Birdies and Brews

Love golf and beer? Burlington is a micro-brew Mecca

By Wayne Mills

There is quite possibly no better place to play golf and drink beer than Burlington, Vermont. In 2006, it was named the fourth best beer-drinking city in the world by MSNBC. The other three? They’re all in Europe.

There are also great golf courses in the Burlington area, which translates into “Buddy trips here we come!”

Burlington is a five-college town that sits on the edge of Lake Champlain, only one hour south of Quebec. It’s also the epicenter of the state’s burgeoning craft beer industry, with 10 breweries now in production.

“Vermont was known for maple syrup 40 years ago. Then we were known for Ben & Jerry’s [Ice Cream]. Now we’re known for brewing the best beer in the world,” says Brennan Neill, director of fundraising for the Vermont public television network.

The spiritual home of Vermont’s micro-brew industry is the Vermont Pub & Brewery in Burlington, which was opened in 1988 by the late Greg Noonan, the godfather of Vermont’s craft brewers. Noonan lobbied the Vermont legislature for three years to become the first onsite brewery in the state since Prohibition. He died of cancer in 2009 at 58, but his legacy lives on through the 40 breweries now operating in the state.

Playing golf in the Burlington area is the ideal way to work up a thirst. You can begin at a couple of top-notch private courses. Vermont National Country Club in South Burlington is a Jack Nicklaus design that opened in the late 1990s. Built on a 400-acre dairy farm, it is a sweeping, open layout, with the wind almost always a factor. Guests of the Essex Resort & Spa, Sheraton Burlington, Burlington Harbor Marriott or Green Mountain Suites have access to tee times at the private club.

Burlington Country Club, designed by Donald Ross in 1924 and restored by Michael Hurdzan in 1998, is filled with Ross’s nuances and subtleties.

There are several pleasant and reasonably priced golf courses south of Burlington, including Cedar Knoll Country Club in Hinesburg, which features 27 holes on rolling countryside with lovely views.

Players can also expect 18 holes of challenging golf at Kwiniaska Golf Club, one of the few public courses to host the Vermont Men’s State Amateur. Located 20 minutes from downtown Burlington in St. George is Rocky Ridge Golf Club, a sporty course set on a gentle ridge.

Another course within an easy drive is Essex Country Club in Essex Junction. Designed by Graham Cooke, who also created Jay Peak Golf Club and the Country Club of Vermont, Essex is an outstanding layout with weekday greens fees of only $30.

For impeccable conditions and amazing views of Camel’s Hump and the Green Mountains, the Williston Golf Club can’t be beat. An old-school layout built in 1927, it measures 6,137 yards from the tips. This family-owned club offers all-day play for $32.

And then it’s time to quench that thirst.

Historians tell us that local Vermonter and beer enthusiast Ethan Allen was a leader in the effort to make the state the 14th star on the American flag in 1791. Today, Army veteran Steve Gagner is honoring his home state and passion – brewing great beer – with 14th Star Brewing Company in St. Albans.

Fiddlehead Brewing Company is located in the beautiful town of Shelburne, between the Shelburne Museum and the Vermont Teddy Bear Company. Brewmaster and owner Matthew Cohen is on a continual quest to craft the perfect pint. While several seasonal selections are always available on tap, the flagship beer, Fiddlehead IPA, can be found on draft lines all over Vermont.

Après golf, a pint of cold beer can be found at any number of downtown brewing establishments. The Switchback Brewing Company has grown from humble roots in 2002 and now has a tasting room. Not far away is Zero Gravity Brewery and American Flatbread, where the beer is brewed on-site and the pizza is cooked in clay-domed wood-fired ovens.

Queen City Brewery was founded by four longtime friends and produces a variety of traditional ales and lagers, as well as several unique specialty beers.


But Magic Hat is the big dog when it comes to volume and distribution. They are known throughout New England for their No. 9 beer, while at Magic Hat Artifactory, the nerve center of it all, The Growler Bar offers 48 taps.

At the Burlington Brewing Company in Williston, where “fermentation meets imagination,” you’ll find many unique brews inspired by local agriculture.

The annual Brewers Festival, held in July at Burlington’s Waterfront Park, provides the full flavor of the beer scene. It features 30 of the state’s best brews in three, four-hour tasting sessions.

So if you’re a beer-drinking golfer, Burlington just might be nirvana.

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