Central swing: Great hotels and golf combine for fun, affordable stay in New York's Finger Lakes region

The Finger Lakes region, roughly the area in central New York cut by 11 crystalline lakes, may be the ultimate high for golfers looking for value vacations combining great golf, short driving-times between golf courses, rolling countryside, vineyards and gorges plus enticing extras such as wine tours, lake cruises and plenty of historic stagecoach inns, B&Bs and hip hotels.

Even in this more rural part of the Empire State, where traffic may slow down for a tractor heading to another field, designers such as Robert Trent Jones, Geoffrey Cornish, Donald Ross and Jack Nicklaus have made their mark. Indeed, Jones on his first visit to the site overlooking Canandaigua Lake that was to become the Bristol Harbour golf course remarked, "In all the world and of all the properties I've seen, this one has just been waiting for a golf course."

Magic happens in Finger Lakes summers: outdoor concerts, waterfalls plunging into deep ravines, sailboats tacking from shore to shore, endless fields of tasseled corn, grapes hanging on vines, and a huge calendar of events from concerts and plays to antique boat shows and NASCAR races.

And throughout the region, you find public golf courses where greens fees are typically less than $50 with a cart, and you don't have to know the pro to get a tee time.

Here are some of our favorite courses offering great values with some off-course suggestions:

Eastern Finger Lakes

Your base: Stay in Skaneateles, a small lakeside town big on activities, shopping and places to eat and drink such as the Sherwood Inn, once a stop on the stagecoach circuit. Its old-time pub stays lively all summer, and a block down the street, the Lakeside Pub is another popular watering hole. Stay in the Inn, a B&B, or bunk into a motel like the newly renovated Skaneateles Inn on 20, or Birds Nest on the fringe of town. Just outside of town in Auburn, there are also a handful of motels and hotels where you can stay for less.

Golf: Dutch Hollow Country Club in Auburn has water, water everywhere with Dutch Hollow Brook coming into play on eight holes. Climbing up and down the terrain, this well groomed track is a fun play with plenty of challenges. Nearby Highland Park Country Club -- designed by Geoffrey Cornish -- is considered one of the better semi-private courses in the area. It has its share of quirky holes and lovely views of the countryside punctuated by apple orchards.

Ithaca, at the southern end of Cayuga Lake, is home to Hornell Golf Club, a rolling parkland course with a long history dating back to 1913. And while Fillmore Golf Club at the end of Owasco Lake in Locke may play but 5,600 yards from the tips, it's flanked by hills and country vistas making it one of the prettier tracks.

Just down the road, cool off in the natural pond at Filmore Glen State Park, and take a short hike along the gorge before picnicking along the stream.

Timber Banks, the only Jack Nicklaus-designed course in the region, is the centerpiece for a real estate community and a welcome addition to the Syracuse golfing scene. It winds through woodlands and wetlands with some pretty tricky greens.

Western Finger Lakes

Your base: Geneva or Watkins Glen on Seneca Lake or Canandaigua on the western edge of Finger Lakes wine country are all good base choices. Try a mid-sized hotel such as Ramada Geneva Lakefront with a pool, lake views and gym, or the Nantucket-style Watkins Glen Harbor Hotel hugging the Seneca Lake waterfront -- the pier and marina are right out the back door. The Watkins Glen International Speedway is the site of several major racing weekends a year.

In Canandaigua, the Bristol Harbour Resort's Adirondack-style inn is steps away from the first tee of a scenic, rolling Robert Trent Jones golf course set above the lake. The Inn on the Lake is another good bet. While in town, check out New York State wines and beers at the New York Wine & Culinary Center, then take time to follow one of the several wine trails.

Golf: Walter Hagen, captain of America's first Ryder Cup team, and Robert Trent Jones are natives of Rochester, so it's fitting to find more than 80 courses within a 45-minute drive of the city. That includes Greystone Golf Club, a links-style layout, and one of the best public golf courses in New York.

Ravenwood Golf Club in Victor, home of the 2003 New York State Amateur tournament, combines traditional and links with water carries, bunkers, and angled greens, while Reservoir Creek Golf Club in Naples is a hilly course characterized by berms and moguls that separate the fairways.

Other good plays include the reasonably priced Big Oak Public Golf Course in Geneva, a "Jekyll and Hyde" course with a straight-forward, wide-open front nine and a more dramatic back nine cut through forests with water on six holes. Also try the hilly Geneva Country Club with good views of Seneca Lake.

People come to the Finger Lakes for a variety of reasons, but there is one thing for sure: Summertime is usually gloriously warm and sunny, perfect for golf, with so many off-course things to do you'll want to dig in and stay much longer.

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.
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Central swing: Great hotels and golf combine for fun, affordable stay in New York's Finger Lakes region