Bristol Harbour Lodge & Golf Club - Canandaigua, NY
Updated: Aug 16
UPDATE: As of 1/1/2022, Bristol Harbour's owners have closed the golf course for good. We chose not to delete this post, because that's not what we're about. We played it. We enjoyed it. It's a part of The Golf Crusade!
#ItsBristolBaby! No, not THAT Bristol... we're talking Bristol Harbour Lodge & Golf Club. Tucked on the slopes of Canandaigua Lake about 30 miles south of Rochester, lies one of Upstate NY's prettiest properties - that just so happens to have a golf course so we could write about it!
The Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York is known for its prowess in the wine industry and natural beauty. Wineries dominate the landscape along the gentle slopes of the eleven long, thin lakes located in the 100-mile or so swath of land between Rochester and Syracuse.
The scenery - with or without the local vino - can put you into sensory overload. The wine business has grown so large that the FLX has become the second largest wine-producing region in the country (Napa). However, the golf in the region has been lacking high-end options for decades. There are some fun local courses you can play between the lakes (tracks like Seneca Falls CC, Trumansburg and Silver Creek come to mind), but there is a severe lack of anything more - public or private - that you'd expect to find in such a lush and diverse landscape.
This is one of the reasons Bristol Harbour has been the golfing jewel of the Finger Lakes since it was built in the early 1970s. So pop a cork, pour a glass and let's go for a ride!
Robert Trent Jones, Sr. laid out the front nine as a hilltop links while the backside plays through mature hardwoods and along the ridge of a gorge. It has been loved by many which has certainly helped it hold up over time. Their website says the front nine was restored to its links roots in 2017 (pictures are pre-restoration). That alone gives me a reason to go back.
While it's near the lake, you don't see the lake all that much. What you do see of it is at a distance, but fear not, scenic views are abundant from all points on property.
All really nice. Worth noting is that there are ski slopes just on the other side of the ridge at Bristol Mountain, so this place is truly a Four Seasons resort. Think that rules out coming here on a golf trip during the long Upstate winters? Maybe... Harbour also has an indoor simulator with two dozen world famous courses loaded into it.
It's also one of the only places in the region that offers a stay-n-play on property. You could make it a golf trip, but you're either playing all your rounds here or driving at least 20-30 minutes to get to another course, maybe more if you want to play one on par with it.
Think of the courses you have played that have had two very distinctly different nines. You probably like one side more than the other, right? In some cases, it's probably not even close. I don't know if I've ever played a course that is this evenly split in both how different they are and how much I like each side. They're both outstanding.
The front is wiiiiiiide-open. Again, that may have been tightened up with some fescue in the links restoration, so don't hate me if its more penal that it was on the last visit. There are some great driving holes mixed with some you might want to hang back and play the angles.
Or sometimes, you've got to Hulk Smash from the tee and place it well. No where is this more evident on the front than on the par five 4th hole.
While not overpowering at just over 500 yards, you've got a dogleg around 200, leaving a choice off the tee for the aggressive player. The bend can be cut, but the real choice is the approach. It's a ballsy shot if you go for it, as you can see with the twin bunkers and tight shoreline sandwiching the hourglass green.
Two holes later, you get another choice. This is a SHORT par five. Like 446 yards short.
But... ah, there's always a but...
...you don't even need a smashing drive from this elevated tee. Seriously - you can't. See the candy cane 150-stake down there? You have less than 300 to the water. If you can go 275, you should be looking at an eagle putt on this massively wide green. The reverse angle gives you an idea of the elevation change, distance to carry on your approach & green-side fortifications.
The outward closer plays parallel to the 18th. Both share the same hazards, to the right side outward and to the left inbound. Below you can see the view from behind the 9th green and from the approach on the 18th. Similar holes, yet not repetitive in any way.
I think this Jones guy might make a living out of this whole golf architect thing!?
The back nine is really fun. There is more variety in the styles of holes and they come at you single-file vs parkland style like the front. The 10th is the last of the quartet of par 5's and gives you your best view of the lake. After that...
It's time for a walk in the woods!
-Rabbit (Twister '96)
The three hole gauntlet you'll have to survive here is the par four 14th, the one shot 15th and the uphill par four 16th. They aren't the longest holes (though the par 3 tips out at 200+), but you probably won't use the same club twice (provided you played it in regulation).
The 14th is the signature hole, a short dogleg left with a sharp grade downward to a cliff-side green complex (side note: I just learned that BMAC hates it when people say 'green complex' so I'm going to use it as much as possible from now on). It plays shorter than the 394 listed yards due to the sharp drop at the bend. It's the second shot that you'll be remembering long after you leave. The bunkers actually help save the deep ball from death in the gorge. The view is matched only by its brilliant design.
After that, you're faced with a long, flat one-shotter. The green sits just over the edge of a deep gorge, so its all carry. The only thing crossing the ravine - other than hopefully your tee shot - is a unique double trussed arched bridge. It plays up as short as 121 yards from the reds. From the tips though? A cool 205 yards, but hey, no bunkers! #GoodLuck
The trifecta finisher gives you an uphill tee ball to a dogleg right, then another riser to the green. If you couldn't tell, it plays much longer than the 368 yards on the card - probably a club or two on each shot. The bend is right at a generous landing area, but angles play a key role in the approach. It's probably the second or third time around until you figure out where to land it off the tee, but the green is - you guessed it - protected by a deep swell of white sand and trees that could use a trimming - or a chainsaw.
When Robert Trent Jones' parents emigrated to the United States, they settled in East Rochester (about a 45 minute drive from Bristol Harbour). I would think that anytime someone - who travels, works and becomes as globally recognized for their craft as Mr. Jones had done - comes home later in life to create a work of art would have been both nostalgic and perhaps a little intimidating.
HRGC opened in 1972. Thirty-six years earlier, RTJ designed and built his first course right outside his old neighborhood (Midvale) with horse-drawn plows! I'm glad he came back and did this project when he did. While it wasn't built to host a major championship, the guy who holds the course record here has 18 them.
The owners have certainly kept up the course to its original standard. It'll top out around $65 on a weekend, but a weeknight twilight will only run you $35. If you're in the area and have your sticks - this is where you want to play.
COURSE RATING: 4 STARS
Last Played: 2013
GPS: 5410 Seneca Point Rd, Canandaigua, NY 14424
Note: Non-Cash facility. Cards accepted everywhere - beer cart included!