Creaky floors. Vintage furniture. Elaborate paintings. Decorative wallpaper. Ornate woodwork. A guest list of celebrities, presidents and pro golfers. Ghosts.
These are just some of the draws to staying at a historic golf resort. There's something special about walking into the lobby of a grand old hotel. It's a different vibe bolstered by a sense of place and architectural style that modern buildings can't replicate. You can almost feel former guests reaching out to greet you. If only the walls could talk.
So many of golf's original lodges and inns have been lost to time, either burned to the ground (New York's Saranac Inn and Mirror Lake Inn, Maine's original Samoset-On-The-Ocean hotel and Minnesota's first Breezy Point Lodge, for example) or shuttered (the Basalms Resort in New Hampshire) or knocked over for redevelopment (the Whiteface Inn in New York). The ones that have survived should be treated as treasures. They continue to evolve to the needs of the modern traveler, while keeping a firm grip on the past.
For true history buffs, I offer up 'Deegan's Dozen', 12 of the most historic golf resorts in North America. Another 13 honorable mentions form a memorable top 25. How were they picked?
To determine the definition of "historic", a cutoff date of World War II was chosen. Only resorts with a hotel AND at least one 18-hole course built before 1940 were considered. An extensive search of the Golf Advisor database found nearly 70, many of them members of the Historic Hotels of America. Some are not.
Certain historic places didn't make the cut. While The American Club in Wisconsin and the Gasparilla Inn in Florida boast colorful pasts, their courses, by comparison, do not. Pete Dye built all of their resort courses somewhere between 1988 and 2005. In that way, both lose some appeal as a historic property.
The ones that were selected, not only have their buildings aged gracefully, but so have their golf courses, many built during the cherished Golden Age of architecture. These blasts from the past are still thriving today:
French Lick Resort, French Lick, Ind.
History: Guests of French Lick, hidden 50 miles south of Bloomington, Ind., must pick between two historic hotels, the French Lick Springs Hotel and the West Baden Springs Hotel. Marble pillars, gold-crowned ceilings and crystal chandeliers decorate the French Lick Springs, a Four-Diamond, 443-room casino hotel established in 1845. It's ornate, but nothing compared to the wow-factor of the 200-foot atrium of the West Baden Springs a trolley ride away. While the modern Pete Dye Course (2009) hosts all the resort's championships, such as recent men's and women's U.S. Senior PGA Championships, some prefer the old-school Donald Ross Course dating to 1917. The nine-hole Valley Links is even older, a Tom Bendelow rendition from 1907.
Sea Island Resort, Sea Island, Ga.
History: It doesn't get more elegant than The Cloister at Sea Island, the original 175-room Mediterranean-themed resort on the Black Banks River built in 1928. The 2001 construction of The Lodge at Sea Island, a five-star 40-room boutique hotel on neighboring St. Simons Island, forever changed Sea Island. It not only forced redesigns of the resort's two original courses dating to the late 1920s - the Plantation by Walter Travis and Seaside by Harry Colt/Charles Allison - but the debt brought bankruptcy and an ownership change in 2010. The resort is back delivering the best in southern hospitality. Its beautiful coastal marshes and laid-back lifestyle has attracted more than 20 PGA Tour pros to take up residence. Many sleep in their own beds to play in the RSM Classic hosted by the island's most decorated resident, Davis Love III. The tournament returns for its eighth rendition the week of Nov. 13-19.
The Greenbrier, White Sulphur Springs, W.V.
History: Nestled into 11,000 acres in the Allegheny Mountains, the 710-room Greenbrier (tagline: 'America's resort since 1778') has recovered admirably from the floods that ravaged the region and killed 23 people in 2016. The classic Old White TPC (1914) by C.B. Macdonald/Seth Raynor reopened in time for the PGA Tour's Greenbrier Classic in July. The resort's first course, the Meadows, has been redesigned by Director of Grounds Kelly Shumate and Vice President of Golf Operations Burt Baine, who borrowed six holes from the old Greenbrier Course. New sod-wall bunkers are the signature of the 6,602-yard par 70 that reopened Sept. 6. Phil Mickelson is spearheading the construction of a renewed Greenbrier course, which has a lineage to Raynor (1924) and Jack Nicklaus (1978). Playing the Oakhurst Links with hickory clubs celebrates the game's oldest traditions. The nine-hole routing is the oldest golf club designed and built in America. Two of the resort's most interesting attractions are underground - the bunker built for government officials in case of a nuclear attack and the new casino (2010).
