PGA and LPGA Championships highlight top quality golf in central New York's Finger Lakes region

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- This year marks the first time both the PGA and LPGA Championships are being held in the same city in the same year -- historic Pittsford, N.Y., just outside Rochester.

The PGA Championship returns to the East Course at Oak Hill Country Club from Aug. 8-11, while the 2013 Wegmans LPGA Championship was held at Locust Hill Country Club.

These chosen venues underline the often-underrated high quality of central New York's Finger Lakes region, a landscape of stunning vistas with more than 11 glacial-cut lakes, forests, meadows, waterfalls and plunging ravines that add up to a golf architect's dream canvas.

It is no surprise that this region is a rich repository of golf courses by legendary architects like Donald Ross, Robert Trent Jones Sr. and A.W. Tillinghast, who applauded what they had to work with as they crafted a collection of remarkable courses that have stood the test of time.

Ross laid out six courses in the Rochester area, including Oak Hill, Monroe Golf Club, Irondequoit Country Club (venue for a Nationwide Tour event) and the Country Club of Rochester. These are all private, but the public can tee it up at another Ross layout, Brook-Lea Country Club, which is private but open to limited public play.

Jones followed on his heels with several courses, including the Cornell University golf course in Ithaca and Bristol Harbour Resort's golf course in Canandaigua. Seeing the rolling land sitting high above Canandaigua Lake, Jones said, "In all the world and of all the properties I've seen, this one has just been waiting for a golf course."

Oak Hill and Locust Hill make Rochester a major player in golf

When Oak Hill was founded in 1901, the clubhouse was a converted farmhouse lit by kerosene lamps with large porches. The initiation fee was $25 and there were just nine holes on 85 acres. In 1910, another nine holes were added and the club counted as its members the movers and shakers of the Rochester community.

In 1921, a land swap was proposed by the University of Rochester, quadrupling the club's acreage. That gave the club enough room to build two new Ross-designed courses, the East and West, along with a stately Tudor and brick clubhouse.

One of the blessings of Ross's new layouts were the thousands of oak trees that were planted and remain today as a tribute to the foresight of Dr. John R. Williams, a leading Rochester physician and botany enthusiast who spearheaded the planting efforts. He was known to have said, "The Almighty was the greatest landscape architect of all. It was his plan to have oaks at Oak Hill." Today as you pass the leaderboard and follow the pros, look skyward and you'll appreciate the majesty of the great trees and Williams' vision.

The East Course at Oak Hill, considered the more demanding of the two, has hosted several prestigious events and golf legends, including Walter Hagen, Sam Snead, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen. When Snead played here he said, "The course is certainly one of the finest I have ever seen, fit for either an Open or a PGA." In 2003, Tiger Woods proclaimed the East Course to be the hardest, fairest golf course he had ever played.

Oak Hill is the only club to have hosted the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open, PGA Championship, U.S. Senior Open, Ryder Cup and Senior PGA Championship. Of the five stroke-play championships held here, only 10 players have finished under par. The East Course record is held by Hogan and Curtis Strange, who shot 64 in 1942 and 1989, respectively.

Built on a former farm, Locust Hill dates to 1925, when a new golf course designed by Scottish architect Seymour Dunn was built (renovated by Jones in 1931). A barn on the property eventually morphed into a beautiful clubhouse with a three-story octagon loggia, a ballroom, fitness center, decks and patios. The club has hosted an LPGA event every year since 1977 and the LPGA Championship since 2010.

Rochester-area golf courses you can play

Unless you have connections you won't be able to tee up at private courses like Oak Hill or Locust Hill, but you can play Ross's Brook-Lea Country Club and his Mark Twain Golf Course muni in Elmira Heights.

Accessible courses designed by Jones include the Durand Eastman Park Course, a municipal layout in Rochester; the Cornell University golf course in Ithaca, well worth playing if you can get on with a Cornell connection; and Syracuse-area tracks like Green Lakes State Park Golf Course and Radisson Greens Golf Course.

Adding to classic golf courses in the region are some excellent newer tracks like Ravenwood Golf Club, Mill Creek Golf Club and Greystone Golf Club. That trio and Bristol Harbour comprise the Finger Lakes Golf Trail.

There is also a New York Golf Trail, which has several of its 22 courses located in the Finger Lakes region, including Timber Banks Golf Course in Baldwinsville, the first Jack Nicklaus-designed course in New York, and Wayne Hills Country Club in Lyons, which has hosted several New York state amateur tournaments.

Those who come here for golf will not be disappointed by the golf or the attractions, which include more than 100 vineyards, wine, beer and cheese trails, lake cruises, art galleries and accommodations, which range from canal houseboats and bed & breakfasts to full-service resorts.

Driving distances between courses are relatively short and traffic is easy, so staying and playing here is a relaxing proposition. Courses often cost less than $50 to play, another plus.

Rick Rivers, president of The Rivers Organization, is working with Visit Rochester to promote "Golf is Great in Rochester and the Finger Lakes," targeting golfers from areas like Toronto, Philadelphia and New York.

"Once people see the quality of courses and learn about the really great values here, they will come," Rivers said.

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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PGA and LPGA Championships highlight top quality golf in central New York's Finger Lakes region