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Ravenwood Golf Club headlines Rochester's must-plays

By Shane Sharp, Contributor

VICTOR, N.Y. - Turns out Mr. Hawaii has a New York state of mind. Robin Nelson, the architect behind 30 golf course designs and redesigns in the Hawaiian Islands, has put his indelible stamp on the upstate golfing landscape.

And the Rochester area is a better golf community for it.

Ravenwood Golf Club opened last year. And with the PGA Championship coming to nearby Oak Hill Country Club this week, the course is finally getting its due as one of the best daily fee facilities in western part of the state. The 7,000-yard layout recently hosted the New York State Amateur and met with rave reviews from participants.

"The medalist was level par after two rounds," said assistant professional Scott Groskopf. "That says something about the strength of the design."

The average golfer can only fantasize about level par. But, Ravenwood is not one of these new-fangled, overly difficult circuits catering to the boyz and galz with deep tans, squinty eyes and two-irons. Play from the tips and you'll battle the best Nelson and the local prevailing winds have to offer. Choose the right tees and you'll be in for an enjoyable, playable ride.

"Robin did a great job of putting the trouble out of the way of the recreational golfer but keeping it in play for the low handicapper," Groskopf said.

Ravenwood's smart design - including its versatility, good mix of par-4s and par-5s that play in four different directions - is testament to Nelson's underrated ability. The Mill Valley, Calif. based architect is known more for his work in the Pacific Rim than he is in the contiguous 48. In addition to Hawaii, Nelson has award-winning design credits in China, Indonesia, and Thailand.

How Nelson found his way to the Village of Victor is a matter of some mystery among industry observers. Suffice it to say the opportunity presented itself and the timing was right. At 52, Nelson is still considered young in the eyes of his profession. But the grind of traveling to and from the far flung reaches of the globe eventually took its toll. With renewed passion and designs on establishing himself among the top of his trade, Nelson has turned his attention back to the states.

"We feel lucky to have one of his designs here," Groskopf said.

With all the exotic locations, precarious sites and climatic idiosyncrasies Nelson has dealt with in his career, its little wonder the Cal Berkeley grad worked wonders on Ravenwood's gently rolling, spacious tract. Similar to other great courses, Ravenwood is a concept, not just 18 individual holes. The course's rhythm is so strong, you can almost tap your foot to it.

Uphill approach shots follow downhill tee shots. Straightforward holes precede subtle deceptions. Wide open, windswept expanses are followed by tree lined enclaves. The same scene is never repeated, yet some common themes emerge:

Nelson is a fan of the classics. His raised green complexes on holes like the par-5 ninth are a nod to Tillinghast's affection for the dramatic. And Ravenwood's squared tee boxes add an aura of tradition to each hole.

Nelson is not entirely sold on the what-you-see-is-what-you-get school of design. For example, the right greenside bunker on the opening hole isn't greenside at all - it's some 30 yards from the putting surface. And the blind approach on the par-4 second hides a false front and deep swale on the left side of the green that spits weak wedge shots out like gumballs.

Nor does Nelson believe that bunkers should spell death. Ravenwood is not what you'd call a heavily bunkered course. What sandtraps Nelson does sprinkle around the layout aren't overly penal, and on occasion they are actually there to (gasp) help. Case in point being the aiming bunkers on the left side of the fairway on the par-4 seventh. A tee shot directly over the two traps leads to position "A" on the approach.

The locals around here will tell you Ravenwood is more than just a thoughtful, playable golf course - it's a much-needed shot in the arm for an area steeped in golf history, but still trying to define the present. Rochester is chock-full of affordable public courses (Victor Hills, Shadow Lakes, Shadow Pines, and Greystone to name a few) and even has semi-upscale resort course nearby, Bristol Harbour.

As is the case with most upstate New York cities, Rochester is also home to a handful of old money private courses. The most notable being venerable Oak Hill, one of the game's true sanctuaries and a worthy major championship venue.

Now, this no-nonsense city on the shores of Lake Ontario has a high-end daily fee course to call its own. Those in town for the PGA Championship are strongly advised to make the 20-minute drive to Victor to see what happens when Mr. Hawaii meets the Empire State.

Off course

All golf and no wine? Take a trip down the trail - the Cayuga Wine Trail that is. Central Western New York is the second largest wine producing region in the country and has the quality to match. Some 121 vineyards surround Cayuga Lake, a 40-mile-long, 435-foot deep member of the "Finger Lakes." For a killer view of the lake and one of the Trail's best collection of reds, check out Sheldrake Point Vineyard.

Where to stay

Sheldrake Point is home to a handful of bed and breakfasts within chipping distance of Cayuga Lake. The Silver Strand is one of the best, with 156 feet of beach front and a dock stocked with sailboats and rowboats for use by guests. Choose from six different rooms in the main house or opt for the spacious Hilltop Cottage or Guest House off property.

Shane SharpShane Sharp, Contributor

Shane Sharp is vice president of Buffalo Communications, a golf and lifestyle media agency. He was a writer, senior writer and managing editor of TravelGolf.com from 1997 to 2003.

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Dates: December 13, 2017 - December 31, 2018
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