Bristol Harbour Resort in Canandaigua, N.Y.: Finger Lakes gem gets high fives for scenery and amenities

By Katharine Dyson, Special Contributor

CANANDAIGUA, N.Y. -- When Robert Trent Jones first saw the site destined for the Bristol Harbour Resort golf course more than 25 years ago, he said, "In all the world, and of all the properties I've seen, this one has just been waiting for a golf course."

Bristol Harbour Resort - golf course - 6th hole
Grapes ring the back of the sixth hole at Bristol Harbour Resort in Canandaigua.
Bristol Harbour Resort - golf course - 6th holeCanandaigua LakeCottages at Bristol Harbour ResortBristol Harbour Resort - golf course - 15th holeBristol Harbour Resort - arch
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He was talking about a rolling piece of land set high on 454 acres overlooking Canandaigua Lake, one of the Finger Lakes in central New York just south of Rochester.

Driving to the golf course about six miles down the west side of the lake, you pass vegetable stands, farms, fields of corn, rolled bales of hay, and vineyards -- more than 100 wineries are located in the Finger Lakes.

The Robert Trent Jones Championship Golf Course -- centerpiece of the Bristol Harbour Resort that stretches along the hilltop revealing stunning views of the deep blue lake from the fairways, restaurant, patio, pool and guest rooms -- has changed little since Jones (with his son, Rees) finished the job in 1972. There's been some bunker and pond work, the addition of shorter tees and the nines have been flip-flopped. But for the most part, the holes are intact as Jones designed them.

"The nines were flipped so the first tee and clubhouse would be close to the lodge," Greg Mulhern, director of golf and general manager, said. "It was also felt this would improve the pace of play.”

Bristol Harbour Resort: The course

Certainly the two nines on the golf course at Bristol Harbour Resort are dramatically different.

The first five holes are pretty open and flat with few trees, large bunkers, native grasses and fickle winds. The main challenges come on fast, tricky greens that can be deadly if you land above the hole with many a downhill putt roaring by the target.

The first "a ha" hole comes on No. 6, a par 5 playing downhill to a reed-lined pond in front of the green. A u-shaped "fence" of grape vines frames the sides and back, while hole No. 7 tests you with a 506-yard uphill climb with a steep elevation change of 60 to 70 feet to a well bunkered green. The front nine returns to the clubhouse.

You hit gold on the tighter and tougher back nine as the course climbs and falls, snakes and crawls up and down hills carving through tall stands of pines. There are surprises, such as the water lurking behind hole 11, a par 3.

On 14, a dogleg-left par 4 and the top handicap hole, your second shot plunges steeply down 100 feet to a modest-sized green, while the fairway rolls to the left threatening to pull your ball into the dense trees.

On the 15th, a par 3, you need to carry two gullies to a tooth-shaped treacherous green, that, like several, are subtly undulating.

A member of the Finger Lakes Wine Trail, the Bristol Harbour course stays open until hard winter sets in, except during Thanksgiving Week. "We pull the flags the first week of deer season as a safety measure," Henry Savage, a pro shop assistant, said. Savage, whose home is on the 14th, said he has been a member of Bristol Harbour, a semi-private club, for 30 years.

Asked about his favorite holes Savage said, "The 14th hole is a beauty and our signature hole, while the 16th is deceptively hard, a down-and-uphill dog-leg right with three bunkers to catch left-straying drives."

Bristol Harbour: The resort

Guests are accommodated in an Adirondack-style lodge where rooms feature fireplaces, balconies or patios overlooking the lake, and heated bathroom floors.

New cottages are ideal for groups with two bedrooms, a kitchen, living room with a sleeper sofa and patio on the upper and lower levels.

"We have a large group of golfers that come down from Canada each year," said Mulhern. "The cottages work great for them."

Additional lodging is available in mid-rise condominiums, town homes, and patio homes lying close to the water's edge and along fairways.

Bristol Harbour Resort has a marina, private beach, pool, restaurant, bar, whirlpool, fire pit, tennis courts, driving range and spacious, outdoor patio that reaches out over the gardens and lawns to views of the lake. A lovely arch is often used for marriage ceremonies, and Life Path Spa offers a variety of services and treatments from massages to facials and fitness classes.

A series of golf schools and clinics are offered under the direction of Greg Mulhern including a Short Game school, Three Day Golf School, Parent Child Camp, Junior Golf Camp and others.

Off-course fun for all

One of the big things to do here is to visit some of the vineyards on the wine trails that ring the lakes.

There is also Canandaigua at the north end of the lake with its historic Granger Homestead and Carriage Museum, Ganondagan Historic Site, the site of a 17th-century Seneca village, the magnificent Sonnenberg Gardens and the New York Wine and Culinary Center where you can sample wines and beers from all over the state and enjoy a meal.

Bristol Harbour Resort: The verdict

Bristol Harbour is the course to play to fully appreciate the beauty of the region. And it's the place to stay if you're looking for a full-service resort experience where you can play a round of golf, get a massage, visit some wineries, then relax on the patio sipping a glass of chardonnay while boats glide gracefully across the water below.

And here's a suggestion: Play the back nine first while your focus is the keenest.

Katharine DysonKatharine Dyson, Special Contributor

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.


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