Fairmont Banff Springs, Alberta, Canada
History: This magnificent 764-room "Castle in the Rockies" is a sight to behold. It's a National Historic Site of Canada and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. William Cornelius Van Horne, the appointed general manager of the Canadian Pacific Railway, brought his idea of building a series of grand resorts along the railway to life to showcase the grandeur of the Canadian Rockies. The original wooden hotel, constructed in 1888, burned down in 1926 and was rebuilt two years later larger and better. It was during this rebirth that Canadian architect Stanley Thompson designed his original 18-hole masterpiece (now it's 27) where the Bow and Spray Rivers converge.
Pinehurst Resort, Pinehurst, N.C.
History: Where would golf in America be without James Walker Tufts? The Boston philanthropist bought land in the remote Sandhills to build a retreat for health and wellness, opening the Holly Inn Dec. 31, 1895. What a New Year's Eve party that must have been. In 1900, he hired Scotsman Donald Ross, who influenced the growth of the game in the U.S. as much as anyone. The Carolina Hotel hosted its first guests in 1901. Pinehurst eventually became America's largest golf resort, home to nine courses simply numbered 1 through 9. Debuting in 1907, Pinehurst No. 2, host of three U.S. Opens with a fourth coming in 2024, is considered the crowning achievement of Ross, who also redesigned Pinehurst No. 1 and added Pinehurst No. 3. Pinehurst never rests on its laurels, either. Its first short course, The Cradle, just opened, and Gil Hanse is the midst of completely reinventing Pinehurst No. 4.
The Broadmoor, Colorado Springs, Colo.
History: The Broadmoor, built in 1918 by Spencer Penrose, will celebrate its centennial next year by hosting the 2018 U.S. Senior Open on its East Course. That's a decade after the iconic five-star resort hosted the 2008 U.S. Senior Open, becoming the eighth USGA Championship held in the shadow of the Cheyenne Mountains. The East course, designed by Ross in 1918 and altered by Robert Trent Jones Sr. in the 1960s, is the headliner, although the West and Mountain courses are no slouches. The guest list is a who's who of celebrities and royalty, including nine Presidents. Not all of them played golf, but Dwight D. Eisenhower and Gerald Ford did quite often. The pink stucco exterior has become a symbol of mountain luxury. Its Sunday brunch is to die for, as are the views from its award-winning spa and the food in its five-star Penrose Room. If I could only eat one final dessert, it would be drenched in the Broadmoor's signature vanilla cream sauce.
Omni Bedford Springs Resort & Spa, Bedford, Pa.
History: It seems all too surreal that the 216-room Georgian-style Bedford Springs located in Pennsylvania's Alleghany Mountains two hours from Pittsburgh and several hours from Baltimore, Washington D.C. and Philadelphia sat closed and unoccupied for nearly two decades, from 1986 to 2006. More than $120 million was spent on reviving the 2,200-acre property for its 2007 rebirth. The addition of the resort's first clubhouse this summer proves the investment is ongoing. The discovery of mineral springs led its first building, the Stone Inn, in 1806. Its timeline from there is an impressive list of firsts. Thomas Jefferson, the first of 12 U.S. Presidents to visit the resort, stayed several weeks in 1819. President James Buchanan, who spent 40 summers in Bedford Springs, received the first trans-Atlantic cable at the resort in 1858. The original Old Course, one of the country's first golf courses, was laid out in 1895 by Spencer Oldham. One of the country's first indoor pools was built a decade later in 1905. The pedigree of the Old Course dates to 1895, and has ties to A.W. Tillinghast and Ross before a Ron Forse/Jim Nagle restoration from 2005-07. The whole round flirts with Shobers Run creek, a tributary of the Juniata River, and introduces five inspiring par 3s, notably the "Volcano" hole.
The Breakers Palm Beach, West Palm Beach, Fla.
History: Fire claimed the first hotels on the property, the Palm Beach Inn (1896) in 1903 and The original Breakers (1904) in 1925. The Italian Renaissance-inspired Breakers as it stands today debuted in 1926 as the most opulent of the three renditions. Seventy-three artisans from Italy completed the magnificent paintings on the ceilings of the lobby and first-floor public rooms in less than a year. The 6,167-yard, par-70 Ocean course, Florida's oldest 18-hole course, started with nine holes and sand greens in 1896. In 2000, Brian Silva brought back the vintage Ross characteristics dating to the 1920s. The Breakers Rees Jones Course came online in 2004, adding a contrasting style 11 miles from the hotel.
