Foxwoods Resort & Casino to Open Lake of Isles Courses

By Kiel Christianson, Senior Writer

There remains in New England a Puritanical undercurrent. For example, when the Mashantucket Pequot Nation waged a successful battle to open the first Native American casino in the Northeast in 1992, it was not without protest from non-Natives. But let's be frank: Treaty rights allow for such things. Let's be even more frank: Since 1993, the Pequot's Foxwoods Resort and Casino has poured $1.8 billion (that's with a 'b') into the state's coffers. Just imagine what the state deficit would be without this source of income.

Speaking of deficits, Connecticut has one of the worst golfer-to-course ratios in the nation. Although there are a fair number of private clubs, the daily fee player who would like to play in decent conditions and maybe even be treated like a valued customer is limited in his or her options. Things are even worse for the duffer who wants to do something crazy like, say, go to a golf resort to stay, play, and relax for a few days without leaving the state. The fact is, there are no such golf resorts in the Nutmeg state.

Fortunately, the Mashantucket Pequot are busy helping to bridge this golfing deficit as well. The Foxwoods Resort and Casino is on schedule to open two Rees Jones-designed courses in the summer of 2005. Although Lake of Isles South course will be private, Lake of Isles North will be public. Both will play along, around, and over the idyllic Lake of Isles, offering equally breathtaking holes and the same high standard of service.

Foxwoods: More than just slots

Most casinos have one driving goal: Get people to the slot machines as fast as possible and keep them playing until their kids', their grandkids', and their great-grandkids' inheritance is emptier than Enron's pension fund. The truly remarkable thing about Foxwoods is that, upon entering the enormous, opulent resort, you are not immediately assaulted by the jangling racket of the casino. If you didn't already know about them, in fact, it might take you a while to discover that the cavernous gaming areas even exist. They are that well blended into what is in fact much more than a casino.

The resort offers three hotels with over 1,400 guest rooms. By far the largest and most luxurious of these is the Grand Pequot Tower, where, if you 're either very important or very rich (preferably both), you might just find yourself in the mother-of-all suites: a two-floor, 5,000-square-foot villa with six fire places. Even us commoners will find gracious digs, however, many of which overlook the Great Cedar Swamp. It was here where a few surviving Pequots hid during the massacre of 1637, when European settlers and soldiers wiped out the rest of the tribe.

Once guests begin to roam the seemingly endless resort, they find a full 25 places to eat and drink, ranging from gourmet dining to fast food: Chinese, Italian, seafood, steakhouse, American bistro - you name it, you will find it. The restaurants are mainly scattered throughout a shopping and entertainment complex that offers retail outlets specializing in everything from toys to golf clubs, along with concert halls and the BB King Nightclub. Illuminati such as Pavarotti, Paul Anka, Sophia Loren and Jackie Chan have performed at grand openings of various resort attractions.

All this is to say that if you do no happen to be a gambler, there is enough to keep you occupied for days even if you never set foot near the gaming areas (did we mention the spa?). Of course, if you do enjoy games of chance, Foxwoods offers the widest variety of action outside of Atlantic City and Vegas.

With five distinct casinos, a 3,200-seat bingo hall, a 200-seat off-track theater to play the ponies and puppies, the only poker room in New England, 360 table games, and nearly 6,700 slot machines, Foxwoods can tempt even the most reluctant gamer into flirting with Lady Luck. The best bang for your buck is the poker room, where according to the floor manager, a reasonably conservative player could play all day on less than $50, have a great time, and maybe even walk away a winner.

Located near the resort is the architecturally wondrous Mashantucket Pequot Museum and Research Center. The museum, which opened six years ago to rave reviews both for its design and displays, offers an open window back in time with unparalleled depictions of Native life before European settlement, as well as life during pre- and post-colonial times for both Native and non-native residents of the region. More than a tourist attraction, the complex is the largest and most comprehensive Native American museum in the world, and houses the most extensive collections and research facilities of their kind. Save $15 from the gaming tables ($10 for kids 6-15; kids under 6 are free) and invest in cultural enrichment.

Lake of Isles

At present, all that is missing from Foxwoods is the golf. As of May, 2005, this gap will be filled with not one, but two tournament-caliber Rees Jones layouts, Lake of Isles North and South. General Manager Archie Cart took us on an exclusive, sneak-peek tour of both 7,300+ yard tracks, which are every bit as awesome as the resort itself.

With a 298-member cap on memberships and a $50,000 initiation fee, the private South course will be the hottest ticket in town. For the daily fee golfer, $100-$175 will get him or her a round on the resort South course, which is the equal in every way to the private layout. Both courses run along the shores of scenic Lake of Isles. The 11th hole on each is a stunning island green. On both tracks, golfers will play over the lake, and then play back across.

This parity - such a rarity for New England golf - is by design: The goal is for Lake of Isles to host some high-profile tournaments down the road. According to Cart, there is a "tournament" 18-hole route using holes from both courses, leaving lots of room for hospitality tents, galleries, and media. In fact, the facility has already been selected as the host site for the 2007 Connecticut State Open Championship - quite a compliment for an as-yet-unopened course.

If there is one design feature that defines both courses, it is risk. But what else would you expect from Foxwoods? From the championship tees, there are several holes on both the North and the South that will demand forced carries of over 250-yards just to reach the fairways. The 18th on the public North course, for example, requires from the tips a Herculean 270-yard carry over wetlands to a canted, angled fairway.

When the specter of six-hour rounds due to over-zealous mid-handicappers playing from the wrong tees is raised, Archie Cart is quick to point out that there are six tee boxes on every hole. On the 18th, the two forward-most tees do not have any forced carry at all. The key to keeping playing-time, scores, and blood pressures down will be making sure people play from the appropriate tees for their skill level.

Best of all for golfers looking to indulge in that "golf vacation" experience without wandering far afield, Lake of Isles will offer eight four-bedroom golf villas right on the course property. The 50,000-square-foot clubhouse will contain separate but equal facilities for members and daily-fee/resort players, as well as expansive banquet and meeting facilities (weddings have already been booked). In addition, the on-site golf academy will offer multi-day schools and year-round individual lessons.

The Puritans, we all know, were not the most lively of folk. Almost 460 years after they tried to exterminate the Pequot, it is the Pequot who are having the last laugh. Lucky for us golfers and gamers, history buffs and gourmands, they're letting us join in the fun.

Fast Fact

The hotels average about 90% occupancy, so book early. A major expansion is underway, the focal point of which will be a Hard Rock Café, as well as 800 new slots, additional retail space, and a 2,100-car parking ramp.

Kiel ChristiansonKiel Christianson, Senior Writer

Kiel Christianson has lived, worked, traveled and golfed extensively on three continents. As senior writer and equipment editor for, he has reviewed courses, resorts, and golf academies from California to Ireland, including his home course, Lake of the Woods G.C. in Mahomet, Ill. Read his golf blog here and follow him on Twitter @GolfWriterKiel.

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