Saratoga, New York is probably best-known for two things: the Battle of Saratoga and The Saratoga Race Course in nearby Saratoga Springs. The Battle of Saratoga is often cited as the turning point for the United States during the American Revolutionary War.
The Saratoga Race Course, which opened in 1863, is the 3rd oldest racetrack in the U.S. The late-summer paradise for horse-racing enthusiasts is also considered to be the oldest operating sports venue in the country.
Well, now you can add a 3rd landmark to that illustrious list: Saratoga National Golf Club. The course was designed by Roger Rulewich (who oversaw the design of the seven-course Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail and was Trent Jones Sr.’s senior design associate for nearly 34 years) and opened in 2001 on – you guessed it – a former horse farm.
The upscale public course was an instant hit. Golf Digest immediately gave it four and-a-half out of five stars and named it one of “America’s 100 Greatest Public Golf Courses” while Golfweek called it the 3rd best course in the Empire State. As recently as September, Saratoga National was ranked 8th in the state by Golf.com on its list of the “Top 100 Courses You Can Play” for 2016/2017.
Saratoga National plays 7,241 yards from the Professional Tees to a Par of 72, a course rating of 75.3, and a slope of 144. There are five sets of tees each featuring different colored, horseshoe-shaped markers as a tribute to Saratoga’s horse racing heritage. Here are some of the highlights of the round:
Holes Worth Writing Home About
The Par 4 1st hole is a beast. It’s not overly long at 416 yards, but the bright white sand bunkers and tall fescue grass rough on the left and the marsh and marsh grass on the right really pinch the fairway making for a difficult opening tee shot.
If you happen hit your ball into that fescue, you might as well tee up another. You’re not going to find it. In fact, it’s likely that you’ll feel your ball under your feet before you see it. You’d think it would just sit right there on the top of the fescue, but no! It buries. One thing I wish I’d known about before I played: there are video flyovers of each hole, set to music, on the course web site.
The best and hardest hole on the back nine has to be the 590-yard Par 5 13th. Saratoga National’s signature hole is the No. 1 handicap hole on the golf course, and it’s a three-shot hole because of all the water. Water dissects the fairway in two spots, first off the tee and then into another fairway just short of the green on your second shot.
Then you’re forced to fire an approach shot into a peninsula green. The green is held in place by giant granite boulders that are commonplace in the area. This hole is no joke and is not to be taken lightly. Think I’m joking? Take another look at the featured image at the beginning of this article.
The two nines at Saratoga National are very different from one another. The front nine plays back into the woods, while the back nine showcases much of the water and the wetlands throughout the property. It’s also more out in the open, which means it’s more exposed to the elements, namely the wind. On both sides, you’re also going to see plenty of fescue rough, nice white sand bunkers, and tons of forced carries. Prepare to lose some golf balls out here the first time you play it. After that, you’ll know where you can and cannot hit it.
A few weeks ago, while listening to my favorite sports podcast, The Herd With Colin Cowherd, Colin was getting ready to interview legendary Hall of Fame and Super Bowl-winning football coach Bill Parcells. Parcells lives in the Saratoga Springs area, and as a matter of fact, Parcells’ colt, Hit It Once More, won the Albany Stakes at Saratoga back in August.
Shortly after being introduced, Bill said, “Well Colin, we got umbrella blue skies and white puffy clouds up here in Saratoga, and there’s a tint of color on the trees that I’m hitting golf balls out on the range.” The range to which he was referring? The range out at Saratoga National! Parcells frequents the place. And why not? All the range balls are all Pro V1 Practice range balls – in my opinion, the best practice balls you can hit.
Saratoga National has an award-winning golf shop. It was named an Association of Golf Merchandisers (AGM) Platinum Award Recipient in 2015. I’ve been a member of the Phoenix-based AGM dating back to my days as a Golf Academy of America student, and in a previous life, AGM was actually a client of mine back when I worked for an IT services company called The Fruth Group.
Saratoga National has bentgrass greens, which were running close to a 12 on the Stimp on the day we played because of a PGA event it hosted the week before. It had been a full month since they last verticut, and you couldn’t even tell. The starter told us not to expect a ton of break and that the break we would see would be really obvious. He was right.
He also told us that all of the Par 3s seem to play a club or two longer than they actually look. He was right again! Word on the street is that the tall grass in the marshes are an optical illusion that make the holes look longer or shorter than they actually are.
One scathing review of the course described the greens in less than glowing terms. It read, “Saratoga National has greens larger than the fields many kids grow up playing touch football on. They are the biggest greens in the area by far.” The course aerates its greens one last time before it closes down for the winter months beginning November 6th. The course is then closed until around April 15th.
One thing you’ll notice about Saratoga National is that there are no hole signs, just hole numbers and yardages stamped onto flat metal plates on each tee box. The reason that’s the case is because management thought hole markers would look ugly.
Rates vary depending on the season when you play. There are way too many combinations and times to mention here, but you’ll want to click on the above link to verify what you’ll be paying before you go. It’s a high-end public course, and that means its also expensive – the most expensive course in the area.
There are also caddies, forecaddies, and club rentals available. An hourly pass to use the practice facility (driving range, putting green, and short-game area) is $25. A daily pass will set you back $50. The daily pass is worth it if only to practice with all those Pro V1s.
There weren’t a lot of great shots in our foursome, but one shot I was particularly proud of came at the Par 4 8th. I hit my drive on the 422-yard hole into the thick bluegrass rough left, and it looked like I was going to have my work cut out for me. I had just 132 yards in, and to give you an idea of just how thick it was, had to rare back on an 8-iron just to get the ball out and up onto the putting surface. When it found it’s mark, I was a happy man! Stay out of the rough if you can. It’s heavy, and it’s brutal.
While We’re Young
Saratoga National asks that you play the front nine in two hours and ten minutes and that you come home in a total of four hours and 20 minutes. The on-cart GPS keeps track of the time for you, and there’s also a marshal patrolling the course to nudge you along in case you start to fall off the pace. We teed it up at around 9:46a and finished around 2:15p, about ten minutes later than our goal. Not too bad on a tough course we were seeing for the very first time.