Proximity to golf, gambling and classic watercrafts make this quaint Connecticut town the ideal base for exploring the areaBY ROB DUCA
Even the name of the town conjures up the image of a distinctive place. One can envision listening to Van Morrison singing Into the Mystic while driving into this picturesque Connecticut seaport filled with enchanting storefronts, classic vessels, cobblestone sidewalks and a wooden boardwalk from which to relax and soak in the surroundings.
Mystic Seaport is home to the tall ships, while New England’s only beluga whales, along with sea lions and African penguins, can be viewed at the Mystic Aquarium. With its landmark Bascule Bridge and the Olde Mistick Village, the town exudes New England charm and history, from the mansion where Bogie and Bacall honeymooned to Mystic Pizza, made famous as the setting for the 1980s movie starring Julia Roberts.
The maritime museum is one of the finest in the world. Founded in 1929, it is home to the 1841 whaleship Charles W. Morgan, the oldest merchant vessel in the country. Collections and exhibits include more than 500 watercraft, a gallery of maritime art, the Treworgy Planetarium, and a recreation of a 19th-century seafaring village.
Not far away in Groton is the USS Nautilus and Submarine Force Museum. Ever wonder what life is like in a submarine? Here you can step inside the Nautilus, the first nuclear powered ship in the United States Navy, and experience the suffocating, cramped quarters that naval personnel called home for months at a time.
The Nautilus was launched in 1954 and served for 25 years. It arrived at the museum in 1985 and today provides visitors with a firsthand glimpse of life beneath the sea.
Mystic serves as a wonderful home base for playing some of Connecticut’s finest golf courses. Lake of Isles, approximately 10 miles away in North Stonington, offers 18 holes of championship golf in a spectacular landscape of unspoiled isolation. (There is also a second, private course). Rolling, tree-lined fairways are dramatic and impeccably maintained, with each hole a private hideaway. The journey between holes takes you through the woods, over a series of bridges and around a 90-acre lake. Keep an eye out for deer; they are often spotted lounging alongside the greens.
The Rees Jones-designed North Course opened in 2005 and drew immediate raves for its peaceful atmosphere and pristine conditions. With five sets of tee boxes, it accommodates golfers of every skill level. A word to the wise: Select tees that suit your ability or you’ll be facing a succession of demanding carries over hazards.
Each hole is unique. There are doglegs in both directions, elevated approaches and greens tucked into a valley. There isn’t a club in your bag that will go unused.
The dramatic elevation changes offer spectacular views, while 69 bunkers come into play. But fairways are generous and you won’t be tormented by quirky bounces. Hit it solid and you’ll be rewarded.
The 19th hole is as serene as the golf course. The rustic clubhouse has cedar shake siding, stone pillars and a spacious porch overlooking the lake. It’s a great spot to relax before making the five-minute drive to Foxwoods Casino, where “peaceful setting” is the last description you’d use.
The Mohegan Sun Country Club in Baltic is also a short drive from Mystic. Built in the 1950s and virtually ignored for decades, this course has blossomed since being purchased by the Mohegan tribe in 2009. More than $12 million was poured into renovations, with work done on virtually every hole.
The result is a challenging layout with deep, Scottish-style bunkers, severely sloped greens, fescue-framed fairways and eye-popping elevation changes.
There are some brutal swales to some of the newly designed greens, which allows for especially nasty pin placements. This is a strategic course. Simply, approaches must be hit to the proper sides of the greens or making par will be exceedingly difficult.
Although it maxes out at only 6,790 yards from the tips, the course plays longer due to the doglegs and uphill approaches.
The Mohegan Sun Casino, which is newer, cozier and much less hectic than Foxwoods, is about 25 minutes away. Dine in style at Todd English’s Tuscany, Michael Jordan’s Steak House or Jasper White’s Summer Shack. Or head back to Mystic, where choices include the Oyster Club for the freshest fish, brick-oven pizza at Pizzetta or a cosmopolitan menu at Azu.
Also within easy driving distance of Mystic is Pequot Golf Club in Stonington, a par-70 layout with gently rolling terrain in a beautiful wooded setting. Opened in 1958, the course record of 65 was set by Jack Nicklaus in 1966. The nearby Norwich Golf Course opened in 1926 and has been listed by Golf Digest as one of the “Best Places to Play.”
So insert Van into the CD player and head for Mystic, where golf, boating, fine dining, wine-tasting tours and historic submarines are all at your finger-tips.