The New York Golf Trail: Discover charming downtowns, "Americana" and fun courses

ROCHESTER, N.Y. -- Rod Christian believes his New York Golf Trail is different from other golf trails.

"Apples to oranges," he said when comparing the New York Golf Trail to the popular Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama that inspired him to launch his trail in 2009.

He thinks golf is just a small part of why the 22-course New York Golf Trail continues to grow in popularity. It's more about touring the state's most beautiful regions than chasing bucket-list courses.

"(My golfers) are not generally playing five-star name courses or the latest design by a well known architect," Christian said. "They are solid, well conditioned, fun-to-play courses that offer good value. Gorgeous scenery and cool main streets and friendly staff in the hotels and courses, that's our niche."

Six trail courses rank among the top 20 public golf courses in New York by Golf Magazine, although only the Golf Club at Mansion Ridge -- a Jack Nicklaus course in Monroe ranked 19th in the state -- was designed by a major modern architect.

The trail is geared to showcase six distinctly different regions, the Finger Lakes, Cooperstown, central New York, Saratoga, Lake Placid and the Hudson Valley. Most of the trail stops reside upstate away from the skyscrapers and traffic of New York City and swanky clubs of Long Island.

Fall might be the best time to visit. Canadians love to drive south for a spring getaway prior to summer.

The Finger Lakes loop south of Rochester has become the most popular trail stop for this reason. It boasts the most courses (six), and that competition drives down prices. The pristine conditioning of Ravenwood Golf Club in Victor (no. 6 in the state) and the scenery and shot-making of Greystone Golf Club in Walworth (no. 17) are the top draws. Mill Creek Golf Club in Churchville and Bristol Harbor Resort overlooking Canadaigua Lake play nearly as good. The wineries and watersports of the 11 Finger Lakes entertain after the rounds. Although I stayed in the luxurious Woodcliff Hotel and Spa in Fairport south of Rochester, some groups might be better served staying downtown Rochester for its restaurants and nightlife.

Christian, a baseball fan, leans to Cooperstown as his favorite place. He loves that the Leatherstocking Golf Course -- a 105-year-old classic rated seventh in the state -- sits right off a charming main street roughly a half mile from the Baseball Hall of Fame.

More traditional golf resort stays come at the Whiteface Club & Resort on Lake Placid or Sagamore Resort on Lake George, home to a historic Donald Ross gem in Bolton Landing, north of Saratoga.

To date, the McGoverns -- a retired couple from Cape Cod -- are the only golfers to traverse the entire trail. They shared a sentiment that has stuck with Christian. They actually enjoyed the drives from their accommodations to the courses. They learned to savor the scenery and find a few surprises along the journey -- a car show here, a great BBQ restaurant there.

"Trail golfers experience that sense of hospitality, learning about a community after a fun day of golf," Christian said. "When I built the trail, I had that in the back of my mind. You need to have a unique experience that you can't always get at a golf resort or some other golf destination. There is a little bit of Americana in our destinations."

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Jason Scott Deegan has reviewed and photographed more than 1,000 courses and written about golf destinations in 20 countries for some of the industry's biggest publications. His work has been honored by the Golf Writer's Association of America and the Michigan Press Association. Follow him on Instagram at @jasondeegangolfpass and Twitter at @WorldGolfer.

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The New York Golf Trail: Discover charming downtowns, "Americana" and fun courses