Peaceful Portsmouth

This Quaint Seaport Town Has A Little Bit Of Everything.

By Rob Duca

Portsmouth, New Hampshire, is one of America’s great seaport towns. The downtown waterfront offers the quintessential experience for visitors looking to spend a peaceful day exploring the area’s numerous attractions. The striking North Church sits in the center of Market Square, surrounded by charming shops, upscale dining, historic homes, museums, wine bars and quaint clubs that feature nightly live music.

The downtown area is dotted with outstanding restaurants. Jumpin’ Jay’s Fish Café features seven varieties of fish daily, along with an extensive raw bar that includes snow crab claws and oysters from Canada and Cape Cod. The District changes its menu weekly, offering such inventive fare as chicken and waffles, and roasted beet caprese. A cozy, romantic alternative is the Bridge Street Bistro Wine Bar, where you might start with a mushroom crêpe before moving on to seafood stew or cassoulet. You can also choose from 35 wines by the glass. For a more casual experience that will transport you back to the 1950s, the Roundabout Diner Lounge, located just outside of downtown, is famous for its barbecue pulled pork sandwich and hand-cut onion rings.

Golf is also a major Portsmouth attraction. A handful of outstanding courses are within a 30-minute drive, each offering a unique experience. From the seaside links at Wentworth By The Sea Country Club and The Links at Outlook Golf Course to the century-old Portsmouth Country Club and Pease Golf Course, where A-10 Thunderbolts descend overhead, the area doesn’t disappoint.

Pease Golf Course, built in 1901, was originally the site of the Portsmouth Country Club. It is the only area club with 27 holes, which includes the Blue Course, added in 2000. The championship course features rolling terrain and begins with a pair of par-5 holes. Although there are a couple of narrow fairways, the greens are large and sloped, demanding a deft short game.

Nine holes on the championship course were renovated last year and opened for play this spring, improving drainage and overall conditions.

The Blue Course is a different animal from the championship layout. Each hole is carved into the woods and isolated, requiring long rides (a cart is mandatory) down trails that wind over bridges, across marshes and through the forest. It demands more target golf, but the design is creative and fair.

The course’s location is especially memorable. It is adjacent to the Pease Air National Guard Base, which occupies a portion of Pease International Airport. On any given day you might see the Thunderbirds practicing their routines or watch a huge C-130 Hercules descending onto the nearby runway. It’s quite a spectacle, particularly on the 11th tee as you prepare to play the 236-yard par-3 hole with planes whizzing over your head.

Wentworth By The Sea is a magnificent golf course in terms of challenge, design and splendor. Although the course is private, tee times are open to guests of the nearby Wentworth By The Sea Hotel & Spa. Opened in the late 1800s, the hotel sits on a hillside overlooking the ocean and is one of the state’s last remaining grand seaside resorts.

The hotel has had a checkered history. It closed in 1982 and was later nearly demolished to make way for private homes. Rescued from the wrecking ball, it reopened in 2003 following a six-year, $32 million renovation that included the addition of an 8,500-square-foot spa, fireplaces in 18 suites and the Little Harbor Marina waterfront suites.

The Scottish links-style course was originally designed by George Wright in 1897, improved by Donald Ross in 1921, and expanded to 18 holes by Geoffrey Cornish in 1964. It is a true gem, featuring panoramic ocean views, postage-stamp greens with severe undulations that mark Ross’s signature, rolling terrain and dramatic tee shots over water, beaches and marshes.

It helps to play with a member who knows the ropes. The fairways are tree-lined and narrow as a bowling alley, with numerous uphill blind shots and sharp doglegs. On more than one occasion I hit what I thought were superb drives, only to watch the ball disappear over the hillside, never to be found again after it apparently caught the rolling terrain and bounced in some unknown direction. It wasn’t until the 14th hole that I stood on the tee feeling as though I could fire away without trepidation.

But there are eye-catching holes along the way. The closing stretch, beginning at No. 15, is as good as it gets. The par-3 15th of 195 yards plays toward the ocean, providing a dazzling view of the red-roofed hotel in the distance. The 16th offers one of the world’s most dramatic tee shots. A dogleg right par 5 of 520 yards, the ball must be driven over the ocean to find safe haven. The 215-yard 17th plays slightly uphill into a prevailing wind, while the finishing 18th is a 395-yard dogleg left par 4 with a forced carry over water on the approach. Good luck with all that.

Portsmouth Country Club is another coastal masterpiece. Designed in 1956 by Robert Trent Jones, it is regarded as one of New Hampshire’s most challenging, scenic experiences. Several holes play alongside Great Bay as the course snakes around the water. Measuring 7,153 yards, it features a number of demanding holes, not the least being the 226-yard par-3 eighth and the 472-yard par-4 12th.

Not far away in Greenland is Breakfast Hill Golf Club, designed by Brian Silva and opened in 2000. The course winds through the woodlands and past exposed granite boulders, providing ample challenge and scenery.

It rests on 170 acres of family-owned land dating back 250 years. Once a working farm, the course flows beneath towering pines and has been ranked by national publications as one of America’s top public layouts. The practice facility includes a sprawling 10,000-square-foot putting green, while the cedar-shingled clubhouse features a picturesque patio overlooking the finishing holes.

The Links at Outlook Golf Course is located just across the state line in Berwick, Maine, a short 30-minute drive. Silva also designed this course, and he took full advantage of the natural landscape that once served as a working farm. The land has been transformed into a par-71, 6,500-yard links-style layout with rolling dunes and scattered sand bunkers throughout the property. Breathtaking ocean views are prevalent, and you’ll feel as though a slice of Scotland has come to the Vacationland state.

Located barely one hour from Boston, Portsmouth is the ideal base for golf, dining, sight-seeing and so much more.

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