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Friday, August 23, 2013

Heathland Golf in the Mountains of Vermont

Okemo Valley Hole #16
Okemo Valley Hole #16   all photos courtesy of the club
Okemo Valley Golf Club styles itself a "heathland" course, or somewhat of a cross between links and parkland. Regardless of how you define the term, in this case it describes one of the most exciting golf courses you'll find in the Northeast.

The 6,450 yard, par 70 course offers an excellent mix of long and short, tight and expansive, uphill and downhill holes. Many of the region's mountain courses are notable for tight, tree-lined fairways, but not Okemo. There are places where trees are in play, but most of the holes are defined by fescue-covered moguls and hillsides and well-placed fairway bunkers. Rating from the tips is 71.1 with a 130 slope. There are four sets of tees, the shortest at 5,105 yards.

The opening hole, a 398-yard par four, sets the tone with bunkers at 270 from the tee to the right and a heavily contoured green protected by four tough bunkers greenside as well as a couple of tall trees that encroach from the right to punish an overdone fade off the tee. It's pretty typical of the challenges you'll face throughout the round. Refreshingly, they are different on just about every hole.

Water affects your strategy on six holes, especially the 213-yard 17th hole, a daunting one-shotter that's all carry. Speaking of par threes, Okemo has five of them in total, all fairly long holes although the 186-yard 8th plays ridiculously (three club's worth) downhill.

It wouldn't be golf in Vermont, of course, without such elevation changes. The 397-yard ninth hole plays downhill, too, and the dogleg right dictates a hybrid or something much less than a driver off the tee. The signature 16th hole, a 458-yard par four, has a generous landing area for your downhill drive followed by a tight, treacherous approach, also downhill, to a green perfectly framed against some glorious scenery.

Okemo Valley
Okemo Valley is also a great place to work on your game. An expansive range lets you hit off both grass and mats and there's a dedicated short-game area with a spacious green and big practice bunker. The separate practice green is large enough to accommodate plenty of players at the same time. If you really want to get better, there's also an excellent staff of PGA professionals at hand.

One of my favorite features at Okemo Valley is the four-hole Family Fun course. The holes measure 60 to 100 yards and are available Saturday and Sunday afternoons at an affordable hourly rate. While on the subject of rates, even at peak season they are quite reasonable given the quality of the golf experience at Okemo. The top weekend morning rate is only $103 with cart and you can walk for as little as $39 at other times.

Tater Hill GC
Tater Hill Hole #18
Okemo also operates Tater Hill GC in nearby North Windham, VT, about a twenty minute drive from Ludlow. The 6,364-yard par 71 course has a 71.7 rating and 131 slope, just challenging enough to give you some fun without being a pushover.

Tater Hill plays pretty wide open, although there are enough doglegs and other features to make you think twice before pulling a driver on every tee. The back nine, with three par threes and three par fives, is the more interesting of the two. All the fives are reachable and the 501-yard 15th hole offers a spectacular view off the tee and an exciting downhill tee shot.

Conditions at Tater Hill are quite good, belying the bargain rates ($79 for a weekend morning peak-season round with cart) and as low as $23 walking at other times).

Okemo Mountain may be better known for its fine ski resort in Ludlow, but the company operates two good golf courses, too.

Among many other books, Dave Donelson is the author of Weird Golf: 18 tales of fantastic, horrific, scientifically impossible, and morally reprehensible golf

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