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Taking the Cure at Saratoga Spa State Park in New York

By Jim Edwards, Contributor

SARATOGA SPRINGS, NY - The pairing of golf resorts and spas is an explosive trend today, so it's hard to imagine that Saratoga Spa State Park in Saratoga Springs, New York combined the two nearly 70 years ago with the construction of the original nine holes of the Park's championship course. Saratoga had already been a spa hundreds of years before that. In 1755, the Iroquois brought their wounded friend, Sir William Johnson, to the springs for rejuvenation and restoration.

Built during the depression with New Deal funds, the Saratoga Spa Complex opened in 1935 and was billed as "America's First European Spa." It served as a restoration center for people with all manner of ills—arthritis, rheumatism, and the ever-popular "psychological strain."

"Psychological strain" is what keeps the spa in business today, and, for many of us, the cure of that malady is golf. So, if you're feeling some psychological strain of your own, here are a few ideas to cure you and send you on your way revitalized.

First, you'll want to play the course in the State Park. George Mitchell redesigned the original course and added nine new holes to the course in 1963. At the same time, he designed an additional nine-hole, par 29 course on park grounds that he called an "Executive" course—the first of the genre.

Saratoga Spa Championship Golf Course is a beautiful tree-lined 7,098 yards, par 72. It seems to play even longer because its length is in the two-shot holes. The par 4s average 430 yards on the front and 402 yards on the back. From the tips, it plays to a 73.7 rating with a slope of 125.

The par 5, 3rd hole is only 498 yards, but the placement and width of a large pond make the risk side of the risk/reward equation nearly prohibitive against going for it in two. A layup leaves a mid-iron in.

The par 4, 4th crosses a water hazard with each shot, and has a little dogleg right thrown in. A large trap guards the righthand side of the fairway, and front bunkers protect nearly the entire front of the green.

On the backside, the par 5, 12th doglegs slightly right. A very large, very steep bunker cuts nearly across the fairway in front of a huge green. The result is an optical illusion that will have you second-guessing your approach shot selection.

The course is full of great driving holes, and the woods are cleared out enough that a stray drive is a one shot, rather than a two shot penalty.

Currently, the State of New York maintains all of the other State Park courses, but in a pilot program, they just signed a 20-year contract with Global Golf to operate and maintain the Saratoga Spa State Park course. According to Bill Richardson, General Manager, a contract of that length will allow the management company to put significant dollars into the course and have enough time to recoup their investment. The company plans to make significant capital improvements and assure top-notch maintenance. They expect serious competition for the resort golfer's dollar from the brand new Saratoga National Golf Club.

Last June, Saratoga National Golf Club opened its luxurious doors about 5 miles from the park. Golf Digest immediately rated it fifth on its "Best New Upscale Courses" list for 2002.

The course was designed by Roger Rulewitch, who worked with Robert Trent Jones, Sr., for 34 years. It reminds you of the old photographs of the Donald Ross courses in the 20's, when the trees were small. The use of bridges and stone walls evoke the course's horse-farm heritage. Several sod-walled bunkers also help bring an old course feel.

It would play a little wide open if it weren't for the calf-high fescue third cut of rough. This course requires you to be in the fairway. A shot into that rough is unlikely to be found, and if found, unlikely to be playable.

Forced-carry tee shots are the order of the day at Saratoga National, so choosing the correct set of tees to play from may be one of your most important course management decisions. From the tips, the course measures 7,237 yards and the slope is 143 on a 74.5 rating. From the shortest novice tees, it plays to 5,009 yards with a 125 slope on a 70 rating. This is a course where you either swallow your pride or bring a trailer-load of golf balls.

In addition to these two course, there are several others in the immediate area that are worth playing.

Saratoga Lake Golf Club, on the southern end of Saratoga Lake, is a fairly new course with some great views. The course's dramatic elevation changes and shots over ravines to huge greens make it a very interesting test.

Airway Meadows, in Gansevoort, features a runway between the 2nd and 8th fairways. If you fly your small plane in, they will preposition a golf cart for you at your tie-down.

Hiland Golf, in Queensbury, north of Glens Falls, carries a Golf Digest four star rating and has a reputation for great conditioning.

Hopefully, these courses will affect a cure, but what if the golf doesn't do it for you, or worse, what if your round at Saratoga National is so frustrating that the old "psychological strain" creeps back in?

If you end your round depressed, and feeling a little melancholy, maybe you need to add a little excitement. The thoroughbred racing season begins at Saratoga Race Course on July 24, with races scheduled Wednesday through Monday. The season continues until September 2nd. There's harness racing at the track at night.

Maybe your commune with nature at Saratoga Spa Golf Course didn't quite mellow you out. You can head for the Saratoga Performing Arts Center and take in the New York City Ballet, The Philadelphia Orchestra, the Saratoga Chamber Music Festival, or the Lake George Opera Festival, depending on the date of your visit.

If you are looking for more evening entertainment, you don't need to look any further than downtown. According to Gregg Balton, General Manager of the historic Gideon-Putnam Hotel located inside the park, "There are a number of very cutting edge, high quality restaurants in Saratoga, from the original Saratoga Brew Pub to a new restaurant that just opened, the Spring Water Bistro, that is as cutting-edge in terms of its food as anything in Napa Valley or New York City. There are also many small clubs that have tremendous jazz here, and some wonderful, eclectic shops."

If you still suffer from "psychological strain", and perhaps physical strain as well, you need to know about the Lincoln Mineral Baths. Opened in 1930, the Lincoln Baths offers many different treatments.

According to Lincoln's Scott Miller, what you need is a mineral bath, followed by a reflexology treatment. The same naturally carbonated waters that were so helpful to Sir William Johnson are heated to body temperature. You then soak in the water in a full-sized tub for 20 minutes, after which you rest in warm towels and sheets for another 20 minutes.

Reflexology is a 30 minute massage of each foot and ankle. The treatment is based on the theory that proper stimulation of pressure points in the foot improves circulation, relaxes tension and stress, and helps the body achieve equilibrium.

If the above regimen does not dispel your "psychological strain", seek immediate professional help.

Golf Course Information

Saratoga Spa State Park Golf Course
61 Roosevelt Drive
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
Phone: (518)584-3137

Saratoga National Golf Club
458 Union Avenue Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
Phone: (518)583-4653
Web: www.golfsaratoga.com

Saratoga Lake Golf Club
35 Grace Moore Road
Saratoga Springs, NY 12866
Phone: (518)581-6616

Airway Meadows Golf Course
125 Brownsville Road
Gansevoort, NY 12831
Phone: (518)792-4144
Web: www.airwaymeadowsgolf.com

Hiland Golf Club
195 Haviland Road
Queensbury, NY 12804
Phone: (518)793-2000

Where to Stay

Gideon Putnam Hotel
24 Gideon Putnam Road
Saratoga, NY 12866
Phone: (518) 584-3000 or 800-732-1560
Web: www.gideonputnam.com


Lincoln Mineral Baths
South Broadway Entrace to Saratoga Spa Park
Saratoga Springs, New York 12866
Phone: (518)583-2880

Jim EdwardsJim Edwards, Contributor

Jim Edwards is a reformed software developer who now writes programming books and magazine articles. His work has appeared on the pages of Sierra, Outdoors, Backpacker, Yankee Magazine, and National Fisherman. Living with his wife Ali in Beverly, Massachusetts, he reviews courses and resorts from New York to Nova Scotia. A lifelong, avid golfer, he hopes someday to play his "usual game".

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