Perhaps the only thing better than a summer golf trip through New England is doing the same trip in the fall. After all, that's when you see the spectacular fall colors, but you might also to have invoke the leaf rule from time to time.
In the summer, of course, it can be a little toastier than you might expect, which was the case for me and my better half, Nancy, on our recent trip through Rhode Island, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine and part of New York state. But the humidity was fairly low and the nights were comfortable. Add in a dozen golf courses, an equal number of lobster rolls and a couple of spectacular resorts and you've got the recipe for an exceptional summer road trip through New England.
Start off with great public golf in Rhode Island
Anytime you can play a Donald Ross course, do it. That's always been my policy, so the first stop on my New England golf trip after landing in Providence, R.I., was Triggs Memorial Golf Course , located in the heart of the city.
Rhode Island actually has several great Ross courses -- Wannamoisett , Warwick , Metacomet and Rhode Island Country Club -- but Triggs is the only true public course designed by Ross in the state. It opened in 1932 and like many munis deteriorated over the years. But in 1990, it was restored close to its original design. And while it's not conditioned like the aforementioned private clubs, it's pretty good, and the bunkering, greens and contours are classic Ross.
Triggs was the first of three courses I played in Rhode Island, with the other two being Montaup Country Club and Newport National Golf Club . Rhode Island is a tiny state so we based out of Providence, mainly because hotels near Newport are ridiculously expensive during the summer. Still, there was never more than a little over an hour drive to anywhere.
Montaup, which is semi-private and located about halfway to Newport near Portsmouth, is always in great shape. It has a few quirky holes, but by in large it's very enjoyable.
Newport National, on the other hand, was one of the best courses on our trip. Designed by Arthur Hills and Drew Rogers, the course is a mixture of links and wetlands. There isn't a boring hole on the course, and if the wind is up, it's a tough championship test. Opened in 2002, it has been operating out of a pretty nice temporary clubhouse, but General Manager Robin Hyson says the facility will be getting a permanent clubhouse in the near future as well as an extensive range and practice area, and a new nine holes.
We also spent one of our off days in Newport, which is a popular New England summer destination. From million dollar-plus yachts in the harbor to scores of great restaurants and shops in the historical part of Newport, to the International Tennis Hall of Fame and the lavish and famous mansions on Ocean Drive, there's no shortage of things to do.
Cape Club a fine addition to Cape Cod golf scene
While traffic can sometimes be a problem in the congested Northeast, nothing is too far in terms of mileage. So from Rhode Island, it's a just a hop, skip and jump to the beginning of Cape Cod, which was the next stop on our New England journey.
While I would have loved to explore the entire Cape (I still want to play historic Highland Links in North Truro on the tip of Cape Cod), time only allowed for a visit to the new Cape Club by Troon in Falmouth, Mass. on the southwest end of the Cape, some 90 minutes from Providence.
The diversion was well worth it.
I actually got to play The Cape Club before it opened on Aug. 3. And while I never played it when it was the private Ballymeade Country Club, it doesn't take much imagination to see the improvement of this new design. The old design was tight with crowned fairways and blind shots. The new course, which is part of a new resort and open to the public, has wide fairways, friendly contours and magnificent new greens and tees, some of them elevated. No doubt, The Cape Club is one of the best public courses not only on the Cape, but also in New England after its transformation.
No shortage of good, affordable public golf
I took advantage of my time in the Northeast to play in a couple of Golf Channel Am Tour events.
One was a major in Vernon, N.Y., at Turning Stone Resort, featuring the fabulous Tom Fazio-designed Atunyote Course and the Kaluhyat Course , a difficult but beautiful Robert Trent Jones, Jr. design with trouble everywhere. What they had in common is that both were in phenomenal shape, which came as no surprise since Turning Stone played host to the PGA Club Professional Championship a few weeks earlier.
The other course I played an Am Tour event on during this trip was a wonderful Damian Pascuzzo design, The Ranch Golf Club , on the former country retreat of the Crane Paper Co., in the rolling hills of western Massachusetts.
Now I'm no Patriots fan, but even I could appreciate the connection between the Geoffrey Cornish-designed Foxborough C.C., which opened in 1957, and one of the NFL's most storied franchises in recent history. A lot of Patriots play this semi-private club, and their fans do, too, which led to one of the more interesting back stories on this trip.
Last year, before football season began, a group of members decided to create a No. 12 flag for all the greens to support quarterback Tom Brady, who was facing a four-game suspension for the so-called "Deflategate" scandal. It seemed to have worked, at least temporarily, as Brady's suspension was lifted last year. Now, it appears, he will serve out the suspension to start the 2016 season.