The Omni Homestead Resort, Hot Springs, Va.
History: The 483-room resort known for its southern hospitality and charm celebrated its 250th anniversary in 2016. Surrounded by the Allegheny Mountains, 'America's first resort' shares its heritage with guests through hand-selected artwork, history tours and architectural integrity. No public course has hosted more Presidents (seven) than the Old Course at The Homestead. William McKinley (1897-1901) became the first sitting President to play, teeing off on the Old Course in 1899. It was such a newsworthy event that the Boston Evening Record surveyed its readers to determine their views. Results were evenly divided. Sound familiar? In 1923, William Flynn added the Cascades course at The Homestead, now the headliner.
Pebble Beach Resorts, Monterey Peninsula, Calif.
History: The famed resort, founded by Samuel Finley Brown Morse in 1919, is gearing up for its 100th anniversary in 2019. Pebble Beach Golf Links (1919) will host the 2018 U.S. Amateur followed by the 2019 U.S. Open. This summer's unveiling of the new Fairway One Cottages gives guests an even more spacious and luxurious place to stay than the Lodge at Pebble Beach (which dates to 1919) or The Inn at Spanish Bay. The original Lodge opened with 10 guest rooms upstairs, compared to the six currently available. The other nod to history is the Del Monte Golf Course, which is said to be the oldest continuously operating course west of the Mississippi River, dating to 1897.
Pine Needles Lodge and the Inn at Mid Pines, Southern Pines, N.C.
History: Pine Needles and Mid Pines - two Ross gems - go together like nachos and cheese. The two resorts and courses sit across the street from one another, and still deliver two entirely different experiences. The 103-bedroom, Georgian-style Inn at Mid Pines has more personality (the crooked floors, the small rooms), but the outhouses of the 74-room Lodge at Pine Needles are more private and comfortable. While restoring Mid Pines (1921) to its former glory in 2013, architect Kyle Franz used aerial photos from the Tufts Archives as a blueprint to uncover sandy native areas lining in the fairways that had been lost. It looks and plays like a more enjoyable cousin of Pinehurst No. 2. Pine Needles (1927) reopened last fall after a Franz renovation that updated the bunkering, greens and altered the pars of holes 14 (now a par 4) and 15 (now a 5). The three-time U.S. Women's Open venue remains firmly entrenched behind Pinehurst No. 2 as the quintessential test of tournament golf in the Sandhills.
The Biltmore Miami Hotel, Coral Gables, Fla.
History: The par-71 Biltmore Golf Course (1925) might be the best course by Ross in south Florida not named Seminole. The 273-room hotel - decorated by hand-painted frescos on barrel-vaulted ceilings, travertine floors, marble columns, leaded-glass fixtures and carved mahogany furnishings - opened a year later in 1926, becoming a party palace of the society elite. It was converted into a military hospital during WWII and was eventually deeded to the city, sitting unoccupied for a decade in the 1970s-80s. Since its reopening in 1987, more than $100 million has been spent by several owners to salvage its storied past. Its pool is one of the largest in America. You can't Google the 'Biltmore Miami' without a ghost story or two popping up.
Honorable Mention in no order
Ojai Valley Inn & Spa, Ojai, Calif.
History: Escaping the crush of L.A. has always been the allure of Ojai, a 305-room escape in the Topa Topa Mountains north of the city. The Inn and the Ojai Valley golf course by George C. Thomas both debuted in 1923. True zen is only achieved at the sumptuous spa.
The Omni Grove Park Inn, Asheville, N.C.
History: The 513-room AAA Four Diamond Property has been sharing the beauty of the Blue Ridge Mountains with guests since 1913. Ten U.S. Presidents have visited. A few other guests maybe have overstayed their welcome as ghosts roaming the cooridors. Thick rough and narrow passages through the trees keep scoring under control on the Grove Park Inn's 6,400-yard par-70 Ross course (1926). Perhaps the biggest draw is the 43,000-square-foot subterranean spa.
The Equinox, Manchester Village, Vt.
History: The Equinox stands as an icon of New England lifestyle since 1769. Known in various times as the Marsh Tavern, Thaddeus Munson's New Inn, Widow Black's Inn, Vanderlip's Hotel, The Taconic, The Orvis Hotel, and Equinox House, 17 different structures reflect the changing times. President Abe Lincoln visited in 1864, one of four Presidents to stay. The Golf Club at Equinox, a par-71, 6,423-yard course designed by Walter Travis in 1927, has been updated by Rees Jones and is run by Troon Golf.
