Teeing it up along New York's Erie Canal
Summer is in full swing in the Finger Lakes region which lies smack in Central New York, an area with more than 11 glacial-cut lakes and dramatic gorges. But there is another piece of water of great importance here, the Erie Canal.
If you have a passion for both history and golf you might find a journey along the canal a great way to spend a few days.
The idea was sparked by a man from his jail cell who dreamed of a waterway linking Lake Erie to the Hudson River. As the story goes, Jesse Hawley, once a man of substance, found himself languishing in debtor’s prison in Canandaigua after failing in his attempts to economically transport grain from farms in the area to New York City.
During his 20 months behind bars, he wrote an essay proposing a man-made waterway spanning New York State. DeWitt Clinton, mayor of New York City, read the essay and became obsessed with the idea, spear-heading its construction which took eight years of blasting rock, digging earth, felling trees, and building locks to complete.
The “Big Ditch” which opened in 1825 allowed goods to be moved from Buffalo to New York City in just 10 days instead of six weeks at a cost of $10 instead of $100 for a ton of freight. Naysayers had to eat their words.
With products moving easily from western to eastern markets, commerce thrived and the canal was expanded becoming the main method of travel from Buffalo to Albany. Portions of the canal are still open and its use as a recreational waterway has replaced its importance as a commercial conduit.
So pack up your golf clubs and take a road trip following the general route of the Canal taking in some Erie Canal experiences along the way.
Lockport: North of Buffalo, in aptly-named Lockport, tee off at Willowbrook Golf Club. One of the best courses in the area, Willowbrook has three 9s characterized by tight fairways and small greens.
Also play the new Seneca Hickory Stick Golf Club near Niagara Falls, a links-style RT Jones Jr. track where introductory green fees are from $65 including the cart.
Erie Canal Experience: Take a two-hour canal cruise on a double-decker boat including a trip through the locks then grab some chow at the Canalside Cafe & Pub (www.lockportlocks.com).
Rochester: Lake Shore Country Club, a scenic rolling historic track overlooking Lake Ontario dates from 1932. In 2001, Rochester natives and P.G.A. Tour Players Jeff Sluman, Dudley Hart and Dudley’s father, Chuck, purchased the club bringing in Bob Cupp and Bill Fuller to upgrade the greens, the course and public facilities. A fairly level track punctuated by gardens, Lake Shore is easy to walk yet by no means a walk in the park.
Erie Canal Experience: Visit Mid-Lakes Erie Macedon Landing, a full-service marina 20 minutes south of Rochester where you can charter a canal boat (www.midlakesnav.com).
Lyons: Wayne Hills Country Club in Lyons, a parkland tree-shaded track, is one of the more beautiful courses in the state. Known for its quick greens and creeks laced through the course starting on the first hole and coming into play on seven holes, this is a friendly, pleasant place to play.
Erie Canal Experience: On the Cayuga-Seneca Canal in Seneca Falls, the Seneca Museum of Waterways and Industry celebrates the importance of water and canals in the region along with an ongoing series of art and craft displays (www.senecamuseum.com).
Syracuse: You’ll face plenty of water which comes into play on 14 holes when you play the renovated Links at Erie Village. Think target golf. It’s a flat track with bent grass greens and fairways punctuated by plenty of bunkers.
Erie Canal Experience: Take a historical walking tour and explore the Frank B. Thomson, a 65-foot replica of an old canal boat at the Erie Canal Museum housed in the 19th-century Weighlock Building (www.eriecanalmuseum.org). The Camillus Erie Canal Park and Sims’ Museum set on the banks of the old Erie Canal, has both a museum and boat cruises.
Rome: Local knowledge has it that Donald Ross’s apprentice, Geoffrey Cornish, had some input into the classic rolling Rome Country Club course dating from 1929. Indeed the green complex on holes 1 and 9, a redesign by Cornish is characterized by decidedly Ross-like “bumps.” Running up and down the hilly terrain through tall stands of pines and hardwoods, the course’s bent grass greens are some of the best in the area.
Erie Canal Experience: The Erie Canal Village, a reconstructed 19th century settlement, is where, in 1817, the first shovelful of earth was turned for the construction of Canal. Ride the horse drawn Packet Boat and browse The Erie Canal Museum and The Harden museum’s collection of horse drawn vehicle (www.eriecanalvillage.com).
If you want to extend your golfing trip with a Lockmaster Canalboat cruise on your own, charter a boat from Mid-Lakes Navigation (www.midlakesnav.com).
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