Stratton Resort: Forget the skis, bring the sticks
The 27 holes of golf at Stratton Mountain Resort are definitely in the mountains —but they aren't what New Englanders would generally consider to be an extreme example of "mountain golf."
The layout rests at the bottom of the famed ski area's trails, and the holes play over comparatively gentle terrain, making for an enjoyable rather than arduous golf experience.
The course is strong enough to challenge top-level professional golfers. Stratton played host to an annual stop on the LPGA tour from 1990 to 1995—one of pro golf's few forays into the Green Mountain State. The ladies returned this year for the first Stratton Mountain Futures Classic—a stop on the developmental tour for the LPGA. Patty Hayes, a veteran touring professional from Florida, competed in the LPGA event at Stratton and returned in 2004 as part of the Futures Tour.
"I forgot how hilly it was up there," she said after shooting 78-75 to miss the cut. "Otherwise, I would have taken the week off. The course was a great big, 'Hello!'"
Hayes might have been speaking out of frustration — in reality the course has plenty of movement and is challenging, but shouldn't prove overly intimidating to even beginning golfers. Geoffrey Cornish, who designed the layout, is the undisputed king of New England golf architecture and used his experience in the hill country to craft a routing that makes the terrain constantly interesting rather than punishing.
Cornish's original 18 holes (the current Mountain and Lake loops) were opened in 1965. Two decades later, Cornish returned to craft the Forest holes, bringing Stratton to its current 27-hole status. It's the only public access course in the state with more than 18 holes.
The three nine-hole loops differ slightly in terrain (their names are an apt description of each), but there is consistent feel that allows any 18-hole combination to hold together well. Cornish was able to avoid an over-abundance of blind-shots, a fault of many mountain golf courses. The Lake holes, not surprisingly, introduce the most water, but in most cases it is a threat only to poorly hit shots and more often than not, it is small streams that provide the most danger. The eighth and ninth holes on the Lake layout are strong back-to-back closers. The ninth calls for a very precise drive to a narrow landing area, but you can't afford to sacrifice length. The hole plays uphill from start to finish, and a pond in front of the green awaits short approach shots.
Scott Newman, the 2004 club champion at Stratton, proudly describes his how club as, "the only public golf course in Southern Vermont that offers a beautifully maintained 27-hole layout, extraordinary mountain views, and fun for players of all abilities yet is still challenging to low handicap players."
Newman's favorite hole is the 621-yard, par 5 fifth on the Mountain course. Newman says the Stratton Golf School attracts a number of visitors to the course, and he vouches for the success of the instruction.
The Stratton Golf School has developed a reputation as one of the top teaching programs in the country, and it's indisputably one of the oldest. The program began in 1969 as the Arnold Palmer Golf Academy for Juniors, and today has grown to include instruction for golfers of all ages and ability levels. It is recognized as the largest seasonal golf school operating in a single location, and has a 22-acre facility for its exclusive use.
A new "mornings only" program was introduced this year to allow students at the Stratton Golf School time in the afternoon to enjoy the rest of the Resort's attractions, as well as to explore the surrounding area which offers plenty of fishing, hiking, kayaking and mountain bike riding venues.
Non-golfing spouses will find outlet shopping in Manchester, Vt., an easy 20-minute drive down the moutain from Stratton Village, which itself boasts quite a number of upscale shops and projects the feeling of a small Alps village.
Autumn is a good time to visit Stratton if you're a golfer in search of a good time - the Stratton Brewfest is scheduled for Oct. 2 and a festive Oktoberfest will be held Oct. 9. The biggest draw at this time of year, though, are the ever-colorful leaves. Views of the fall foliage abound on the Stratton course, but the best views can be found from a decommissioned fire watchtower atop Stratton Mountain. Those who tend to walk golf courses can strap on a pair of hiking shoes and head up to the summit on one of several trails (there's no shortage of trails at a resort that boasts 90 ski runs traversing the mountain) to the top. Those who prefer to ride can board the gondola (Fridays-Sunday and holidays) for a more relaxing trip.
Likewise, green fees at Stratton are relatively reasonable. Peak season weekday rounds range from $59-$79, and weekend rounds go for $79-$99. The Resort's "Break 100" package offers one night's lodging and one round of golf with cart for two for just $98. For a true taste of Vermont and 27 holes of golf, it's a price that's fair.
Nearly every course in the state brings golfers in touch with nature, but the Stratton layout seems to do this particularly well. There's long-distance views, but sometimes the more interesting scenery is close-by. Trees are everywhere, water continually invades playing areas, and rock outcroppings beside the fairways are a reminder of the fact that architect Geoffrey Cornish used the natural terrain rather than a lot of earth-moving equipment to craft the course. Likewise, maintenance is at a high standard, but the intention doesn't seem to cross the line in appearance from natural to artificial.
The style of the course is indicative of its vintage—a combination of the 1960s and 1980s. There isn't the outright charm of a 100-year-old New England course, nor is there the glitz of a modern "high-end" layout. But if you're looking to play a golf course that leaves no doubt you're in beautiful Vermont, this is the one.
Stratton is a perennial host of the U.S. Open — though the championship in question is in the sport of snowboarding and the big event takes place in March.
Places to stay
Inns, condominiums and hotels are available through the Resort (stratton.com) at a number of price points. Each of these facilities is located on the mountain near the hustle-and-bustle of Stratton Village and the golf course. Many who visit prefer to choose among these options rather than looking elsewhere for lodging that will require a long commute each morning for golf or Golf School.
Rates are quite reasonable, ranging from about $49-$149 per night at the Liftline Lodge to around $69-$119 per night at the Inn at Stratton Mountain. Slightly pricier, but offering more space, luxury and privacy are Stratton's condominium rentals (nightly rates range from about $110-$300).
Places to eat
In the intimate Village square, Mulligans is a great place for drinks and dinner with a relaxed atmosphere; those looking for fine dining will prefer Luna. The latter is part of the resort's private and exclusive Stratton Mountain Club, but is accessible by non-members. (Credit cards are required for reservations and there's a $25 fee for "no-shows.") An extra touch for patrons of Luna: Door-to-door transportation is available, so feel free to order an extra bottle of wine with dinner.
March 31, 2006