Hershey Resorts, Hershey, Pa.
History: Golfers who stay at the Hershey Hotel (1933) can play the West course at the Hershey Country Club, one of the 30 major championship venues open to the public. Its older (1930) than the East course at the Hershey Country Club built by George Fazio in 1969.
Eseeola Lodge, Linville, N.C.
History: Sensing a theme in North Carolina? Here's another historic lodge (1892) with another Ross to play, the private Linville Golf Club dating to 1924. With only 24 rooms, Eseeola offers a sense of privacy and escape near Grandfather Mountain. Gentleman must wear a dinner jacket to the four-course meals served every night.
Woodstock Inn & Resort, Woodstock, Vt.
History: Rustic, country elegance characterizes this AAA Four Diamond facility. Guests love that the 142-room Inn (1793) sits within the village, where art galleries, antique shops, boutique shops, cool bars and excellent restaurants are ready to entertain. The Woodstock Country Club, where Keegan Bradley hosts his annual charity tournament, is short on yardages (a par 70 of 6,052 yards), but long on history (dating to 1896 with redos in 1906 and 1924 before RTJ Sr. took ownership with constant tweaks from 1963 to 1987).
Jekyll Island Club Resort, Jekyll Island, Ga.
History: The club officially opened its doors in January 1888, quickly becoming a retreat for rich families that represented one sixth of the world's wealth. The Federal Reserve was created here. The first transcontinental phone call was made here. The resort's Victorian cottages, draped in Spanish Moss and surrounded by miles of beaches, are more affordable for the masses now. The Oleander Course (1922) is the oldest of the three 18-hole courses, but the nine-hole Great Dunes (1926) by Walter Travis might be the best experience on the island.
Arizona Biltmore, a Waldorf Astoria Resort, Phoenix, Ariz.
History: An Arizona landmark since its opening in 1929, the resort has been a beacon to travelers in the desert. Presidents Nixon, Ford, Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-69) and George W. Bush have played at this 36-hole Arizona Biltmore Golf Club, including the older Adobe course from 1928. Many more (almost all since Hoover) have stayed at the hotel.
Omni Mount Washington Resort, Bretton Woods, N.H.
History: Choose between the sparking white and red-roofed Spanish Renaissance-style hotel with its grand veranda (1902) or the Omni Bretton Arms Inn, a private home in 1896 opened to guests in 1907. The nine-hole Mount Pleasant course is older than the Mount Washington course by Ross (1895 to 1915). Both were restored in the 1980s.
The Algonquin Resort St. Andrews By-The-Sea, St. Andrews, New Brunswick, Canada
History: When the resort opened in 1889, the cost of a room ranged between $3 and $5 per day. A $30-million renovation closed the hotel for repairs from 2012-14, restoring its elegance. If you love a good scare, room 493 is reportedly haunted. Major improvements to the Algonquin Golf Course are ongoing. The original course, completely redesigned by Thomas McBroom in 2000, dates to 1894.
The Sagamore, Bolton Landing, N.Y.
History: The Sagamore on Green Island in Lake George has survived some real hard times. The original hotel built in 1883 burned down in 1893. Another fire destroyed the structure again in 1914. Then, two years before its 100th anniversary in 1981, the grand resort closed for several years. Thankfully, the lakefront property made its greatest comeback yet with a restoration that has brough back its 375 luxurious accommodations, restaurants and spa facilities. The Sagamore Golf Club is a Ross course that every level of skill loves to play.
Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge, Alberta, Canada
History: You can't do Banff without driving three hours up the Icefields Parkway to the "JPL" (1922) and its Jasper Park Lodge Golf Course (1925). Some prefer Thompson's artful work on the shores of Lac Beauvert over Banff.
Boca Raton Resort & Club, Boca Raton, Fla.
History: The former Cloister Inn, a 'Spanish Castle' created by legendary architect Addison Mizner in 1926, is the centerpiece of this 356-acre private resort village. The Boca Raton Golf Club (1926) acquired by the resort in the 1980s, has a mix of William Flynn, RTJ Sr. and Gene Bates/Fred Couples in its routing. The resort celebrated its 90th anniversary by reopening the course in December, 2016, after an eight-month renovation added new family tees, reconstructed TifEagle putting surfaces, re-grassed the playing surfaces with Celebration Bermuda and added, removed and reshaped dozens of bunkers. The best sand is still on the private beach on the Atlantic.