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Golf at The Balsams Resort in New Hampshire is truly panoramic

Jeffrey WhiteBy Jeffrey White,
Balsams Resort - Panorama golf course - No. 9
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No. 9 at The Balsams resort's Panorama course is the most photographed holes on the golf course. (Jeffrey White/WorldGolf.com)

DIXVILLE NOTCH, N.H. -- It doesn't take long to see where the Panorama Course at The Balsams Resort gets its name.

Stepping up to the golf course's first, Quebec's Hereford Mountain rises on the northern horizon almost on the 49th Parallel, the point exactly halfway between the North Pole and the Equator. Due west is Mount Monadnock and south the bulge of Mount Washington juts out in New Hampshire's Presidential Range. In the valley below the Mohawk river flows, eventually, into the Connecticut river. All of New England surrounds this tee shot, 2,683 feet above sea level.

Donald Ross chose this beautiful site on the western slope of Keazer Mountain for one of the oldest and most storied golf courses in New England.

Built in 1912, the Panorama course is the signature championship golf course at The Balsams resort in Dixville Notch, in the heart of New Hampshire's rugged Great North Woods.

Sixteen holes are the original Ross designs, adhering to his original routing.

"It's rare to find holes at this level of [Ross] originality," says Douglas Ruttle, director of golf at The Balsams and a member of the Donald Ross Society.

Ross trademarks are ever present at Panorama: Large, inverted saucer greens, large fairways and hazards that can be seen from the tee, not much bunkering.

"But I've always said you can take the last 100 yards of each hole and you'd have a great 1,800-yard golf course," says Ruttle. "That's what this golf course is about, hitting the approach and figuring out the greens."

Easier said than done. The greens at Panorama are tricky at their easiest and downright confounding at their most diabolical. It's hard to hold golf balls on them, and some have swales and contours so subtle that you realize a misread only after the ball runs well past the hole.

Ross liked to choose green locations before laying out the rest of his golf courses, and he favored natural settings for his greens, often carving them directly into hillsides or on knolls, hillocks and ridges. Ross' greens are rarely on the same plain as his fairways.

No. 11 at Panorama is a classic example: A par 4 that gives you a risk-reward tee shot to a wide landing area. The approach shot to the elevated green is thought to be the hardest on the golf course, as the putting surface falls fast and sharply away to the back left. Few enjoy short putts for birdie here.

There are no gimmie pars on any of Panorama's par 3s. It's on these holes where the tough greens combine with tee shots routinely around 190-200 yards.

"The par 3s are solid par 3s," says Ruttle. "They're harder than the par 4s."

The par-3 fifth has a significant carry over a tarn, or mountain lake, and a farther small fairway to a wide green that often boasts tucked-away pin placements. No. 7 is an uphill par 3 that has a green so contoured it's nearly impossible to be on the "right side" of the hole.

Panorama's two stand-out holes are its closers, Nos. 9 and 18.

No. 9 is the golf course's most photographed hole, a long, uphill par 4 that features a green perched atop a natural dome, next to a man-made lake. No. 18 boasts and even steeper approach to a green on which, depending on pin placement, you may only see the top of the flag.

Panorama Course at The Balsams: The verdict

Old Donald Ross style dominates Panorama and makes it a must play, especially those seeking out some of New England's older golf courses. Golf Digest consistently ranks it the best public play in New Hampshire.

That old Ross style can be summarized in the par-4 eighth hole: It looks sedate (but isn't). It looks flat (but is not).

Early Ross favored subtly over heavy-handed design. There wasn't much earth moved in Panorama's design, so the result is a natural layout that is often hard to read (which, of course, is part of the fun).

Special care is put into maintaining the course's greens, and they are what give this player-friendly layout its challenge.

High- and mid-handicappers will appreciate the course's forgiveness off the tee, if nothing else. Low-handicappers will find their best approach shots tested.

Panorama sees about 14,000 rounds a year, mostly from guests of The Balsams resort. The public can play, though.

There is also a nine-hole Executive course located closer to the resort.

Stay and play

The Balsams Resorts dates to the beginning of the 20th century and sits on a piece of land larger than Manhattan. These 15,000 acres are in the heart of New Hampshire's Great North Woods.

The resort is beautifully situated on a lake and can accommodate up to 400 guests at a time in a series of rooms and suites, all rustically decorated and boasting individual character.

There is ample public space, including terraces, a solarium, a library and a well-appointed billiard room. The cooking in the main dinning room is nothing short of exceptional.

On-site activities include hiking, canoeing, swimming and skiing during the winter. There are golf and skiing packages available.

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Balsams Resort - Panorama golf course - No. 3

Any opinions expressed above are those of the writer and do not necessarily represent the views of the management.

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