Review: Vesper Hills Golf club in Tully, N.Y. a rare find at just $25 for golf, cart and lunch.
I had been hearing about Vesper Hills Golf Club for years. “Coxie,” my friend from kindergarten and a guy with a talent for insulting everyone while making them laugh at the same time, had been talking about it forever.
Coxie, who played each week with his same foursome, didn’t belong to any private club. He just loved the game.
So when he brought it up yet again, it happened a couple school pals were in town and we wanted to play.
“Where is this place?” I asked.
“Vesper. It’s about 20 minutes away.”
“For $25 you get golf, a cart and lunch.” A quick run through my mental calculator noted this was less than a price of a cart at my club.
Made sense. “OK, let’s do it,” I said.
I didn’t expect much. What, after all do you get for $25?
The drive to Vesper was a treat. Tall blue Harvestore silos and barns dwarfed neat white farm houses. Acres of corn, wheat and soybeans grew in the fields while black and white Holsteins grazed in vast pastures.
Coming up to the clubhouse did nothing to change my mind that this day would be all about friendship, fun and silly wagers, not the quality of the golf.
Coxie was wearing a logo-less white hat that looked like it had a pillow of air between the top and his head. He had a yellow pencil behind his ear and his jeans, though neat, looked like they might fall down if his belt came off.
My friend Peter, a missionary priest who was home on leave from Africa and happened to be an incredible athlete, wore a hat I had given him a year before from Southwold Golf Club in Florida. It was faded, the brim was barely attached to the crown, and threads hung from the edges. This hat had been places, from the Sudan to Nairobi to New York.
The clubhouse was pretty basic with a counter in the front, a couple clubs for sale propped against the wall, and a restaurant area in the back, not really open but not really closed either. Through the open door to the kitchen, a woman wearing and apron smiled and waved as I walked by. The nicest part of the facilities was a new gazebo furnished with a glass table and six chairs.
The course was on top of the hill with nonstop views of the countryside and farms spreading out in every direction.
Looking at the card, I noticed the course had been designed by Geoffrey S. Cornish in 1973. Judd Reed, who doubles as both general manager and superintendent, remembered meeting William Robinson, Cornish’s partner, as well. That was good news. Cornish who has designed more than 250 courses, is well respected for his fine classic layouts.
There were four tees playing 7,000 yards from the tips, 5,178 yards from the reds. That was also unexpected.
The front two tees, the gold and red were pretty close together so I played from the gold. With less than 200 yards between the red and gold, I couldn’t quite understand why they even needed the gold, but assumed it was for men who would never step up to the red. I could also make an educated guess that the addition of the gold tee was not in Cornish’s original design.
Those looking for more of a challenge would find it playing from the two back tees: there was more than 1000 yards difference between the front tee (5,178 yards) and and the whites (6,176 yards) and more than 800 yards between the whites and blues.
The first holes started out pretty benign, fairly flat with subtle direction changes created by bunkers and trees. Then from the 10th hole forward, a downhill par 4/5 with a narrow brook at the bottom and a pond over the hill to the left, it was obvious: Vesper Hills was no dog track.
Hole-after-hole revealed new surprises. Hole #14 required a carry over a ravine with the fairway falling off to the left into wetlands and woods. Reaching the green at #15 (a double green shared with hole #18) Otisco Lake sparkled way off in the distance below acres of trees and fields.
On the par 3 #16, Coxie said, “Don’t go for the green. It will only run off the back. Try for the front and let it run up.” He was right of course. Always trust the locals. We missed the green but managed to salvage boogies while Peter got his par.
On another hole pointing to four tall maples up on the hill to the right, Coxie advised, “Aim to go through those trees.” Somehow we all got through and found our balls had all run down left to the bottom of the hill. And we’d missed the ditch running almost all the way across the bottom.
Greens, though a bit on the slow side, were very well maintained and rolled well. The rough was evenly mowed to a manageable height and on this late summer day, the colors of the golden rod, loosestrife, and turning sugar maples bordering the fairways were breathtaking.
I don’t remember finding any ball washers, but then I wasn’t looking and if there were benches, I don’t remember where they were either. I didn’t expect any on-course beverage service so I didn’t miss it.
The hamburgers and hotdogs, macaroni and potato salad and small beer at the end were perfect.
Maybe this classic course needs more attention, more TLC. However, for the time being, I’m just not telling anyone about it. I plan to return.
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