Diamond in the Rough
18 Holes on the Country’s Third Oldest Golf Course
The trees on either side of the highway were a blur as I raced for my tee time. The only distinguishing figure on the horizon, visible only for a second above the green, was an airplane making its descent. In the 6-mile radius adjacent to the tarmac, past thickets of turning bushes and protected by stoic evergreens are not one – not two – but three golf courses: most popular among which is Bluff Point Golf Resort.
The entrance to Bluff Point resembles a country manor. A knee-high stone wall borders the property on either side of a double-lane road that heads up a short distance and disappears into the trees. Once clear of the canopy of evergreen, Bluff Point’s landscapes reveal themselves.
Today, the golf course is well attended. In the distance, players can be seen emotively cursing over shots, some of which look to have missed far right, others that look to have missed far left. Closer, golf-carts are lined up adjacent to the club house, a wooden building with a porch wrapped almost all the way around. By the time I enter the clubhouse to check-in, it’s 10 minutes past noon and the starter tells me that since I am playing by myself, I might have to join the group playing in front of me if my pace is faster than theirs. It inevitably would be, but that will not become relevant until the Lone Elm.
On the tee box of the first hole, Bayview, the September sun had reached its peak, taking the chill of the wind off my skin. The view from the tee box is a panorama looking down fairways, through trees, onto the beach and into Lake Champlain. From here, I can see a dozen or more chalets located between the fifth and sixth holes, which I later learn are available all season long.
Focusing in, the first hole features a dogleg that sees the fairway meander from left to right at almost a right angle. Although one might want to go big with the driver, the layout of the first hole encourages you to show restraint – most will obey. Those who choose not to will receive an immediate aural response when ball meets birch.
Closer to the green, I meet Chazy native Chad Peters, 49, who has been playing this golf course for the greater portion of his life, bearing fond memories of drilling his sons’s short game for hours on end. His plan today was to play until 2 p.m., then retreat to an outlook to watch the Dallas Cowboys play their first game of the season live from his iPhone. Until that time, we would play side-by-side. His knowledge of the golf course would give me my first insights into Bluff Point’s important place in history.
As we stepped onto the second tee box after a comforting bogey on my part, Peters says, “Bluff Point is a gem in the North Country, but you have to know golf for you to really love it.”
Peters elucidates: Bluff Point is the third oldest golf course in the United States of America and the oldest golf resort in the same jurisdiction. Formed in 1890, the golf course bears the challenge and intention of a traditional course, for players to hit shots conscious of distance and conditions. The course’s designer, Albert Warren Tillinghast, sits among the world’s best practitioners of the craft. Although he was a journalist by trade, Tillinghast’s influence in golf design through the turn of the century is undeniable. Tillinghast and his colleagues would make up the Philadelphia School of thought regarding golf architecture, whose designs would go on to be known as ‘the real American golf courses’. His most famous works would include Bethpage Black, Winged-Foot Golf Course and Quaker Ridge, all further south in New York, which would play host to some of golf’s most prestigious contests. Tillinghast went on to design more than 200 golf courses and was posthumously inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2015.
Bluff Point is one of Tillinghast’s earlier works, and as a result, lesser-known. However, it is one of his most beloved. Peters remarked just as much as he scrambled onto the green on hole number two, The Bend.
“They’ve had presidents playing here before, Lyndon B. Johnson and his buddies were regulars, even Babe Ruth,” Peters said.
The tee box on hole number three, Lone Elm, is the best place to view Bluff Point. The wide fairway runs all the way down to the water beaconing golfers of any level to pull out the driver. It also hosts the perfect alignment to capture the sunset in the horizon over the beach. It was there we met the two men who, over the next 16 holes, would share with me the sentiment they felt for golf and for Bluff Point.
Greg Niphakas and Tom Muirhead are Canadian. The duo are seniors, seasoned both in life and golf: Tom’s hair is salt and pepper clean-cut, matching his soft-spoken personality, while Greg has a head of lively silver hair and the most energized lease on life.
The two were no strangers to Bluff Point. As we made our way through hole six and onto seven, Wayhaven, Greg said, “We’ve been coming here for 22 years; our wives love the cabins, and we love the golf.” Greg was referring to the tight fairways and extremely sloped greens that give the course its difficulty. He shifted his attention to make a jibe at Tom and the state of the match the pair had in progress, returning his attention to me. “We make it out twice, if possible: once early and once late in the season because Bluff closes later than all the courses in Quebec.”
When they had come earlier in the season, the chalets were completely booked up, owing to their popularity, but the pair still managed to get out for a few rounds. The trip they were on now, however, did not involve either of their wives: it was strictly golf.
The holes passed by awfully quickly with good company. Upon becoming conscious of the time, I realized we had reached the 17th hole, Woodside. I was shocked that three hours had already passed. The sun was setting, making it necessary to don a quarter-zip for warmth.
Bidding my company farewell on the final hole brought a somber end to an informative affair. Up north, past the Hudson and further still, into the Adirondacks, tucked neatly on the outskirts of a small town, lies one of golf’s truest gems.