The late golf course architect Robin Nelson, known as “Mr. Hawaii” for his numerous design credits throughout the island chain, was clearly in a New York state of mind when he set about forging Ravenwood Golf Club from the rolling hills southeast of Rochester in 2002.
The course debuted in 2003 as Golf Digest’s “5th Best New Upscale Course,” sending a seismic shockwave through the Finger Lakes, a region previously featuring few nationally-ranked public golf venues.
Nelson was accustomed to crafting layouts from dramatic volcanic rock cliffsides overhanging azure Pacific Ocean waters, or amid lush tropical landscapes with palm tree-studded enclaves and tranquil lagoons. Central western New York presented a tame environment by comparison, but he attacked it with all the enthusiasm and fervor of his more exotic locales.
Ever the artisan, Nelson took it upon himself to create an unforgettable golf experience just outside the shadow of famed Oak Hill Country Club, the site of the 2023 PGA Championship. Golfers making the trek to the area next year to watch Justin Thomas defend his title would be well-served to build an extra day into their trip to play Ravenwood.
The tract of land, situated just off the New York State Thruway, is marked by gently rolling hills, native grasses and a smattering of wetlands. While trees frame the property, its interior is wide-open and wind-swept. Nelson took advantage of the setting to impart a links-link feel to his design that traditionalists will certainly appreciate.
The routing is masterful, and the way the holes tie together with the rhythmic ebb and flow play a large part in the course’s staying power in Golfweek’s “Best in State” rankings. Ravenwood landed at No. 10 in the magazine’s 2022 list, a formidable perch considering the breadth, depth and quality of the Empire State’s public course inventory.
Golf course architecture-speak aside, Ravenwood is fun and fair, simply put. The good times start on the opening hole, with its elevated tee box overlooking a freshly-mown fairway that leads to a slightly elevated green. Nelson sprinkles in several downhill tee shots, but he’s not afraid to make golfers negotiate a few uphillers, like the par-4 5th, which checks in as the No. 1 handicap hole.
Playing to 7,083 from the tips and a slope rating of 144, there’s plenty of length and difficulty here to challenge low, scratch and plus handicappers. The par-5 12th stretches to nearly 600 yards, making it a true three-shot hole for the vast majority of golfers (and reflected in its No. 2 handicap rating.) The front nine is a bit shorter than the back, but with the No. 1, 3 and 5 handicap holes, it’s equally challenging.
Off the course, every other aspect of Ravenwood is first-class. The practice range is among the best in the area, and the clubhouse and its 3,600-square-foot banquet space is a peaceful and welcoming refuge that’s hosted countless events and weddings. Most golfers opt for a burger, hotdog or sausage at the turn, and the food operation and quality has always been outstanding.
Most golfers are deploying some type of GPS-based wearable or high-end laser rangefinder these days. But Ravenwood’s Visage GPS-equipped carts make grabbing a quick yardage or pin placement a cinch. For have-clubs-will-travel players, the course offers golf packages with several local hotels.
For more information: www.ravenwoodgolfclub.com.