Exploring the peaks and valleys of mountain golf.By Wayne Mills | Above photo by Aaron D. Leclerc
The peak of Mount Mansfield in Vermont’s Green Mountains is the state’s tallest point. Spread across the mountainside and valley below lies Stowe, the pinnacle of Vermont’s resort areas.
Dominated visually and economically by the Stowe Mountain Resort ski area, the town of Stowe and the surrounding area have become a four-season clean air destination for outdoor enthusiasts. In addition to Alpine and Nordic skiing in the winter, the area offers some of the finest summer golf, biking and hiking anywhere. It has also spawned high-end options in accommodations, dining and shopping. In a state with many fine destinations, Stowe is one of the best Vermont has to offer.
The mountain recreation culture dates back to the early 1930s when crews from the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Depression-era work program started by President Franklin Roosevelt, began clearing ski trails by hand, using axes and crosscut saws. The Bruce and Nosedive trails were the first in use, and by 1940, work started on a single-seat chair lift, at the time the longest and highest in the world, which was in operation until 1986.
Occupying a relatively small 485 acres, the Stowe Mountain Resort ski area is considered by many skiers to present some of the most challenging terrain in the East with a 2,360-foot vertical drop and the legendary Front Four trails: Goat, National, Liftline and Starr.
Vail Resorts, which operates some of North America’s greatest resorts, recently purchased the ski operations from the Mount Mansfield Company. Mount Mansfield Company will retain ownership of the luxurious Stowe Mountain Lodge, the Stowe Country Club and the Stowe Mountain Club. For golf visitors, the transition should be seamless. Veteran golf professional Ron Philo, Jr. is in his eighth year as director of golf and club operations.
Stowe Country Club, located in the village of Stowe, offers a traditional layout with wide fairways routed over rolling hills. Designed by William Mitchell and built by village residents in the late 1950s and early 1960s, it features views of the surrounding Worcester and Mansfield ranges. After much tree thinning and drainage work in recent years, conditions are now as good as any public access course in Vermont.
“It is a lot of fun to play,” Philo says. “It’s very pleasant and playable, but it requires accurate approach shots to have a chance at birdie.”
Regardless of your score, sipping one of Vermont’s outstanding craft brews, while taking in the view from the outside deck, is always a great conclusion to a day at Stowe Country Club.
Stowe Mountain Club, located near the ski area adjacent to Spruce Peak, opened in 2007 and is a unique mountain course. Veteran architect Bob Cupp worked within the terrain and with the delicate ecosystem in designing the routing. He had to present 29 designs before one was accepted by Vermont’s notoriously strict permitting authorities.
“It is carved right into the side of the mountain, unlike any I’ve ever seen,” Philo says. “With the change in elevation from 1,000 to 1,900 feet at the highest point, it is absolutely breathtaking.”
The front nine is routed around Peregrine Lake, a man-made reservoir that comes into play on 16 holes. In winter, the water is used for snowmaking at the ski area, so optimum conditions can be maintained on the mountain even throughout the fickle New England winters.
The back nine wanders up the mountain from the lake to a spectacular view of Mount Mansfield and the ski slopes on the 14th tee. From the 15th green, golfers can gaze down the meandering Worcester Mountain Range for more than 30 miles.
Ranked eighth in the state by Golf Digest, the Mountain Club is a placement-type design that requires plenty of thought from the tee and often has golfers hitting less than driver on longer holes. “You won’t find a better collection of short par 4’s anywhere in America,” Cupp says.
An added bonus to booking a golf package at Stowe is the opportunity to play the private Country Club of Vermont in nearby Waterbury. This 1998 Graham Cooke design is one of the best courses in the state (ranked second by Golf Digest), and one any serious golfer should play.
And golf instruction is hardly an afterthought at Stowe Mountain. The resort is part of the highly regarded Golf Channel Academy network, with outstanding practice facilities at Stowe Country Club.
For visitors to truly experience the best of Vermont, on the golf course and off, a visit to Stowe is a must.