The Catskills

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Welcome to the land of Rip Van Winkle. Cross his bridge over the Hudson River and gasp at the view of the Catskill Mountains. This is the Borscht Belt, the Jewish Alp and the backdrop for the movie Dirty Dancing.  Crowds flock in during the summer for HITS (Horse Shows in The Sun) in Saugerties, New York where the expanded Lazy Swan Golf & Country Club Village reopened this April. Barry Jordan, described as a young tinkerer redesigned his own big hit here with nine new holes complementing the original nine by Donald Ross. On Old Kings Highway, minutes from the thruway, this recycled farm land is hilly. The Swan that careens the ponds may be lazy, but golfers may not be, especially on 14, a dogleg 90 degrees right and steep uphill to a large severely sloping green that tilts away from you. If not bitten by number 14, watch out for the deceptive 16 par 3 and the closing par 5 on 18. Trees guard the left side with a lake mirroring the fairway on the right. Reaching in two for long hitters requires a big draw to avoid the water. The second shot must carry over another lake lusting for errant balls. After play head to the Raw Bar with open air seating upstairs and down. It is a natural extension of the course. The oysters are fresh and the slaw has a kick with sirache, a pepper based paste. Open air seating at the square shaped bar views the fountains, lakes and Catskills. The rooftop cabana engages private or public entertainment in an intimate setting. The village part of this complex beckons bridal and all parties. Giant crystal chandeliers sparkle in multi color fashion in a rotunda style ballroom with a French door and 360 degree views of fairways and fountains. An expansive bar and floral arrangements customize the perfect atmosphere for any occasion. This is where the Hudson Valley Voice competition (think American Idol)   is held. Completing the village is the Vivo Italian restaurant, Sweet Shop and Pilate’s club to work it off.

Head on to route 212, then 28 passing through Woodstock where some people appear to have never left the famous rock concert in the 60’s. It’s a wild world on this curvy highway through dense forest passing an art school, galleries, plant nurseries, chamber orchestra, playhouse, Copperhood Spa Retreat, and campgrounds like Sleepy Hollow, streams under bridges before the majestic University of Delhi appears. Why Delhi? Golf for one, cat2as the College Golf Course serves as the laboratory for golf course management students from the university. Hole number one starts out with a bridge over troubled water. Actually the water is fine; it’s the golfer that can be in trouble if their approach shot doesn’t cross. The path to number 2 through the woods by the gurgling stream is the entry to golf nirvana and uninterrupted nature. On number 6 a sweet settee of bench, chairs, flowers and memorial plaque pay tribute to the golfing gals who have passed, right beside the ladies tees. Head pro Dave Arehart and the students are doing a great job.

History stands tall in the architecture of the downtown plaza where a Farmers’ Market feeds the community on Wednesdays. The Fisk House, once serving as a stagecoach inn was restored after a fire with comfy antique appointments, imported linens, a modern heated swimming pool and all conveniences. Owner and operator Roxanne Liddle chats about life and the area, while making a yummy breakfast. It truly feels like a home away from home. Check out the checkered pattern stain on gorgeous hardwood flooring that was painstakingly designed by the Liddles. The nearby Andes Hotel restaurant is the place for dinner and drinks. Portions are huge, ingredients fresh and flavors rich and like all area restaurants, there is no wait list. Make day trips to Cooperstown for museums like the Baseball Hall of Fame, Albany for the shopaholics, back to Woodstock or just take stock of the local nature.  Hike and Bike, Rail and Trail in God’s country where friends and family leave Time Square for fresh air, unplugging from technology to bond with nature and one another. Choose your speed with a road bike around the reservoir, mountain bike or gravity racing down the ski hill at www.plattekill.com. The only rush hour here is when a tractor slows traffic.

For a different scene, check into Villa Roma in nearby Calicoon. This is as close to an Italian resort as you can get in America. Villa Roma caters to all ages with venues such as tennis, racquetball, bowling, basketball, bumper boats, Water Park, horseback riding and golf. Adult Jacuzzis and oyster fish bar compliment the experience. Villa Roma Golf Club sits atop a hill overlooking the diverse elevation changes of tree lined fairways with lots of streams and ponds and a magnificent fountain in front of the practice green and clubhouse. Across the road from the first green, Alpacas prance on their hillside in a rainbow of sweater yarn hues.

For a refreshing kayak trip down the Delaware, north of George Washington’s crossing, call Lander’s. Starting at Skinners Falls, paddle or float 5 miles or 10, your choice, at the same price. New York is on cat3the left and Pennsylvania on the right as you row. It’s “Deliverance” views without the drama – see eagles, deer, and the fish are jumping. All the activities work up an appetite which is satiated at Villa Roma’s traditional dining hall. Don’t miss Ceasar’s night for the cheesiest fun where a posed pig takes center stage on the banquet table. All the attendants and hotel bigwigs dress up in Roman garb, welcoming patrons with applause and song, special lyrics and napkin waving. Three or four generations gather in the open dining room to break bread, share the wine and feast. Six appetizers are served family style before the salad and choice of two entrees, then huge plates of assorted desert. A special treat of sheep’s head is offered on a plate for any takers. We skipped the “When in Rome” practice here but there were many of the older generation who thrilled at the chance and took pride in handing back a clean skull. This started a conversation with the couple at the adjacent table who like many others come to Villa Roma every year. Of Italian decent, they expressed distaste for sheep but a fondness for pig, including the pickled feet. They “always add the knuckles to their sauce and pigskin to their Faggioli.” They like to shuttle in to Monticello for the day to bet on the “ponies” at the track or tempt fate in the casino. In addition to the large contingency of Italians, many Jewish families retreat here. Some moments feel like vacationing with the parents of Seinfeld and   friends. Contrasting and complementing are the golf groups sharing their lies and shots, toasting the day on the links. Villa Roma is like a cruise on land or Club Med without the circus, an excellent spot to stay and experience the surrounding golf. Minutes away the Tarry Brae course is a golf manicured meadow atop a mountain in the woods. Number 6 is an extraordinary lake hole. On the right side of the 15th fairway an Ashram water feature and possible Om chants create a good golf tempo. Celebrities flew in on helicopters to find inner peace until the tax laws imposed their inhibitions. Nearby, The Monster Golf Course at The Concord has a long history with 4 major championship holders as head pros including Jimmy Demaret as the first. The Monster is actually incredibly beautiful, aside from the bumpy cart paths. The nostalgia is so thick, you can breathe it in. Bob Hope, Bing Crosby and Sinatra played here, for audiences and for skins. Gene Sarazen hated it but said to not change a thing. Long and unforgiving with length as its defense, it is still one of Chi Chi Rodriguez’ favorites. Current pro Mike has a Katrina survivor dog, inherited from his son who is competing in the Gateway tour. He reflects on the history and future which is up in the air. Will the Monticello race track and casino move here? Will they construct the resort, restore the other course? Entertainment Properties have committed their dollars to the tune of $150m so far; plans are under way. We’ll stay tuned. Meanwhile, Catskill region visitors enjoy active recreation and a wonderment of nature throughout the land. You’ve been here surreptitiously in the movies or dreams or actually in your childhood. Come back to the Catskills for peace on earth and leave your phones behind. See www.visitthecatskills.com.

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