A little piece of poison. That’s what I thought when I departed the 18th green at Woodstock Country Club in central Vermont recently. The 6,052-yard, par-70 layout may occupy the smallest footprint of any 18-hole course in the Green Mountain State. But forget the tale of the tape: Woodstock CC will test the most seasoned campaigner. With water in play at 12 holes, it can even induce flinching among risk-averse players.
Golf was first played in the narrow, steep-walled Kedron Valley in 1895, when a visiting Boston physician hacked out a rudimentary course on a hillside cow pasture above the current layout, which today welcomes guests of the nearby Woodstock Inn & Resort. A roll call of well-known architects had a hand in the design of Woodstock: William Tucker (1906), Wayne Stiles (1924), Donald Ross (1938) and Robert Trent Jones, Sr. (1969). It was Jones who built the course we play today.
You’ll see no evidence at the club of the broad-shouldered, heavily sculpted “power golf” look that defined Jones’ work in the post-War era. Then again, Jones was working for Laurance Rockefeller, who was married to Woodstock native Mary Billings French. Because of these family ties, and because of Rockefeller’s sizable investment in the resort, there would be no conspicuous earthworks or “signature” features at the golf course.
To his credit, Jones worked with what he had, stitching holes across the valley floor. Compact and walkable, the course looks like a piece of cake—until you reach the six par threes. Five of them demand a forced carry over the steep embankments of rock-strewn Kedron Brook, which snakes through the layout. This stream is evil; I would imagine the golf shop does a brisk business in ball retrievers.
Jones was wise to show restraint in his redesign of the course. The 80 or so bunkers, originally filled with sand flown in from Bermuda, are well-placed. Swirling winds tend to funnel through the V-shaped valley, complicating club selection. The subtly contoured, moderately quick greens are on the small side. Following a wet spring, the rough was very lush when I played the course, turning this allegedly charming, strategic test into a devilish tyke that demanded both length and precision.
The 370-yard third hole looks fine on the card—until you play it. The tee shot is straightaway, but the hole then veers 90 degrees left and calls for a solid shot over the creek to a blind hilltop green encased in evergreens. There’s out-of bounds at the left rear of the domed putting surface, which drops off on both sides to deep bunkers.
The No. 1 handicap hole is the par-4 fourth, which takes its place among the toughest in the state. The perched tee looks down across the brook to a slim, angled fairway with a pair of bunkers and a dense stand of pines beyond the landing area. Even a perfect drive leaves a testing shot over the brook to a skewed green. A par here is to be treasured.
If you can routinely hit high, soft-landing iron shots to tightly guarded greens fronted by a gurgling stream—in other words, if you’re half-trout, half-golfer–you’ll love Woodstock. Otherwise, you may wish to spend a little extra time at the recently refurbished inn, which Rockefeller built in 1969 with his usual pared-down sense of refinement.
The Georgian-style hotel, a member of Preferred Hotels & Resorts and a AAA Four Diamond resort, is a good fit for the “prettiest small town in America.” Set back from a village green shaded by tall sugar maples and embraced by well-preserved 18th-century homes, the Woodstock Inn manages to be both quaint and sophisticated. The updated guest rooms, several with working fireplaces, face a beautifully landscaped interior courtyard. The décor is classic Vermont: wood-beam bed frames, fluffy down duvets, woolen throws, regional artwork, custom furniture and white-tiled (not marble) bathrooms. The color palette is perfect: soft butter tones, shades of green borrowed from the surrounding hills.
Last year, the resort opened a 10,000-square-foot LEED-designed spa, which offers a spare, nature-inspired ambiance along with nourishing treatments and organic products. A different treatment is featured each season. The Citrus Espresso Body treatment available this spring includes a full body exfoliation using a clarifying mud-scrub blended with shea butter to hydrate and soften the skin. The 80 minute treatment ends with a full body massage using Sicilian bergamot body lotion. It’s just the remedy if you’ve rinsed one ball too many in Kedron Brook.
As for dining, the Red Rooster, open for lunch and dinner, offers eclectic farm-to-table cuisine, notably heirloom fruits and vegetables and artisanal cheeses. And Oysters Rockefeller, of course. Something more casual? Richardson’s Tavern serves classic pub fare in a relaxed setting (exposed beams, comfortable seating) with live music on selected nights.
In addition to filling one’s lungs with the clover-scented air, it’s worth exploring the village’s antique shops, art galleries, indie bookstores, bakeries, coffee houses and one-stop-shopping general stores from the 1880’s. Wherever you buy it, you’ll find the granola is crunchier in Woodstock.
Inn guests receives complimentary admission to Billings Farm & Museum, one of the nation’s finest working dairy farms (the Jersey cows are special). The authentically restored 1890 Farm House is a museum of Vermont’s rural past. Rockefeller was especially proud of this pastoral showpiece.
Cyclists can follow scenic bike paths over covered bridges into tiny hamlets, while hikers can enjoy the rambling trails carved up the slopes of nearby Mt. Tom and Mt. Peg. Golfers, of course, can grab a snorkel and do the backstroke at Woodstock CC, the most scintillating pint-sized course in New England.
Through Oct. 31, the resort’s Heritage Unlimited Golf Package includes unlimited golf with cart at Woodstock CC, use of practice facility, yardage booklet, one’s night’s luxury accommodations and breakfast. Rates start at $298 per room, based on double occupancy, excluding tax and service charge. Details: http://www.woodstockinn.com/