Green Mountain National gives Vermont golfers loads of beautiful scenery, hard shots
Testing my nerve with its tee shots, blocking my view with its trees, killing me quickly with hazards, killing me quickly with hazards, raising my score and my handicap, killing me quickly....
Sometimes, it's hard not to slip into absurdist humor as you watch a promising round slip away like a too-hard putt at Shinnecock. Hey, which is worse, goofy song lyrics or a cascade of curses? Green Mountain National is one of those courses that can be either inspiring or infuriating - or both - but either way, you'll remember it for quite some time.
Designed by Gene Bates and opened in 1997, Green Mountain National was Vermont's first municipal course. Set in the mountains a short slalom away from the Killington Ski Area, it is a muni the likes of which most people have never even imagined. The gorgeous scenery surrounding the course and the magnificent vistas from many of the tees are worth the price of admission.
That's the inspiring part.
The infuriating part is the close proximity of the cartpaths, trees, and boulders to the fairways. Head pro Jeff Hadley advises that in order to score well here, you need to have your "tee shots under control."
He's not kidding. Take the 423-yard, par-4 10th. From the elevated tees, players have a smashing view over rocky outcroppings down to a fairway that looks no wider than your average suburban driveway. A very straight tee shot is required, as there is simply no rough between the fairway and the woods and rocks lining them. If one were a golf writer who tends to pull the ball, one might find even a slight pull to have landed inches behind a seven-foot high boulder just a couple yards off the fairway.
This is the sort of thing that can lead to a very long day.
Being a municipal course, the 6,589-yard, par-71 Green Mountain National is budget conscious, which may account for the fact that not only hazards but also the cartpaths lie cheek-by-jowl to the short grass. This is great if wet conditions warrant cartpath-only play (which appeared to be the case on most holes), but it does detract from the visual appeal that the course architect did so well in establishing on the tees and greens. On many holes - one that springs immediately to mind is the 394-yard 12th - the undulating bentgrass fairways feel constricted by the snaking cartpaths.
Nevertheless, there are more than a fair share of stunning holes here. The 510-yard, par-5 sixth is a strategic gem. A split fairway on the second shot forces players to choose between the lower half of the fairway, which is shorter but tighter and behind greenside bunkers, or the upper half, which is longer but wider and offering a clearer approach. Of course, if you go for it in two, you don't need to choose.
The back nine is really where the track comes into its own, though. The 10th through the 12th are the second, fourth, and sixth hardest holes, and they can turn you into the golfing version of Weird Al Yankovic faster than you can say, "Mulligan" (as evidenced by the opening paragraph).
The 374-yard 16th is a flat-out jaw-dropping beauty - the golf-hole equivalent of Catherine Zeta-Jones - which has spurred even the jaundice-eyed scribes of Golf Magazine to pen rapturous descriptions of the sweeping vista.
Not all holes are so glorious, however. The 412-yard second presents players with an utterly blind tee shot (don't forget to watch for the green signal telling you it's safe to hit, or to push the button box next to the tee yourself after you hit so you don't get conked in the noggin playing your approach). Once over the crest, you find a lot of uneven lies and a hole that suddenly turns into a cape-style hole, with the fairway curving around a pond that lies directly between your ball and the green. This hole just feels awkward, at least to the first-timer, but perhaps the locals have it figured out.
And despite the large numbers of summer tourists who play Green Mountain National, it is the locals for whom this muni was built. Ted Olencki, a 13-handicap who plays the course every chance he gets, is proud of Killington's effort.
"I think the town did a heck of a job putting it together," says Olencki. "Every hole is challenging, except for a few."
When asked whether the abundant hazards and narrow fairways cause slow play, Olencki is similarly complimentary: "They try to keep the pace going - four and a half to five hours. The rangers keep people moving. It's usually busy." Busy and slow, for those who prefer a four-hour round.
Green fees range from $50 to $66 ($20 for a cart), but residents of Killington and season pass holders receive discounts. While the views are worth the money, the conditions are not. In several places, winterkill or erosion had scarred fairways, fringes, and greens. On the 394-yard 18th, for example, the right rough and right side of the fairway had washed out. The hole was saved - and the round capped off perfectly - by the lovely green complex, though.
Despite conditioning issues, a couple of curious hole routings, and lack of a decent first-cut of rough, Green Mountain National is very memorable. It's one of those courses players either love (using words like "challenging" and "awesome") or loathe (using words like "tricked-up" and "unfair"). With a slope rating of 133 from the white tees (138 from the tips), it is unlikely to be a place where bogey golfers will shoot career scores. But bring your cameras, because you are certain to have a couple of career photo-ops.
And you'll have some evidence if the course actually does end up killing you.
Stay and Play
Green Mountain National has stay and play packages with nearly a dozen local inns and resorts. One of the closest in Killington is the Cortina Inn ( (800) 451-6108, $84-$139). If you're staying 30 minutes away in Woodstock, most of the inns and B&Bs can call ahead to make advanced tee times.
The course only has a grill for mid-round snacks, but can provide lunches and dinners for larger groups. A highly recommended eatery with great mountain views is The Gristmill Inn on Killington Road ( (802) 422-3970).
Green Mountain National was routed by Steve Durkee, who also routed the Okemo Valley Golf Course and Neshobe Golf Club, both in Vermont.
January 19, 2005