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Taste wine and fine golf among New York's Finger Lakes

Katharine DysonBy Katharine Dyson,
Special Contributor
Anyela's Vineyards
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Anyela's Vineyards owner Jim Nocek (right) and daughter Meredith enjoying the fruits of their labor. (Katharine Dyson/TravelGolf)

Wine and golf and drop-dead gorgeous scenery are three very good reasons to visit the Finger Lakes in New York, where more than 100 vineyards, 50 golf courses and 11-plus glacier-cut lakes dot the area's rolling, open hills.

It's a place where award-winning wines are made, greens fees are often less than $30, and you can probably get a tee time on weekends without a connection.

You won't have to travel huge distances either. Wineries, golf courses and accommodation and dining options are within easy driving range of each other, many along or just off route 20.

Golf in New York's Finger Lakes

Just over 30 years ago Robert Trent Jones came to Canandaigua, looked down from the hilltop site to the lake and said, "In all the world and of all the properties I've seen, this one has just been waiting for a golf course." Today, Bristol Harbour Resort is the golf course to play to fully appreciate the beauty of the region.

Capitalizing on the wine-theme, a small vineyard is on the grounds of Reservoir Creek Golf Course in Naples. Reservoir Creek's five-bedroom inn, a renovated turn-of-the-century farmhouse, is a great place for groups to stay.

Lakeside Country Club, by Keuka Lake in Penn Yan, is a pretty track on the upper hills along the lake. It evokes a tactical dance between older push-up style greens and newer, more rolling, tiered greens.

Highland Park Golf Club, in Auburn, was built as a nine-hole layout in 1925. The back nine added in 1969 plays like a different course, with challenging rolling greens. Fairways are tree-lined, but generally the course is pretty open.

Lafayette Hills Golf & Country Club in Jamesville used to be private, so it's no surprise facilities are more upscale than most public tracks. Designed by A.W. Tillinghast, the 6,586-yard course sits on one of the highest points in Onondaga County, offering wonderful views of the countryside.

Although it has had maintenance issues, the pretty Robert Trent Jones Sr.-designed Radisson Greens, carved through woods and meadows with water in play on many holes, is worth the modest green fee.

You'll need to think target golf at the recently renovated Links at Erie Village. It's a flat track with bent grass greens and fairways punctuated by plenty of bunkers.

In Elbridge, it seems like many people don't know about Millstone Golf Course, but then it just opened in 2004. Some of the trees still have growing to do, but with serious water hazards, solid par 3s and $20 green fees, you should give it a try.

If you have pull with a Cornell grad, beg your way onto the Robert Trent Jones Golf Course at Cornell University at the southern end of Cayuga Lake in Ithaca. Go, Big Red.

Wine tasting in the Finger Lakes

Although the Finger Lakes region was originally known more for its sweeter, fruitier Catabwa and Riesling wines, today these wineries and vineyards are producing award-winning wines from European varieties as well as from Labrusca and French-American hybrids.

Winery facilities are extensive. Many have gift shops and restaurants along with tasting rooms; some, like Glenora Wine Cellars (www.glenora.com) on Seneca Lake, offer accommodations on site.

Close to 20 vineyards march up and down the slopes of the 40-mile long Cayuga Lake, the largest of the Finger Lakes anchored by Seneca Falls on the northern end and Ithaca on the southern tip.

At Anyela's Vineyards (anyelasvineyards.com) in Skaneateles, you can enjoy a glass of Anyelas Avail 2007 while the incredibly deep blue Skaneateles Lake spreads out below rows and rows of vineyards.

Visit Goose Watch Winery (www.goosewatch.com) for classic European-style wines such as Merlot, Brut Rosé Champagne and Pinot Gris. Set on the eastern shore of the lake, Goose Watch is accessible by boat and is in a restored 100 year-old barn.

The stylish modern Knapp Vineyards Winery (www.knappwine.com) offers specialty wine series labels such as Curiosity, Superstition and Kat Nap and the new White Deer Trilogy. The Vineyard Restaurant serves gourmet cuisine in the dining room and on the trellised patio overlooking Cayuga Lake.

The slopes of Y-shaped Keuka Lake are home to more than a dozen wineries, most notably the highly acclaimed Dr. Frank's Vinifera Wine Cellars and Chateau Frank (www.drfrankwines.com) on Keuka Lake, founded in 1962 by one of the Finger Lakes' most important winemakers, Dr. Konstantin Frank.

You can find other vineyards on Canandaigua Lake, Skaneateles Lake and in the countryside. Seneca, Cayuga, Keuka and Canandaigua have organized wine trails with special events planned throughout the year, as well as maps and other helpful published materials. For example, with Seneca Wine Trail's "The Riesling to Visit Passport" you get to enjoy a complimentary, standard flight of wine samples at each of 27 wineries for $12 (www.senecalakewine.com).

From fish fries to Italian, dining in the Finger Lakes

You can swing into wineries for a tasting and often a bite to eat at places like Simply Red Lakeside Bistro (www.simplyredbistro.com) at Sheldrake Point Vineyard on Cayuga Lake or order a 2008 dry Riesling to go along with your meal at The Bistro at Thirsty Owl Wine Company (www.thirstyowl.com), also on the lake.

Seneca Lake has the most places to eat lakeside, with access by boat, while Skaneateles is a favorite dining locale with a range of dining options, from Doug's Fish Fry (www.dougsfishfry.com), where the lines often reach out the door, to consistently good Italian food at Rosalie's Cucina (www.rosaliescucina.com).

Staying in the Finger Lakes

There are many B&Bs, small inns and hotels throughout the region. There's even a castle, Belhurst, in Geneva on Seneca Lake.

Enjoy a complimentary bottle of wine from your patio at The Inn at Glenora Wine Cellars (www.glenora.com) or settle onto the porch of the historic Sherwood Inn (www.thesherwoodinn.com) on Skaneateles Lake and maybe take a lake cruise on the double-decked Judge Ben Wiles (www.midlakesnav.com).

Built around a Monet-like pond and gardens, the European-style Mirbeau Inn and Spa (www.mirbeau.com) in Skaneateles has an excellent but pricey restaurant and large modern rooms with fireplaces.

Bristol Harbour's 31-room Adirondacks-style inn has balconies and fireplaces about a chip shot from the first tee while more than 200 condominiums give you another lodging option (www.bristolharbour.com).

For more information, see www.fingerlakesinfo.com.

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Millstone Golf CourseMirbeau Inn & SpaWayne Hills Country ClubNew York Wine & Culinary CenterGlenora Wine CellarsSheldrake Point Vineyard

Katharine Dyson is a golf and travel writer for several national publications as well as guidebook author and radio commentator. Her journeys have taken her around the world playing courses and finding unique places to stay. She is a member of the Golf Writers Association of America, Metropolitan Golf Writers of America; Golf Travel Writers Organization and Society of American Travel Writers. Follow Katharine on Twitter at @kathiegolf.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Finger Lakes

    R Thompson wrote on: Aug 11, 2009

    Here is a great article about the finger lakes wine region to accompany this article: http://www.shoestringmag.com/wine/wines-delicate-side-finger-lakes-frugal