The Falls still roar, shoot mist into the air and leave first-time visitors in awe, but the Niagara landscape has changed over the last decade. High-end casinos and new championship golf courses have sprung up adding to the allure of this vacation destination. Alive and buzzing with activity, this region offers a rainbow of activities to fill your platter day and night.
Some say that the Greater Niagara Region is the new hotspot for affordable golf. Canadian parents and their junior golfers zip across the border taking advantage of the lower cost to play championship tracks. If you’re traveling from afar and can’t wait to play golf, a three minute ride from the Buffalo/Niagara airport will put you on the first tee at Diamond Hawk, an urban track in Cheektowaga. This Hurdzan-Fry design, which opened in 2006, is routed around and over a series of wetlands. Surrounded by trees and environmentally protected areas you may think you’re in the country, until you see that distracting reminder overhead (“the plane, the plane”).This relatively flat track offers few heroic carries over wetlands or deep declivities that will swallow up your ball. It is a thinking-players course that demands determining the angle of play through seemingly straight narrow fairways to avoid strategically placed, fescue lined bunker complexes and lateral hazards that will falter your play. Don’t think you’re home-free when you reach the green, because now you face the challenge of reading the subtle breaks on the large, undulating green complexes. Diamond Hawk’s practice facility features a double-ended practice range, chipping/putting greens and practice bunkers. However, the best feature is their elaborate clubhouse that houses a pro-shop, upscale dining facility with enormous bar that welcomes anyone in search of a libation or succulent treat. Indulge in their great hot/cold lunch buffet for just $10. Diamond Hawk, an 18-hole championship course offers country club amenities at a daily-fee course… seasonal rates with cart range from $25-$59. www.diamondhawkgolf.com
Play Western New York’s newest resort course! Seneca Hickory Stick Golf Course, owned by the Seneca Nation of Indians, opened for play July 2, 2010. Located minutes from Niagara Falls in Lewiston, NY, this par-72 championship design by Robert Trent Jones II, weaves its way through some of the finest topography for golf in the region. The expansive layout is highlighted by five tranquil lakes and marshes containing tall native grasses and plants that are surrounded by mature trees, among them the rare Shellbark Hickory trees that the course was named for. Hickory Stick has several key design features that make it unique, memorable, fun to play, yet challenging. First to notice are the strategically placed bunkers surrounded by Scottish looking heather grass. Lying gracefully like the thick fur framing a lion’s face, it fiercely traps your ball and you’ll wish you had landed in the sand instead. Other memorable features include the sixth hole’s split fairway, an over-sized shared fairway between the first and ninth holes and a massive double-green shared by holes nine and eighteen. Bent grass from tees to greens makes for superb playing conditions. Given the many water features, most are lateral hazards and there are few carries over water or environmentally protected areas. Challenging yet player friendly, the course starts out with wide open fairways on the front nine, progressing to a tighter, longer, tougher back nine. Their driving range and oversized putting green with grass and sand chipping areas will provide you with ample practice before play. Seneca’s Hickory Stick Golf Course claim to offer the best golf packages in the Niagara region. Seasonal rates for 18 holes with cart range from $45-$85; Stay & Play Packages with the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel are available. www.senecahickorystick.com
Zip over the Rainbow Bridge into Niagara Falls, Canada to sample some of Niagara Golf Trail’s top public courses – Grand Niagara, Thundering Waters, Legends on the Niagara, Royal Niagara, Beechwood and Whirlpool. Expect to pay more to play these tracks, as carts and taxes are added to advertised fees. Stay & Play Packages are available with prestigious hotels, inns and resorts in the Niagara Falls area and many packages include golf with other attractions. www.niagaragolftrail.com
You won’t be disappointed if you choose to tee it up at the Rees Jones course at Grand Niagara – one of the finest new golf courses in Canada. Grand Niagara plays along the Welland River and offers a glimpse of the mist from Niagara Falls. A mix of parkland and links-style holes, this course is wonderfully conditioned and embodies variety and playability for golfers of all abilities. Ranging from 5,737 to 7,425 yards, the course opens with wide, forgiving opening holes and gets progressively more challenging as the round unfolds. The gently rolling, tree-lined fairways offer a variety of risk-reward options presented by the numerous, strategically placed sparkling ponds and myriad of expansive, clustered, heather-lined bunkers. The gently sloping, contoured greens, many of which are two-tiered, roll true and are golfer friendly. Grand Niagara is a visually stunning, enjoyable track. Seasonal rates range from $65-$110 with cart. www.grandniagararesort.com
Don’t leave NY without exploring the world famous Finger Lakes region and play the “Fabulous Finger Lakes Foursome”…the four best public courses in the Rochester area; Greystone, Ravenwood, Mill Creek and Bristol Harbour. Consider the “Fabulous Finger Lakes Foursome” Special – play all four for $189; or check out their stay & play packages. www.fingerlakesgolftrail.com
Like a course that has abundant elevation changes? You’ll love playing Greystone Golf Club, which offers the quality and character of a private course. Their unique driving range offers uphill practice shots to ready you for the uphill shots you’ll encounter during play. Designed by Craig Schreiner, this 18 hole Scottish Links track boasts wide rolling fairways, Scottish-style grass mounding, tall native grasses, large, undulating green complexes and pot bunkers. Three holes have elevated tees featuring eighty foot drops to the fairway. Water hazards come into play on four holes, mostly on the back nine. A pond splits the eleventh fairway, demanding a 40-yard carry over water to the approaching green. Signature hole #18, a 429-yard, par 4, shares a massive double green with hole #9. It requires an approach shot that must carry a minimum of 100 yards over water to the green…a spectacular finish. Complete your round inside the beautiful colonial clubhouse at Stoney’s Pub, with its dark mahogany décor, stone fireplace and stunning view overlooking the shared, signature green. Rates range from $39-$59 with cart. www.234golf.com
There are numerous choices for accommodations in the Niagara region. Choose from the luxurious, more expensive casino hotels that offer all the amenities such as the Seneca Niagara Casino & Hotel or the Hilton Niagara Falls Fallsview where room rates range from $250 and up. Or consider one of the Stay & Play packages offered at partner hotels. The most economical plan is to play golf a-la-carte style and book accommodations at a local chain hotel or mom and pop inn like the Hospitality Inn in Williamsville, NY, where rates start as low as $49/nt.
Niagara Falls is a world-class destination with something for everyone. See the legendary force of nature from every angle. Feel the power of the falls inches away at the Caves of the Winds tour; explore the roar near the base during the Maid of the Mist boat ride; see life at sea level at the Niagara Aquarium. Hike through Niagara Gorge, brave Class-V rapids at 65 mph on a jet boat tour, kayak along the Erie Canal or snag a smallmouth bass. Tease your palate along the Niagara Wine Trail, gamble Vegas-style at area casinos, or eat your way through the authentic Italian restaurants and bakeries located on Pine Avenue in Niagara Falls, NY. Are you a music lover? Take in free summertime concerts “Thursday Night in the Square” in Buffalo. Music fills the air in Lewiston along the Niagara River, where a bevy of waterfront restaurants offer outdoor dining and live bands. Experience the carnival atmosphere on the Canadian side…ride the Niagara Skywheel, play the arcades, dine in the world famous revolving Skylon Tower. Test your luck at thoroughbred racing, take in historic Niagara-on-the-Lake. During your next golf getaway take in the wonder that is Niagara.WHAT'S YOUR REACTION?