BOLTON LANDING, N.Y. -- The first impression of The Sagamore Golf Course is spectacular enough to make you wonder how it could ever be left wasting away for decades.
But for a period of time up until the 1980s, the historic Donald Ross-design wasn't a must-play course. Today, it is one of the top public golf courses in New York.
The drive up to The Sagamore Golf Course from Saratoga Springs leads you into the foothills of the Adirondack mountains. The entrance to the golf course is understated, without any signage getting there, and it might lead you to believe your GPS has led you to the maintenance entrance.
But soon enough, you see a small parking lot and golf shop, and once you step out of your car, the view of Lake George and the appetizing elevated first hole tee shot is in full view -- and it gets your blood pumping.
The Ross design from 1928 hasn't always been in the prime, upscale resort-worthy shape it is now. Chris Collins, who now works in The Sagamore's pro shop, has been living in the area for more than 20 years and has seen the golf course at its worst.
"I played it in the late 1960s, and it had fallen into disrepair," Collins said. "I remember driving in, you'd come in the back way, drive over the 10th and 18th fairway and down the ninth fairway to get to the parking lot."
New ownership came in the 1980s and began an extensive, $75 million restoration to the course and nearby 70-acre resort on Lake George. On top of restoring the Ross design, a pro shop was built and the clubhouse building was restored to its 1928 specs.
The first hole is dynamite, playing from an elevated tee box overlooking the lake, to a fairway well below and back up to the green. It's an opening hole playing to the east that Ross couldn't pass up.
"Ross usually liked starting his courses to the west because of morning golfers," Collins said. "But he couldn't resist the view from the tee and started this course to the east."
From the back tees, The Sagamore G.C. is a par 70 and plays to 6,821 yards. That's more than enough for most golfers, thanks to the course's narrow fairways and small greens, which are difficult to hit with much more than a short iron in your hand. The greens are lightning fast, and -- in typical Ross fashion -- leaving yourself above the hole is the kiss of death for par.
While the two par 5s are pretty short by today's standards from the white tees, there are a few very difficult par 4s. The most difficult par 4 is the 13th, a 446-yard hole that has a blind shot to a fairway that has water on both sides, then back up to an elevated green (it's probably better that you can't see all the trouble from the tee). The seventh is the No. 1 handicap hole, an uphill, 425-yard dogleg left up a fairway that slopes right. Making par on No. 7 is difficult.
The Sagamore Golf Course: The verdict
As one of the state's best historic and scenic public layouts, The Sagamore Golf Course is well worth the 45-minute drive north from Saratoga Springs as you begin to enter the foothills of the Adirondack mountains. The Sagamore is just more than an hour's drive north to Lake Placid.
There is a small pro shop, and you can get lunch at the clubhouse. There's also a small driving range and putting green.
Stay and Play in Saratoga Springs or at The Sagamore Resort
Two miles from the golf club, The Sagamore has its own luxury resort on the shores of Lake George, which offers a spa and water sports, as well as transportation to the golf course.
If you want to stay in a livelier setting, head back south to Saratoga Springs. One option is the new Marriott Residence Inn, just minutes from Saratoga National Golf Club and downtown Caroline Street, where there are a handful of lively bars and restaurants.