 18-hole test, but it's a no slouch play for any level of golfer.
Dutch Hollow Country Club
With a large dairy farm just across the street, Dutch Hollow Country Club in Owasco's hilly rural landscape doesn't let you forget you are in the country. Water comes into play on eight holes. The golf course climbs up and down hills and jumps across creeks and wetlands, creating some interesting quirky holes. It's a fun play with plenty of challenges and is often the venue for local outings.
Highland Park Golf Course
Brushing up against groves of apple trees, Highland Park Golf Course in Auburn has its share of eccentric holes. The front nine was built in 1925, while the back nine, designed by Geoffrey Cornish, was added in 1969 and features some tricky rolling greens as well as a few ups and downs. Still, it's not a hard course to walk and many do.
Millstone Golf Course
Millstone Golf Course in Elbridge is a sleeper. It has no bunkers, or a fancy pro shop, but it's a really neat little course with some clever holes and smart routing. That's especially true after the second hole, when you start climbing a steep incline up into the woods. There is some water, including a brook that crosses the 14th fairway, but the holes level out as you hit the home stretch.
Camillus Country Club
At Camillus Country Club you start out hitting uphill on the no. 1 handicap hole. From there, your courage is tested all the way around this very hilly track. From the tee on no. 16, you're on the top of the world aiming at a silo way out below. This track near Syracuse is only 6,500 yards from the tips, but it has some small slippery greens and a lot of ups and downs. It's a blast.
Lakeside Country Club
Set on the upper hills above Keuka Lake in Penn Yan, Lakeside Country Club evokes a tactical dance between older push-up style greens and newer and more rolling tiered greens. Enjoy views of the lake and Keuka College from several holes. Try not to grumble on the 16th hole, a wicked dogleg right into the wind hitting up to a gully. Back in the clubhouse find locally made Concord grape jam for sale. Nice touch.
Wayne Hills Country Club
Wayne Hills Country Club, a site for New York State Amateur events, is known for its quick greens and creeks that are laced through the course and come into play on seven holes. Expect some elevated tees, tree-lined fairways and wetland carries. The course lies in the drumlins of the Finger Lakes, so it can be tough going on rainy days.
Bristol Harbour Resort
Robert Trent Jones jumped on the spectacular views overlooking Canandaigua Lake when he first came here in 1972 saying, "In all the world and of all the properties I've seen, this one has just been waiting for a golf course." Jones built the course, capturing lake views from several fairways, so today you too can enjoy some of the best golf course vistas in the area. Bristol Harbour Resort also has a lofty timber-beamed restaurant and patio, lakeside condos and an Adirondack-style lodge.
Mark Twain Golf Course
Ironically, Mark Twain Golf Course is named after the guy who called golf "a good walk spoiled." But perhaps if Twain had met the reputed course designer, Donald Ross, he might have changed his mind. Built in 1937 and owned by the City of Elmira, this layout is classic as it follows the gently rolling terrain with subtle routing and fast complex greens.
Reservoir Creek Golf Course
Capitalizing on the wine-theme, Reservoir Creek Golf Course in Naples has a modest-sized vineyard on the grounds, though it's more for ambiance than serious winemaking. Berms and moguls along with trees-lined fairways characterize the course.
Ravenwood Golf Club
Home of the 2003 New York State Amateur tournament, Ravenwood Golf Club in Victor is a joy to play. It combines traditional and links features with water carries, bunkers and angled greens.