Everyone we asked agreed: Mount Snow’s golf holes are actually harder than Mount Snow’s ski runs … much harder. It’s to be expected of Geoffrey Cornish, the architect who designed the golf course. Cornish was a contemporary of Robert Trent Jones, Sr., (“Trent,” as he’s still referred to in the golf design industry), and the two shared more than a mutual respect and admiration. For many decades they were also the foremost proponents of the Penal School of golf course design. If you hit the ball off line: PENALTY! A prolific designer with hundreds of original courses to his credit, Cornish is a giant in the field, and nowhere are his designs more prominent than in his beloved New England.
Actually located in the town of Wilmington, this Cornish design is exactly what you expect when you hear his name: long, watery and hilly. In short, it’s difficult. The Black tees – intended as both the member and resort tees – are 6,539 yards long, typical of the “longer is better, harder is better” mentality that drove golf course design in the middle ’60s, when the course was constructed. That converts to a stern 71.7 course rating and a bloated 141 slope. For a bogey golfer, that’s harder than about 95 percent of golf courses in America. There is, happily, a white set of tees that plays 6,040 yards, but that still translates to a stiff 131 slope.
Everything at Mount Snow starts at the tee box; you have to drive the ball long and straight. More then half the tee shots are blind and almost all of them require long carries over crests in the fairway. In many places, the fairway is actually tilted back toward the tee box, so the natural lay of the land kills the momentum of your drive, acting as a restrictor plate on driving distance. It’s quite ingenious, actually. Colonial Country Club in Texas did the same thing a few years ago to great effect.
True golfers embrace blind shots, and Cornish showed us how to use them skillfully at Mount Snow. On one tee box, your target will be a ski run on nearby Haystack Mountain. On another hole your target is a Japanese maple on the far tree line. And on still another, slug it right over the bunkers guarding the knee of the dog leg. The speed slot is right behind them. The blind shots at Mount Snow are glorious because they are well-executed and visually thrilling. That being said, you better be ready because there is a boatload of them.
Better still, the fairways are wide – a few exceptions like 14 and 17 aside – and they keep the rough a reasonable length. You can play golf shots out of it instead of hacking a few yards back to the fairway. (They’re still not as wide as South Bowl or Snowdancer, though, two of the widest trails on this side of the Rockies. You want to drive a golf ball down trails like South Bowl and Snowdancer. And you want to ski down holes like three and 14.)
An archetypal mountain golf course, it’s a difficult walk, especially between greens and tees, but it’s also outstanding terrain for golf because there’s nary a level lie between tees and greens. If there is a drawback, the rudimentary shapes, smaller size, and frequently uphill settings of Cornish’s green complexes sometimes underwhelm. After such dramatic tee shots, the approaches seem a bit bland by comparison. (Just like in a great song, you want a big bang at the end.) Additionally, Cornish once again leans on the Doctrine of Symmetry; the course plays to a par of 36-36–72, with two par 3s and two par 5s on each side.
Mount Snow is, however, eminently natural; it blends in seamlessly with the surroundings, and it makes you think all the way around. The best holes are the par 5s, where Cornish used horizontal sweep to the fairways to infuse strategies, while also combining vertical movement in the earth to create bi-level fairways, such as at the excellent second hole.
Trent Jones would have loved Mount Snow for its brawn — its length, hills and difficulty. But I like Mount Snow for its brains. It makes you plan every shot and gives you multiple ways to play many of the holes. In that respect, Cornish (the protégé) actually surpassed Trent (the master). And in a clever bit of routing, the course returns to the clubhouse at 15 as well as 9 and 18. So you can play three-, six-, nine- and 12-hole loops as well as 18. Plus, 16-18 makes a convenient playoff loop. Bonus!
As a post script, we met some people that said they played golf at Mount Snow Golf Club and skied the mountain on the same day, but that’s a rare exception. Your weather window for pulling off that double in southern New England lasts perhaps a week or two. Built on clay soil, you’ll get no roll in shoulder seasons and maybe even a few mud balls, but in high summer, all those fairways rolls make for particularly interesting and adventurous golf.