Lake Placid

When you think of Lake Placid, in upstate New York, you probably don't think "golf mecca." The US men's hockey team's Olympic triumph in 1980, maybe, or Sonja Henie in 1932 -- or even longtime resident Kate Smith's "Lake Placid Serenade." Yet golf has played an important role in the Adirondack Mountains, an historic playground for the elite of New York, Burlington, Albany, and Montreal. Back in the 1890s, during golf's first big boom, the region was a foothold for the development of US resort golf, and dozens of courses were built here in the first few decades of the century.

The 'Dacks still cater to golf vacationers out for a 72-hole long weekend, billionaires in need of four-star pampering, and families looking for hiking, kayaking, and Olympic-flavored adventure. Myrtle Beach North it's not -- for one thing, the golf season is short, from April to mid-October -- but three golf courses here offer excellent play.

Located on the shores of Lake Placid three miles west of Main Street, the hilly Whiteface Club is a tight, wooded tract which yields some fine vistas once you venture past the first few holes where on-course housing is starting to make inroads. From the tee of the the par-5 sixth from the elevated tee you see Whiteface Mountain, site of Olympic downhill events. The resort's head pro Peter Martin describes the 218-yard 14th -- over water, with OB left, and a hugely sloping green -- as "the toughest par-3 in the Adirondacks." It's a fun course -- not long, but the holes in the woods demand control off the tee.

Martin, who has written extensively about Adirondack golf and particularly about the region's most important figure, Seymour Dunn, points out that Dunn came from one of Scottish golf's dynasties -- his uncle was Willie Dunn, Jr., designer of Shinnecock Hills, and his father Tom designed well over a hundred courses in Scotland. And Dunn also claimed descent from the man who taught the game of golf to King James V of Scotland in 1520. Shortly after Dunn settled in Lake Placid, he designed one of the Lake Placid Resort courses, the expansive Links course. (The other, the Mountain Course, was designed by none other than Alistair Mackenzie.)

The Links Course adheres far more faithfully to the spirit of its name than most of the countless "links-style" layouts a golfer is presented with these days, perhaps because Seymour Dunn simply used what this scenic high meadow gave him: good-sized holes over broad fairways with strategically placed fairway bunkers. That it now plays at 7006 yards testifies to the designer's anticipation of improvements in equipment. The fairly modest elevation changes are used to set off greens and tees -- you may find yourself deciding between three clubs as you try reaching the green of the 414-yard 18th, situated uphill beyond a little valley where the wind can't seem to make up its mind.

The gem of the Lake Placid-area courses is the Saranac Lake Inn Golf and Country Club, which Dunn considered his masterpiece.

Saranac Lake impresses you with its sophistication and difficulty from the very first long, uphill hole, which requires a precise drive over a scooped-out fairway to a narrow stripe of landing area -- to set up a middle-iron approach a skewed, sloping green well-protected in front by sand and grass bunkers.

Eleven and 12 are a great pair of difficult uphill holes, and the 13th is a wonderful short par-4, playing to a downhill, sand-encircled green with a steep rise in back. A couple of distinctions -- or eccentricities -- are endearing: most of the green of the downhill 230-yard par-3 6th hole is obscured by a huge, hairy chocolate drop smack in front of the green. And you might be tempted to call the steplike 3-tiered green on the reachable par-5 10th the "Stairway to Hell" if you find yourself three-putting here. It was also playing in phenomenal condition late last summer, thanks, according to co-owner Jimmy Connor, (who has worked hard to make the facilities here user-friendly after it was a few years in eclipse) to the great drainage offered by sandy soil resulting from its proximity to Upper Saranac Lake.

Accommodations and packages: The hotel for the Lake Placid Resort Golf Club is a pleasant-enough Holiday Inn located on a hill atop the village of Lake Placid -- packages are available starting for between $80-120 per night, including greens fees, cart, and breakfast. Packages at the Whiteface Club start at $90 -- condos and cottages are also available here. The Lake Placid Hilton offers deals at each of the golf courses. Also, $125 gets you two rounds of golf and an overnight stay at the modest on-course motel at the Saranac Lake Inn, maybe the best deal of all.