Lake Placid's hidden golf ace: Craig Wood just your average scenic, historic muni

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

LAKE PLACID, N.Y. - The artifacts are under glass, in the most unassuming of displays. The old wood-shafted golf clubs of a champion rest a few feet from cheapo modern balls preferred by wayward hackers of today.

Craig Wood's No. 8
Craig Wood's No. 8 has a lone tree in the middle of the fairway
Craig Wood's No. 8Craig WoodCraig Wood'sCraig Wood
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There are weekend warriors with more ornate shrines than this. Heck, there are fantasy-football "champions" with bigger trophy cases.

This is the homage Craig Wood gets in the pro shop of the golf course that bears his name.

The Lake Placid native was an early star of professional golf, nicknamed "No. 1 Wood" for the distance of his drives (he reportedly hit one 430 yards at the 1933 British Open). Wood won both the Masters and the U.S. Open in 1941 at age 39, validating a career that saw him lose three previous majors in playoffs.

Long after his death in 1968, his legacy lives on at Craig Wood Golf & Country Club.

"There's a lot of history here for a little municipal course hidden in the mountains," Head Professional James Wasson said, laughing.

At first glance this indeed seems like a "little municipal course," one of the most unassuming you'll ever find. There's no air conditioning or plush leather chairs in the clubhouse. Wasson has a crammed little office with a straining window fan and a bunch of flies making themselves at home.

But this place is pure country club once you get outdoors.

The big trees seem to stretch forever beyond the fairways, guiding your eyes to mountain peaks beyond. There's not a single house in sight. Craig Wood is only a 10-minute drive from downtown Lake Placid, but coming here is like being dropped into the deep woods.

"A lot of golfers here for the first time are amazed at the views," Wasson said. "They say that munis aren't supposed to have these kinds of views."

With $32 green fees, Craig Wood is a serious scenery bargain. More important, it's a fun play, one of several vintage courses in an area where golf history is overshadowed by Winter Olympics history.

At 81 years old, Craig Wood is the little brother of the group, and Scottish architect Seymour Dunn's design flashes a mischievous streak to match.

Several holes show a flair for the dramatic you wouldn't expect from a 1920s golf mind. No. 8 doesn't just have you shooting uphill on a long par 4; it throws a tree in the middle of the fairway. (You'd be surprised how many shots can ding off a lone tree.) The 490-yard, par-5 ninth puts you on an elevated ledge tee that provides a great view of the fairway you'll be shooting down.

Even the holes without a lot of eye candy seem to come with a quirky story or two. No. 10, the drivable par 4 (315 yards)? That's where a plane once pulled off a neat emergency landing.

Still, no hole draws as much attention as the par-3 13th. To some golfers, it's the cursed 13th. To the USGA handicap raters, it's an endless source of fascination.

"The USGA guys spend a ton of time on 13 every year, even though it hasn't changed," Wasson said. "It's the same hole that was there last year and the year before."

Torment apparently never gets old. Craig Wood's No. 13 is a shot straight down into the narrowest of canyon green openings. There's brush, trees and even a little stream surrounding it, squeezing it, scrunching it. From the green it can look like you're trying to land an F-16 on a pin cushion.

"I hate 13," local golfer Herb Jaochim said. "Hate it. It should play the same. But psychologically all that stuff sneaks into your mind."

Craig Wood Golf & Country Club: The verdict

Municipal courses don't often get mentioned as golf-trip must-plays, but Craig Wood should be on any Lake Placid-area agenda.

Much of the credit goes to the loving care of Superintendent Lynn Wilson and his six-man grounds crew, who work nearly 'round the clock and carefully pick and choose projects to match the conditioning muscle mustered by the 40-man mini-armies local resort courses deploy.

"I don't see a lot of difference between this course and the Lake Placid Resort Club," regular Al Rose said. "I really don't."

In truth, there are some noticeable differences. Sometimes you get fairway lies that are downright unfair at Craig Wood. One regular suggested picking up and giving yourself a free drop if you land in a patch of thick clover. And pace of play can be challenge (though it's not as bad as some locals like to claim).

None of this should keep you off this course for this price.

"It's a beautiful course," first-time visitor Valerie Jovoin of Plattsburgh said. "I love it. I didn't expect this."

Lake Placid hotels

The Mirror Lake Inn and Crown Plaza Resort are top choices for in-town lodging. The former gives you vaulted ceilings, old-inn atmosphere and modern comforts. The Crown Plaza's new Adirondack wing proffers a real luxury kick. Both put you in easy walking distance of everything.

Lake Placid restaurants

For a special meal, you're not going to do better than Mirror Lake Inn's The View at the Mirror Lake Inn (518-523-2544) in downtown Lake Placid. This is sophisticated food served up by a warm, doting staff. Ask for a table on the covered outdoor terrace for a great view over Mirror Lake and a creek rustling practically under your feet.

Northwoods Inn on Main Street has the best burger in town.

Fast fact

Craig Wood won 17 tournaments from 1928 to 1941. Head Professional James Wasson will happily tell you all about him.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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