Mountain Golf: Mount Washington Hotel


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Bretton Woods, New Hampshire

A long, curving driveway graced by overhanging lamps leads to the Mount Washington Hotel, a massive white edifice that rises from the evergreens like a great ocean liner moored in the wilderness. Opened in 1902, the grand hotel, New England’s largest wooden-frame building, was recently rescued from extinction by four prominent Granite State families. With the hotel intact, an in-house restoration team set about reviving a Donald Ross-designed course built in 1915, a course renowned for views so extraordinary that fashionable Society in the Twenties traveled to the White Mountains in private railway cars to idle away the summer. Occupying a relatively flat plain spliced by the headwaters of the Ammonoosuc River, the 6,638-yard, par-71 layout challenges even the most card-and-pencil-minded players to keep their eyes off the hulking peaks in the Presidential Range. Chief among them is Mt. Washington, at 6,288 feet the highest peak north of the Carolinas and east of the Rockies.

The first hole, a dramatic 200-yard par three, drops from an elevated tee beside the hotel’s veranda to a broad intervale where most of the course is routed. The par-four second calls for a brave carry over the Ammonoosuc, a popular trout stream, while the fifth, a quirky par three, plays to a hidden punchbowl green near the resort’s red clay tennis courts.

The rippling fairway at the eighth, a straightaway par four, indicates the vast difference between antique and modern courses. At present, bulldozers are used to uniformly grade the land, smoothing out so-called imperfections during course construction. What is lost, especially in heavily glaciated areas such as northern New Hampshire, is natural character. The rumpled fairway at the eighth is Mother Nature’s own hand-stitched quilt: Subtle hillocks, rolls and swales virtually guarantee that a player will not have a flat lie for his approach.

Mount Washington’s back nine, which opens with back-to-back par fives, is more wooded than the front, its fairways carved from balsam fir, red spruce and tamarack. Among the feature holes is the 13th, a 391-yard par four that plays from a tee encased in the woods to a sloping fairway that bends slightly from left to right and plays uphill to a plateau green.

The par-three 14th, stretching to 235 yards, ranks among the best par threes in New England. From an elevated tee, a long iron or fairway wood is played through a wooded chute to a sliver of green guarded by a giant sand bunker to the right and a deep grass bunker to the left. An alder swamp gobbles shots that are pushed far to the right. The faint of heart can lay up in hopes of chipping close for a par, but that is not how Bobby Jones, Babe Ruth, Gene Sarazen and other illustrious visitors to the resort would have played it.

The layout finishes with a flourish at the 18th, a testing par four where the river must be negotiated for the final time. Wagers can be settled on the practice putting green beside the hotel, its surface studded with lichen-covered boulders and beds of colorful zinnias. Players can also tee it up on the resort’s Mount Pleasant course, a sporty 3,215-yard, par-35 nine-holer built in 1991 on the site of a long-extinct layout dating to 1897. Call (603) 278-4653.

Brian McCallen is a senior editor at GOLF Magazine, SKI’s sister publication, and author of “Top 100 Courses You Can Play” (Abrams).