Overlooking Lake George, the Donald Ross-designed hillside layout at The Sagamore Resort underwent an extensive, multi-million dollar restoration in the mid-1980s.
Writing in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, Tom Doak commented as follows: “One of the few resort courses in upstate New York, The Sagamore sits on a ridge overlooking Lake George, while the hotel is several miles away down by the lake. Ross was engaged to find the best property he could, and it’s a bit surprising he picked one this rugged. It could really use some aggressive clearing to restore lost vistas.”
The original Sagamore Hotel opened in 1883, attracting the rich and famous of the period. Almost 200 acres of Federal Hill in Bolton Landing were purchased for a future golf course in 1914. Donald Ross was then hired in 1927 to create a championship course for the Sagamore’s management.
Today, the resort is owned by Ocean Properties Ltd and considerable investment has been made in the property, elevating the guest experience to new heights. For those who love mountain golf courses, this Ross masterpiece listed in the National Register of Historic Places is one to treasure.
We just returned from a trip to Lake George and the opportunity to play this Donald Ross Classic. I would rate the golf course from tee to green at a 4 but once you reach those green complexes, look out, the golf course takes a huge step forward. The opening hole really is a fantastic starting hole. The vista is notable especially on a clear day with Lake George in the distant background. From there the golf course meanders through the woods with interesting although sometimes an uninspiring routing. However if the front nine is to be remembered it is because of fantastic greens that are fast, firm and very tricky. On holes 4 and 6 Ross drops a humpback into the green that almost guaranteed a three putt if you get on the wrong side. Hole 7 is pure Ross, a slight dogleg left up a hill with a fairway cantilevered to the right. It gets way more interesting on the back nine. Hole 10 plays downhill with a blind tee shot to a fairway sloping left to right. #11 is a beautifully framed par 3 about 165 yards to a well protected green. From there things get really interesting. #12 requires a downhill T-shirt to a narrow landing area with trees on both left and right. The second shot goes back uphill to a beautifully framed green with a fall off on the right side. Number 13 May be the best hole on the golf course. A blind tee shot to a narrow landing and then an uphill second to another tricky green. Number 14 is a beautiful 205yard downhill par three from a very elevated tee box. Number 15 is another blind tee shot requiring a right to left drive and an uphill second of more than 175 yards. # 16 again presents a somewhat blind tee shot although the fairway is out in front of you it is difficult to tell where the landing area is. The second shot requires a precise 110 yard pitch over a ravine and marsh to a very well protected Green. #17 is a reachable par 5 but again the drive is uphill and blind. The second shot is into a false front elevated green. When the pin is front any shot past could likely result in a putt that rolls off and down the front. The course ends on a long par four requiring a precise tee shot to the left center of the fairway and a second shot again into a well protected green. It’s unfortunate that since Ross built the golf course back in the late 20s the surrounding trees have become so overgrown that the distant views of the lake are now obscured. Still, though, this is a wonderful example of Ross’s ability to work with the land and to create a routing that requires ball flight in both directions. More so his green complexes have been well preserved. The course conditioning overall was very good but not outstanding. However the greens were perfect! Definitely a course to play and enjoy if in the Lake George area.
Donald Ross provided the handiwork for a number of stellar designs but The Sagamore is not one of them. The course is set a short distance from the grandeur of the hotel and its adjacent location next to Lake George. The course begins with an attention grabbing moment. The 1st hole is a stunning par-4 plunging downhill with the Lake in the far distance. The hole really gets the blood pulsating through the veins.
Alas, the bulk of the course only has sporadic moments and the details often found at many of the Ross courses is adequate but far from truly detailed.
It also hurts to have the surrounding trees and underbrush take on too much of role for many of the holes.
The outward side is simply adequate minus the sterling qualities of the opener. On the inward side things really pick up the pace with the quality long par-4 13th. Here the tee shot and approach are of a much higher level and the balance of the closing holes does make up considerably for what is on balance lacking.
Ross was a master of creating green complexes that were often inspirational and quite maddening at times. The course also plays much slower than what would be optimal. It's interesting to note how well the Ross layout at Mount Washington in nearby New Hampshire is given the updating done by noted architect Brian Silva.
For serious architectural devotees a visit to nearby Troy and the Walter Travis course there, or, even better yet, a visit to Glens Falls in Queenbury will truly show the genius of Ross. The Sagamore has the potential to be far better but, as of now -- it's more "sag" then "more."
M. James Ward