As for the course, it was solid, and playing it with longtime superintendent Mike Poch -- a former assistant at The Country Club at Brookline (of 1913 U.S. Open champ Francis Ouimet and 1999 Ryder Cup fame) who has Foxborough in terrific shape -- made it that much more special.
The Crumpin-Fox Club experience was equally fun, given that I got to play with local freelance golf writer Wayne Mills and the course's architect, Roger Rulewich. Just a month earlier, I got to play two of Rulewich's crowning achievements, Ballyowen and Wild Turkey at Crystal Springs Resort , so I knew I was in for a treat.
As it turned out, Rulewich, who was with Robert Trent Jones Sr. Inc., at the time, did the first nine holes at Crumpin-Fox in 1977 and didn't get to complete the other nine holes until 1990. It was well worth the wait. Rulewich, who is based in the area, formed a longtime friendship with the owners. The back nine, with no two holes remotely alike, remains one of the best nine holes in all of New England.
Superb golf at historic Omni Mount Washington Resort
Part of the trip involved a couple of resorts, and both were superb. We started with New Hampshire's Omni Mount Washington Resort, which is not only a historic ski resort centered around the stately Omni Mount Washington Hotel, but also has some pretty fair golf.
Our stay here afforded the opportunity to play another terrific Ross design open to the public: the 18-hole Mount Washington Course , which opened in 1915. The course was meticulously restored in 2007-08 by Brian Silva, who used Ross' original layouts to bring out hidden and long-forgotten Ross signatures. The course has been perennially ranked as New Hampshire's top public course.
Not to be overlooked are the other nine holes at the resort at the Mount Pleasant Course , which opened in 1895 and was also restored by Silva and Cornish in 1986. Laid out alongside the Ammonoosuc River, it's actually quite challenging but family friendly, too, with each hole containing an alternative 8-inch cup.
Couple the golf with red clay court tennis, hiking trails, a ride on the ski lift overlooking the White Mountains, excellent steaks and the old country ambience of a century-plus old hotel and you can understand why it's hard to get a room here.
Samoset Resort off the coast of Maine didn't disappoint
The other New England state we took in on this journey was Maine, a place where I had never played golf but had always wanted to visit. We wound up playing two courses, and they were both stunning, starting with Sunday River Golf Club in the central part of the state.
Designed by Robert Trent Jones Jr., Sunday River certainly isn't boring, and it isn't easy either. With nary a level lie on this hilly course, you have to be accurate because missing the fairway leads to poor results. Still, it was a very enjoyable test with a great variety of holes.
That was our warmup to one of the courses I was most looking forward to playing: Samoset Golf Course at Samoset Resort off the coast of Maine in Rockport.
On one of the most beautiful spots in America, Samoset Golf Course has ocean views, challenging holes and peak conditions on a course that has evolved since it began as a nine-holer back in 1902.
In 1974, it became 18 holes as architect Robert Elder came in and not only added the new nine but also modified the existing course. And in the early 1990s, Cornish put his stamp on the course. Most recent, architect Bradley Booth rerouted the 18th, which used to be a long par 4, into a good risk-reward par 5. The change on 18 also made room for improved practice facilities.
Since I had never played it before, I can't compare the old with the new. I heard criticisms from some of my colleagues about the changes, but I thought the finished product was superb. The course has ocean views on more than half the holes, including two par 5s -- the dogleg-left fourth hole that bends toward the historic Rockland Breakwater Lighthouse, and the 14th, which opens up to the Atlantic on the downhill approach shot. It was memorable in every sense and a course I would love to play again someday.
Best ice cream, lobster
And finally, there were two common themes throughout our three weeks in New England -- local ice cream and lobster.
The best ice cream, as we could figure, was Richardson's, a small creamery out of Massachusetts with limited distribution. We found Richardson's at a century-old joint called Meola's Wayside Ice Cream near Worcester, where they dish out 65 flavors of what might be the best ice cream I've ever had. (Yes, it's better than Ben & Jerry's.)
And, of course, we had lobster, lobster rolls (even at McDonald's) and clam chowder. We only had lobster a couple of times in Maine, and while it wasn't bad, it didn't win my top award. That goes to a little place by the sea in the coastal Massachusetts community of Marshfield called the Green Harbor Lobster Pound. With only outdoor seating on a picnic table, the incredibly fresh "lobstah" is plentiful, and so are the clams in the "chowdah." Paired with a local beer, it doesn't get any better.