Mark Twain Golf Course

By Darryl Berger, Contributor

The Mark Twain Golf Course in Elmira, NY represents the intersection of two great men who were arguably the best in their respective fields. The course is named for perhaps the greatest American writer. Scottish born Donald Ross, architect of some of this country's greatest courses, designed it.

First some history and then we'll get to the course. In 1870, Samuel Clemens (better known by his pen name, Mark Twain) married Olivia Langdon of Elmira, NY. The couple and their children would summer in Elmira at the farm of Olivia's sister. It was there that Mark Twain wrote such seminal literary works as 'The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn' and 'Life on the Mississippi'.

And so it was that Elmira named its municipal golf course after Mark Twain. It was built in 1937 and exactly how much of a hand Ross had in building it is debatable. At that time his company had grown to the point that Ross wasn't intensively involved in all his projects. That said, Mark Twain Golf Course possesses the qualities of classic design. It seems to come naturally out of ground on which it is built. The terrain is gently rolling and the course was built without moving around massive amounts of dirt.

Like good Ross designs, Mark Twain has an organic, unforced feel to it. The No. 1 handicap hole is a good example. The fifth hole is a more than 550-yard par-5 with a severely canted green that's set an odd angle for the approach. There is a dramatic elevation drop from tee to green, but it's along the slope of the land. The hole doesn't seem imposed on the land, it seems to come out of it!

Ross didn't like water hazards and that's reflected here. There are no water hazards on the course. He did like visual deception and that's evident on the first hole. A bunker that appears to be directly in front of the green is actually several yards back in the fairway.

The slope of 126 from the white tees, with a 71.2 course rating is an indication MTGC is no pushover. The par-72 design has just three sets of tees. The blues stretch to almost 6900 yards. The whites play more than 6,400. The front (red) tees play just over 5,000 yards.


Elmira is in Chemung County, NY and located along Route 17 about 60 miles west of Binghamton. If your traveling on 17 west exit onto 352 west to Route 14 north. The course will be 3 miles up on the left.

Where to Stay

The Hilton Garden Inn on Arnot Rd in Horseheads (unusual name) is close by. More info at If you're looking for something a little different. A half-hour drive to the north will take you into the Finger Lakes wine region. The Inn at Glenora Wine Cellars along Rt. 14A in Dundee, NY provides a comfortable stay and a chance to explore that part of the Empire State. Contact the owners at or (607) 739-3681.

Where to Dine

A Step Above on Lake Rd. in Elmira is good for soup and a sandwich. It's even better for a decedent dessert. Their number is (607) 732-3960. Mustico's Irish Brigade has traditional pub food on Ithaca St. in Horseheads and you can call them at (607) 739-7373.

Off Course

If you time your visit right you can see one of the major near by sporting events. Watkins Glen is a short drive north of Elmira. NASCAR fans flock to 'The Glen' in mid-August for the speed and fury of that annual Nextel Cup race. More info at In late May the LPGA makes an annual stop in close by Corning, NY for the Corning Classic. You can visit Corning anytime to pick up some cookware. Not surprising that's the headquarters of the Corning Cookware Co. You can also visit Mark Twain's Study where he penned so many of his classic works. It was moved from the farmhouse where he originally wrote them, to the campus of Elmira College. Mark Twain's burial site is also located in town.

The Verdict

Mark Twain Golf Course is much better than the average muni. The course has a solid, if unspectacular design. Like any muni it gets heavy play, so its conditions are not country club pristine. You might not plan your next trip around a loop at MTGC, but if you're in the neighborhood you won't regret playing there. As for value, the $20 greens fees represent a real bargain!

Darryl Berger, Contributor

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Mark Twain Golf Course

    Joe Kosmicki wrote on: May 20, 2012

    I don't know who wrote this review, but he clearly didn't play the course. Hole Number 5, which he writes about, he states that "it has a severely canted green", but in reality, the green is as level as a pool table. It's the terrane around the green that's canted; this gives the green the optical illusion of being canted (a frequent characteristic of Donald Ross designs). Anyone who rolled a putt on the green would quickly see this. Nor did the reviewer even visit the back nine (he stated that there are no water hazards on the course - but Number 14 has a beauty - in both a layup decision and visual appeal. There is also water on Number 8, but that hazard rarely comes into play.
    I will give the reviewer credit for picking up on the visual deceptions which make Donald Ross designs so challenging. He mentions Number 1 - and there are several more, including Number 5, that I have described and Number 6 is a classic.