Those planning to golf in the north country: you have some decisions to make.
Eighteen holes or nine? An upscale dinner or a sip at the bar? Overnight stay or go back home?
It’s easy enough in 2021 to tailor your golfing experience to your budget, driving distance or mood. And perhaps nothing illustrates the variety golfers can enjoy in the three-county area than a pair of courses nestled along the same St. Lawrence River, situated no more than 40 miles apart.
The St. Lawrence State Park Golf Course in Ogdensburg and the Thousand Islands Country Club in Wellesley Island this season each offer magnificent scenery, well-maintained courses and friendly service. But the best of each course illustrates the wide range of activity on the green available to golfers who are returning to their sport this year after a halting and abbreviated 2020.
“I’ve played all the courses around here. I hate to sound biased, but we’re one of the best-kept courses around,” said Thousand Islands Country Club general manager Rob Peluso. “The shape of the course is always good. Our superintendent and staff really do a great job. And it’s a lot, you’re keeping up on 36 holes on minimal staff.”
The Thousand Islands club has drawn enthusiasts from all over the U.S. and Canada thanks to boasting one of the oldest courses in the country — the Seth Raynor-designed Old Course established in 1894 — as well as the scenic Lake Course, which winds around the legendary Boldt Castle gondola canals.
This season, the TI club will again host two of the largest tournaments in the area, the Samaritan Foundation tournament (June 29) and the Kinney’s Foundation tournament (Aug. 9). Each draw around 200 participants.
On July 27, Thousand Islands will host a Central New York Junior PGA event for the first time. The junior schedule typically plays courses around Syracuse, Utica and the Southern Tier but has expanded north for 2021.
The club also offers a variety of personalized golf lessons, through its PGA professional, Mark Benz. The course is running clinics in its junior program for golfers age 6-9 and age 10-15 on July 13-15, July 28-29 and Aug 10-12 with more sessions to come as clinics fill.
Golf is the main component of the TI club experience, but the club also offers lunch and dinner at Hacker’s Restaurant, lodging at suites and villas that were just renovated in 2019, boating from a 110-slip marina directly across from the first tee, and its popular pickle ball courts. “We have eight pickle ball courts and we have almost 200 members for that,” said Peluso of the converted tennis courts. “That’s taking off and it’s taking off all over the United States. If you were to drive by there any morning ... the courts are packed. They get there 7:30-8 o’clock and stay there most of the day.”
Doug Horton oversees the St. Lawrence State Park Golf Course, located less than an hour up Route 37 from the TI club. He used to own the TI club but now has run the St. Lawrence 9-hole course for New York State for the past 11 years.
Provided the vantage point of managing two 18-hole courses or one 9-hole course, Horton said he now prefers the simpler layout.
“I’ve been in the golf business all my life and this date and this time, I’d much prefer the 9-hole operation,” said Horton, who pointed out north country 18-hole operations that have gone out of business in recent years. “I think what we’ve done is create as good a place that we could possibly offer for a very, very reasonable price and it’s brought that guy back to the playing field who might have put his clubs away because he didn’t have the time or the dollars to do it. You can play a 9-hole round in an hour and 25 minutes and you’re in, you’re done, and you’re still in the game.”
The St. Lawrence State Park course began as a private club almost 100 years ago. The state bought it in the 1960s and incorporated it into its state park system.
St. Lawrence’s course doesn’t offer a wide variety of amenities but that’s because it’s a neighborhood course used to a steady stream of familiar traffic. The continuing closure of the Canadian border due to COVID-19 precautions has been “a killer,” for the TI club, said Peluso, but Horton said the St. Lawrence course hasn’t depended that much on outside visitors.
“It’s mostly based on local people in town,” Horton said. “It’s the Elks Club League, it’s the Women’s League, it’s the Monday Morning Senior League, the Friday Senior League.
“You can go by there on any given day and your percentage of pickup trucks in the parking lot versus sedan cars is probably two-to-one,” he continued. “So it’s more or less an economic kind of price point. We were up over 40 percent in rounds last year, just due to people maybe having some extra cash and not having to work.”
St. Lawrence’s first five holes are located on the clubhouse side of Route 37, next to the river. The other four holes play on the other side of the street as golfers travel a tunnel under the road to get to the rest of the course.
Perhaps the course’s strongest selling point is the first tee.
“Right on hole No. 1, you can see the ships go by,” Horton said.
THOUSAND ISLANDS COUNTRY CLUB
Address: 21496 Club House Dr., Wellesley Island
Course yardage (Both are 18-hole courses): (Old Course): Blue tees, 6,603 yards; White tees, 6,120; Red tees, 5,250
Greens fees: (Old Course) $45 (Monday-Thursday); $55 (Friday-Sunday, $37 after 4 p.m.); (Lake Course) $34
ST. LAWRENCE STATE PARK GOLF COURSE
Address: 4955 Route 37, Ogdensburg
Course yardage (9-hole course): 2,901 yards; (over 18 holes, regulation): 5,719
2021 memberships: (single) $400; (couple) $700; (senior) $375; (junior) $175