There is something magical about arriving at the Mount Washington Hotel in Bretton Woods, N.H. The white edifice beckons from a distance, its grand 900-foot wraparound veranda and majestic red spires evoking memories of an era of opulence and simplicity. The anticipation builds as you drive down the winding, twisting one-mile entrance, the hotel coming closer and clearer into view, set against the Presidential Range of the White Mountains.
There isn’t a bad time to be here. In winter, there is skiing. In fall, there is stunning foliage. In spring and summer, there is golf, hiking and swimming. Whatever the season, the setting is dazzling.
I journeyed north mainly for the golf, and to savor the experience of settling into a rocker or wicker chair on that expansive porch with a cigar and a glass of port. People don’t often think of golf when visiting the hotel, which is a mistake. The recently renovated Mount Washington course is a visual masterpiece, featuring stunning views, dramatic holes and a classic layout. The nearby nine-hole Mount Pleasant course, opened in 1895 and restored in 1989, provides an ideal warm-up to the championship layout.
The Mount Washington course was originally designed by legendary Scottish architect Donald Ross in 1915, and among its earliest visitors were Thomas Edison, Babe Ruth and Bobby Jones. But it fell into disrepair along with the hotel in the 1980s and was actually closed for two years while being restored by Brian Silva, who based his work on Ross’s original design plans. It reopened in the spring of 2009 to rave reviews. Golfweek magazine voted it “Best Course You Can Play in New Hampshire” for three straight years. It has since hosted four New Hampshire State Opens and the New England Open Championship.
It’s worthy of all the praise. At 7,004 yards and playing to a par-72, the course takes golfers on a roller-coaster ride of elevation changes, demanding a wide variety of recovery shots from bunkers and closely cropped areas around the greens. Silva has called it “mountain golf at its best.”
Fairway bunkers were unearthed and restored, including a signature Ross “Principal’s Nose” bunker on the fourth hole. Trees were removed, enhancing the panoramic views, and the placement of tees and greens made use of the course’s natural rolls and swells.
It was all part of a $50 million investment intended to return the resort to its previous splendor. Among the more modern additions now is a spa, conference center and outdoor pool.
But a visit to the Mount Washington Hotel still feels like stepping back in time, from the moment you walk into the cavernous lobby with its 23-foot ceilings and proceed to the check-in desk - where old-fashioned mail slots are still used to hold messages for guests - to when you step into the cozy elevator that is hand-operated by a hotel employee. Opened in 1902, the hotel was registered as a National Landmark in 1978, most famously hosting the world’s financial leaders in 1944 at the Bretton Woods Monetary Conference, where the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund were established. Among the rich and famous who have slept there: presidents William Howard Taft, Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding and George H.W. Bush, as well as Winston Churchill, Alfred Hitchcock and Carl Sandburg. One can’t help but look around and wonder what it all must have been like all those years ago.