MANCHESTER - Autumn in New England is a time to savor the countryside's reds, yellows, oranges, and purples before the chill of winter strips the trees bare.
This three-day itinerary takes golfers to three of the best courses in Vermont so they can play amid the colorful canvas.
Day 1, Manchester
When Louise Orvis and the other women of southern Vermont were denied membership to neighboring Ekwanok Country Club in 1927, she hired Walter J. Travis to carve a course out of the valley at the base of Mount Equinox. Now known as the Golf Club at the Equinox Resort, the design was updated by Rees Jones in 1992, and what a beauty it is. Climbing through the pine, birch, and maples, you're surrounded by mountains. And Orvis would be happy to know that Joan McDonald, head golf professional, carries on the strong female tradition at the club. A former LPGA golfer who qualified for three US Opens, McDonald is the only woman pro in Vermont.
The course, managed by Troon Golf, reads short but plays long, opening with a nice downhill par-4 to get golfers warmed up. Soon you're attempting the memorable "road hole," No. 7, a long par-five that plays over a public road. Stop for lunch at the Dormy Grill, overlooking the ninth green and order the signature lobster roll.
The Equinox just spent some $20 million to give the historic resort, opened in 1769, a much needed facelift. Hopefully, you've planned your trip to Manchester so you can enjoy a morning round and then spend the afternoon savoring a white clay mask and other treatments at the spa, going for a one-of-a kind "hawk walk" with birds of prey from the hotel's falconry, or shopping. The hotel is just minutes from the boutique shops and factory outlets in town.
Start next door at Susan Sargent, known for her vibrantly colored rugs, sofas, pillows, tablecloths, and other home furnishings. Just down the hill are the strapless evening dresses designed by Betsey Johnson, often half the price of the same garb seen on Paris Hilton. Downstairs is the stylish casual wear of Michael Kors, from blouses to jeans to leather handbags.
Antique hounds will want to head to Depot 62 to check out the large selection of tables, lamps, rugs, and sofas. The cafe here is popular with locals for wild mushroom pizzas and fresh salads. A more upscale dining option is the Reluctant Panther, located in an inn a short walk from the Equinox.
Day 2, Manchester to Warren
Wake up early to do laps in the Equinox's Olympic-sized pool or take one of the Pilates classes. Then head to Up for Breakfast for homemade granola or blueberry pancakes doused in Vermont maple syrup.
Heading out of town, skip congested Route 7 and continue east on Route 11 though the Green Mountain National Forest. You'll pass Bromley Mountain, the first of a handful of ski areas you'll spot as you turn left in Londonderry and make your way north on Route 100. Backed by the spine of the Green Mountains, Route 100 is a bucolic mix of rolling hills, farmland, covered bridges, and ubiquitous white steeples.
First stop is 20 miles outside of Manchester at the Vermont Country Store in Weston. This is no mom-and-pop country store, but a large purveyor of Vermont goods that opened in 1946. Wares include syrup, a vast selection of Vermont cheeses, a mouth-watering candy selection, bird feeders, polar fleece jackets, and whimsical fare like bath salts and Slinkies.
North of Weston, Echo Lake is backed by rocky ledges. Just past the Killington Ski Area turn left at Barrows Towne Road to reach the Green Mountain National Golf Course. Vermont's first municipal course is a challenging parkland course with narrow fairways practically swallowed up by the surrounding forest. The sweeping palate will almost make you forget your game, especially the glorious panoramic mountain vista on the 16th.
Continuing north, the farmland becomes more expansive as you reach Mad River Valley and the village of Warren (90 miles from Manchester). With its covered bridge, post office, town hall, church, and country store, all on Main Street, this is rural America at its most genuine. It is also home to the Pitcher Inn, one of the few Relais & Châteaux properties in New England.
Created by more than 40 local artisans, each of the 11 rooms in the inn has a distinct Vermont feel. The School Room is a re-creation of an old Vermont schoolhouse, complete with a slate blackboard and chalk, while the Trout Room boasts a king-size bed made of tree trunks and a semi-circular verandah overlooks a rambling stream. All of the rooms have Jacuzzis and wood-burning fireplaces.
The sense of place extends to the restaurant where many of the entrees include cheeses, vegetables, and other local produce. Start with the mushroom-stuffed ravioli, topped with a light herb sauce or the fresh arugula salad with crispy shallots and almonds. Then move on to veal saltimbocca, slices of veal wrapped in Serrano ham, washed down with a tasty Oregon pinot noir.
Day 3, Stowe
Peer up from the green at the 5th hole of the Stowe Mountain Club, an hour's drive north of Warren, and you realize you've arrived at one of the most drop-dead gorgeous views in all of New England. In front of you is the tallest mountain in Vermont, 4,393-foot Mount Mansfield, with its ribbon of trails flowing down the Stowe Ski Area. On both sides of the peak is uninterrupted forest, a carpet of maples and pines billowing from ridge to ridge as far as the eye can see.
But the views aren't the only benefit of playing this new Bob Cupp design. It's the five sets of tees that make the course an ego boost (especially after Green Mountain National), turning drivable par-4 holes like the 6th into decent birdie and par opportunities. Unlike the other two courses mentioned, set in a valley or forest surrounded by the peaks, Stowe is in the mountains with lots of elevation change as you veer up and down the slopes.
It took more than a decade of negotiating with every conservation organization in Vermont for Stowe Mountain Resort to acquire the 32 acres it wanted to build the golf course, ski-in/ski-out houses, and 139-room hotel, the Stowe Mountain Lodge, which opened this past June.
After your round, have a drink at the new golf cottage, built from the yellow birch seen around the course. Then walk back down to the hotel for a little indulging in the massive spa and Mario Russo salon. The first offshoot of the highly regarded Cooper Wellness spa in Dallas, the new space features treatments including music, water, and aromatherapy, along with nutrition and fitness counseling, seminars on maintaining a healthy lifestyle, and guide-led hikes and trail runs that take advantage of the mountain scenery.
After playing 54 holes, you've earned the right to dive into a pint of Cherry Garcia or New York Super Fudge Chunk ice cream. On the way out of Stowe, stop at the Ben & Jerry's Factory to try the just-made creations, a savory ending to a sweet three days of golf.
Stephen Jermanok can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.