You won’t be throwing away your money when you tee it up at Lake of Isles and Mohegan Sun Golf Club.By Rob Duca
Most people don’t think of golf when they venture to what one might call Connecticut’s “Casino Region.” Visitors to Foxwoods Resorts and Mohegan Sun are usually focused on blackjack tables, roulette wheels and the bells and whistles of those one-armed bandits known as slot machines. But take a break from the action inside the constant clatter of the casinos and you will discover a world of superb and challenging golf.
The North Course at Lake of Isles is a must-visit any time I visit Foxwoods. The Rees Jones-designed layout is a five-minute drive from the casino and is considered one of the finest in the state. The course is carved through 900 wooded acres and winds through the wilderness, across a series of bridges built over Lake of Isles and along rolling fairways that feature panoramic views of the pristine countryside.
During previous visits to Foxwoods I stayed at the nearby MGM Grand, where I could spot the golf course from my room on the 30th floor, which only wet my appetite for stepping onto the first tee. Arrival at the rustic turn-of-the-century designed clubhouse, with cedar shake siding and stone pillars, only increases the anticipation. It’s clear that this is not your run-of-the-mill public course.
With five tiers of tee boxes on every hole, the North Course can be enjoyed by golfers of all skill levels. A word of caution: select tees that suit your ability, because there are a series of demanding forced carries on nearly every tee.
The tips are set at more than 7,200 yards, while the gold markers play 6,717 and the silver are a manageable 6,304. Many holes play from elevated tees, some so high that they provide a view over the tree line to other holes. Water or waste areas must be carried on nine holes, while a deep ravine awaits shaky shots on the par-5 15th hole. With nearly 70 bunkers, this isn’t an easy golf course. But the fairways are wide and solid shots will be rewarded.
The most memorable holes are the 11th and 17th, both par-3 designs. The former hole plays over water from an elevated tee with a view of two wooden bridges; the latter is downhill, with the green set behind a row of trees and the lake serving as the backdrop.
Not far away is Mohegan Sun Golf Club, which has undergone significant renovations since being purchased by the Mohegan Tribe in 2009. The once-sleepy, uninspired course now boasts Scottish-style bunkers, severely undulating greens, numerous doglegs, fescue-framed fairways and breathtaking elevation changes.
Although less than 6,800 yards from the tips, the course plays much longer due to the many doglegs and elevated greens. That fact becomes clear on the signature par-5, 495-yard sixth hole, where the fairway bends 90 degrees to the right and the second shot requires a blind carry over a hazard. The elevated green, which is reminiscent of a classic Irish links course, is narrow as a bowling alley and is surrounded by grass mounds and a series of dips and swales.
The lone drawback is that golf course is a 25-minute trek from the Mohegan Sun casino and the property’s hotel. On the bright side, the extra driving time might save you some money.
After golf, pay a visit to nearby Mystic, home to New England’s only beluga whales, sea lions and African penguins. All are available for viewing at the Mystic Aquarium. The landmark Bascule Bridge welcomes visitors to the town center, where the now famous Mystic Pizza, setting for the 1980s movie starring Julia Roberts, draws tourists from around the world.
On my last visit I discovered two dining spots outside of the town center that are worthy of mention. Both are located on Water Street and are within walking distance of each other. At the Oyster Club, a farm-to-sea-to-table restaurant, locals flock on hot summer nights to the “Tree House,” which is the restaurant’s rooftop deck built amidst the trees. Beginning on Memorial Day, $1 oysters are served daily from 4 to 6 p.m. along with specialty cocktails and ice-cold beers.
The nearby Captain Daniel Packer Inne has stood on its current site for more than 250 years, once serving as a welcome landmark for weary travelers between New York and Boston who needed a night of rest. The property was restored in the early 1980s with the original fireplaces, mantles and beams preserved. Today, the inn serves hearty New England fare in a rustic, cozy setting.
Not to be missed are specialty cocktails served in ice-cold steel martini glasses. They provide the ideal nightcap to a day of golfing and gambling.