Franklin County, New York. Not exactly the hub of the world golf scene. But, as I learned long ago in visiting golf clubs and destinations – never pre-judge. Every, and I mean every locale always seems to offer up a pleasant surprise of some kind.
Dating back more than 200 years, Malone is the county seat with some 15,000 residents. Located just minutes from the Quebec border and less than an hour to Ontario, during War of 1812 the village was a popular victim for British Troops coming from north of the border.
People still stream in from there, but now they do it with golf clubs in tow.
While Malone has been afflicted by downturns in various business segments through the years, it continues to thrive. A big part of that is due to a strong stream of tourists, and golf is one of the major attractions.
The Malone Golf Club, now home to 36 holes, was first established in 1903. Most of those who first partook in the club’s delights were locals, but that was soon to change. And continue, to this day.
This area of New York, the Adirondacks, has everything going for it when it comes to natural surroundings. Fresh air, long expanses of forest, wildlife, and as many quiet moments as you can handle. It is an outdoor paradise – be it in Malone, Lake Placid, Saranac Lake or the many other small communities that dot this landscape. It’s worth a visit, even if golf is not on your agenda.
The town of Malone New York might not be up yet but I am. Rising early with one of the first tee times of the day, at the Holiday Inn Express I am soon joined in the breakfast area by an innumerable amount of like-minded people. We are all here in this northern New York State town for one purpose, golf.
Golf came to this part of Franklin County when Canadian Albert Murray laid out a course for the town. In the late 1930’s what followed were upgrades by Donald Ross.
Quaint as the course was, it served the community well. But things really kicked off in 1987 when the club added the handiwork of Robert Trent Jones and expanded to 36 holes. A golf destination was born.
Back at the hotel, the license plates deceive you into thinking you are north, not south of the border. Ontario and Quebec tags dominate. It might be a cool weekend in late Spring but more than 50 guests at my hotel alone are here with eyes on one thing – unlimited golf.
It’s been 114 years since their countryman brought golf to Malone, and the Canadians keep coming.For good reason. The golf is great and the golf packages are value-packed.
On my first foray to the club, the staff could not have been friendlier, or accommodating. Arriving at 6:30, well before my tee time, apprentice professional Brian Fairchild gave me the nod and sent me on my way to a solo journey. “Have fun out there; you’ll enjoy the East course.” When I ask about highlights he adds, “holes five and six on the front for sure, and there some good elevation in the holes on the back nine. Some good views.”
He was correct, on all accounts.
With so many hands in the design, I expected a hybrid type course when it came to looks. And it is. The common thread is a favorable landscape marked by mature forest, elevation, and hints of water.
And the greens, yes, the greens. Most notable. I joked with the staff after completing my tour that the membership must be well-divided into those that love and those that hate putting. The greens are not only slick but sloped enough to give you pause over even the most menial of tests. Controlling where you miss the approach shot is nearly important as hitting it well.
To my relief, generally there is a wide corridor provided for most tee shots.
Throughout the East course there are notable elevation changes and the holes have been fitted to make great use of them. You will find holes that dive into valleys, move along ridges, and even play from elevated tees to equally raised greens. It keeps your interest. Always a big draw for me and, seemingly, the many other golfers who talk glowingly about the place.
Round one of my visit only made me more eager to return to the Malone Golf Club to challenge the West Course.
As I had done the day before, I arrived early. Just for the peaceful drive alone.
Setting out alone on the West Course I found a more modern design but one equally compelling as its sister layout. It’s not a complicated design but makes great use of the landscape, reaching a crescendo over the last few holes where shot-making becomes increasingly important.
By the time I left the final green, I was smiling. That’s a good sign. The golf had been pleasing but even more so had been the unexpected moments throughout the weekend.
The night previous I sat with Donovan Rayome, proprietor of Donovan’s, a local steakhouse. “Malone. It’s a special place,” he tells me as I eye my Striploin and Mac & Cheese that would prove to be tasty as any I have found in the great steakhouse of the world.
A similar chat took place with Carrie Marshall Boulais, owner of a local institution – Bokie’s Drive In. Her pink palace, which started as an ice cream stand in 1956, serves up handmade ice cream delights and freshly made food at an impressive pace. So much so that she has more than 35 staff to help through the busy summer days.
People drive hours to visit both establishments and you can see why. Their heartfelt intentions carry though into their food and the way every customer is treated.
That in essence, is the story of Malone and the surrounding Adirondack Region. It’s full of surprises at an unexpected level, all delivered in an authentic way.
The town’s people may have resisted those early interlopers but today, 200 years later, all, especially those carrying golf clubs, could not be more welcome.