By the Time We Got to Woodstock: Golf in Vermont's Premier Vacation Town
Taking a trip to New England without visiting Woodstock is like vacationing in Key West without setting foot on the beach. Ladies Home Journal has called this postcard-perfect village "The prettiest small town in America." Natural beauty is provided by the surrounding hills and the Ottauquechee River. Man-made charm is added by the grand homes, quaint shops, cozy inns, and several fine golf courses.
Settled in 1765, Woodstock soon became the county seat, attracting educated professionals who built the storybook homes you see today. In 1824, the railroad came to town, bringing summer vacationers north away from the suffocating heat of New York and Boston. The opening of the Woodstock Inn in 1892 turned the sleepy country village into a bona fide year-round holiday destination, with the moneyed classes flocking to Woodstock in the fall to view the dazzling autumn colors and in the winter to ski.
Today, Woodstock is a pastiche of two and a half centuries' worth of history, culture, and nature. The mix of elderly tourists driving slowly and browsing art galleries with mopey teens kicking hacky-sacks and lamenting the break-up of Phish adds to the country chic of the place. This is a town where everyone (except maybe the surliest of those teens) can find ample distraction and recreation, golfers included.
If you want to experience the on-course equivalence of Woodstock's quaint, quirky charm, book a tee time at the Woodstock Country Club ($59-$87). At only 6,052 yards and par 70, this track, revamped in the mid 1960s by Robert Trent Jones Sr. will not overwhelm you with its length. What will get you (and probably a number of your golf balls) is the routing, which crosses the malevolent Kedron Brook no fewer than 12 times, and the small, hard to hit greens.
First-time players are encouraged to play the white tees (5,619 yards) unless they are, in the words of a 25-year member of the club, "Very, very good." The course boasts a collection of six of the most idyllic par 3s anywhere in New England. Remember, though, that beauty is a fickle thing, and what looks perfect from the tee might seem very ugly as you card a double-bogey.
About 30 minutes away from Woodstock in Killington you'll find Green Mountain National ($50-$66). Opened in 1996, this 6,589-yard, par-71 Gene Bates design promises a significant amount of bang for the buck. Ranked four and a half stars by Golf Digest and the best public course in the state by several publications, Green Mountain National offers one panoramic tee shot after another, replete with dramatic elevation changes, truck-sized boulders, and all manner of ball-eating hazards.
The course was built by the town of Killington, which makes it one of the most admirable municipal courses in New England. Despite some conditioning and playability issues, the natural splendor of the mountain golf is worth a visit. On the 374-yard 16th, take a minute before teeing off simply to drink in the stunning view.
This being New England, where the snob-appeal of private-club golf is still prevalent, it is no surprise that two of the best courses in the area are private. The Quechee Club in nearby Quechee consists of two Geoffrey Cornish layouts, the Highland Course and the Lakeland Course. These tracks are "seconds" only because of their inaccessibility relative to the public courses in the area.
Although Quechee Club is private, there is a way for savvy duffers to play here: If you're staying at a local B&B, ask your innkeeper to make inquiries for you. Just about any innkeeper in town knows someone who is a member, and many are members themselves. They can arrange for you to play either unaccompanied ($120 with cart) or, if necessary, accompanied ($90). Avid golfer, Quechee member, and innkeeper of the Applebutter Inn Michael Pacht accompanied me for 18 holes on the tournament-caliber Highland Course (6,780 yards, par 72), and said that he is more than happy to arrange things for not only guests at his inn, but others as well.
The Quechee Club's top-notch conditioning, meticulous landscaping, pace of play, and excellent layouts are all worth the trouble of calling around. Whereas the Highland Course is undulating, the Lakeland Course is flat with lots of water in play. The 241-yard, par-3 eighth on the Highland Course, which plays over the Ottauquechee River, is worth a round on that 18 all by itself.
No matter how long you stay in Woodstock, you won't have enough time to visit every local point of interest. Indoor attractions include the newly opened Raptor Center at the Vermont Institute of Natural Science ( (802) 457-2779), the Calvin Coolidge Homestead in nearby Plymouth, Shackleton Furniture in Bridgewater ( (802) 672-5175), and Simon Pearce Glassworks ( (802) 295-2711) in Quechee. The last of these allows visitors to watch as artisans use their own lungs and hands to bring forth delicate yet functional works of art from blobs of molten glass.
For outdoor fun, cheese-lovers of all ages will enjoy the Billings Farm and Museum ( (802) 457-2355) and the Sugarbush Farm ( (800) 281-1757). For more adventure, you can hike the Quechee Gorge or ride up the mountain at Killington in the gondola. Martin "Marty" Banak operates Wilderness Trails and The Vermont Fly Fishing School ( (802) 295-7620), and can arrange everything from whitewater rafting to languid canoe trips to fly-fishing expeditions.
Being a tourist Mecca, Woodstock's galleries, shops, and restaurants are not exactly a bargain-hunter's dream. The food, in particular, while excellent in many eateries, is affordable in few. The best bet for the frugal gourmand is Max's Tavern at The Barnard Inn ( (802) 234-9961) in close-by Barnard. Here you'll find both fine and tavern-style dining, all prepared by the same chef in the same kitchen. The menu is always changing, but entrees ($14-$21 in the Tavern) are both generous and exquisite.
Unless you want more atmosphere than food, steer clear of Bentley's on the main corner in Woodstock. Outside of town, there are several good restaurants including Corners Inn (Bridgewater), The Quechee Inn at Marshland Farm (Quechee), Simon Pearce (Quechee), and Skunk Hollow Tavern (Hartland Four Corners).
Stay and Play
Besides the historic Woodstock Inn and Resort, there are no fewer than a dozen B&Bs and family owned motels in the immediate Woodstock area. Surprisingly, many do not allow children or pets, although the village of Woodstock is actively pursuing the young family dollar by training and placing teenagers for childcare and providing kennels in the area where visitors can keep and visit their pets.
One of the most family-friendly B&Bs is the Deer Brook Inn ($95-$150), along the Ottauquechee River. Innkeepers David Kanal and George DeFina are experts at arranging everything for their guests from kayak trips to tee times to dinner reservations, even months in advance. Situated on five acres, the renovated 1820-vintage inn also has its own fire pit up on a hill where families can build a fire, roast marshmallows, and keep an eye out for the occasional moose.
Near the Quechee Club is the Applebutter Inn ($90-$195). Aside from individual guest rooms, the 1854 inn has a large breakfast room, and innkeepers Barbara Barry and Michael Pacht specialize in hosting family reunions, small conferences and retreats.
The pace is slow in Woodstock, and the living is easy. A cup of coffee, a hearty breakfast, a friendly chat, a tranquil round of golf, a delightful dinner - this is what perfect days are made of. By the time you leave Woodstock, you'll be making plans to return as soon as possible.
June 15, 2004