Superb mountain golf, elegant lodging and tantalizing farm-to-table dining make any trip to the Mt. Washington Valley a relaxing experience.By Rob Duca
We knew the four-hour journey from Cape Cod that took us deep into New Hampshire’s White Mountains was nearing the end when we spotted the red covered bridge that beckoned us into idyllic Jackson Village. But we truly realized that the relaxation had begun once we entered our suite at The Wentworth, where a bottle of chilled white wine, a cheese plate and a soothing hot tub awaited us.
“You’re going to like this room,” said Barbara, who was first though the door.
And this was before she spotted the hot tub.
Jackson Village is the definition of tranquil, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of options to fill your time. The Wentworth Golf Club sits in the heart of the village and offers views of the majestic Presidential Range. The Wildcat and Ellis Rivers wind through the golf course, which plays to a par 70 at 5,435 yards. Although the course is short, there are plenty of challenging holes, beginning with the 185-yard 14th that is as demanding a par-3 hole as you will find anywhere.
It plays straight up a ski slope, with bunkers guarding the right and left of the green.
Dramatic elevation changes are the defining characteristic of the course. The par-5 15th plays downhill from the tee box, and then back uphill on the second shot, with wetlands cutting across the fairway. The 16th is another dazzling par 3, demanding a downhill semi-blind tee shot that must carry more wetlands. Along the way, you’ll also tee off next to a replica of the village’s covered bridge and then proceed across that bridge and under a stone bridge to reach the next hole.
After golf, it was time to explore the many unique shops in North Conway. The first stop was Zeb’s General Store, where virtually anything and everything is available for purchase, from maple syrup, penny candy, jams and jellies to salt water taffy, sports memorabilia, coffee mugs and soaps. There are more than 5,000 products, including a large collection of New England-made specialty foods.
Across the street is the Naked Bohemian, which is one of the most fascinating shops I’ve visited in a long time. Metal bikes on the sidewalk lure you into the store, where you’ll find unique metal art and home décor items. For more conventional shopping, there are hundreds of discount outlet stores, fine art galleries and factory outlets just a short drive from the village center.
North Conway is also home base for the Conway Scenic Railroad, where you can board historical Pullman cars that take you to Conway, Bartlett and past the sheer bluffs and deep ravines of Crawford Notch.
It was then time to head back to The Wentworth, which is located 10 minutes from the village of North Conway. Built in 1869, this historic hotel offers an elegant oasis of serenity and is a prime destination in summer for golf buddy trips, in fall for leaf peeping, in winter for skiing and throughout the year for weddings and romantic weekend getaways.
Suites at The Wentworth feature multiple flat-screen televisions, steam showers, fireplaces and surround sound stereo, while the resort also has cottages and two- and three-bedroom condos for rent. The main inn includes a bar, billiards room and a superb farm-to-table restaurant. Chef Roger Young’s work with local growers and farmers has earned the restaurant a certified local designation for its commitment to using local producers.
Golf beckoned on our second day with a 45-minute drive into Maine to play Bridgton Highlands Country Club. The original nine holes were designed in 1926 by legendary golf course architect A.W. Tillinghast, whose other famous creations include major championship venues Baltusrol Golf Club, and Winged Foot and the Black Course at Bethpage State Park in New York.
Geoffrey Cornish and Brian Silva were hired in the 1980s to build the current fifth and 14th holes, which replaced the original seventh and eighth due to construction of 16 condominiums. In 1992, 20 locals purchased the course at auction and expanded it to 18 by using the design of one of the new owners, Fred Ryan. The new holes were intertwined with the original Tillinghast holes and the course opened for play in 1994.
The end result is a wonderfully maintained and extremely testing layout that features numerous white-knuckle carries over wetlands. It also requires imagination to putt the severely sloped greens. Playing barely more than 6,300 yards from the tips, this par-72 design will swallow up plenty of golf balls if you’re not precise with your tee shots and approaches. But with six sets of tees, including a Senior Gold tee measuring 5,300 yards, it’s easy to find one that matches your ability.
It was difficult to leave The Wentworth, but our next stop less than one hour away was the Snowvillage Inn in Eaton. Set amidst the woods and perched on the lower portion of Foss Mountain, the inn has been providing guests with panoramic views and solitude since 1948. If you want to truly unplug, this is the spot. You won’t find a television on the property, but there are plenty of books and board games in the library. The enclosed porch is the ideal spot for a cocktail before dinner, while locals are drawn to the inn’s restaurant for its creative, locally sourced menu. Barbara ordered rack of lamb, while I took the adventurous route and selected antelope. Yes, antelope. It was part of the “Wild Side” special of the day, and it tasted like the finest cut of steak imaginable. For the less daring, there was Kobe beef, grilled duck, Maine coast scallops and pan-seared fish tacos.
Our final day of golf took us to Province Lake Golf Course in Parsonsfield, Maine. The original nine holes were built along the shores of Province Lake in 1918, with Silva designing the second nine in 1988. The shorter back nine is actually the more difficult due to the tighter fairways and numerous water hazards. It has been named by national magazines as one of the country’s top 100 women-friendly courses, which might be partly due to the fact that the club offers child care services.
Not far away is the Darby Field Inn & Restaurant in Albany, New Hampshire, which was built in 1826 as a working farm and converted into an inn in the 1940s. Candlelit window tables offer dazzling views of White Horse Ledge and Mt. Washington, and seasonal entrées are prepared from local ingredients, including herbs and vegetables from the inn’s own garden.
Tourists generally think of the Mt. Washington Valley as a place to go in ski season or when the vivid colors of fall foliage have bloomed. But we were there in mid-September, a so-called offseason, when the leaves and the grass were still green. To these eyes, it was just as glorious a time to visit.