Fat Guy's Buffalo NY / Niagara Falls ON Golf Weekend
Thundering Waters GC, with Niagara Falls in the background
Fat Guy Research:
Why Buffalo For A Golf Weekend?: If you're an East Coaster who does an annual buddy trip or two, you've been to Myrtle at least a half dozen times now, you've done the Pinehurst thing, Florida's too far to drive for a 4-day weekend, you can't spare enough time away from work or the family to do the RTJ Trail, you probably can't afford the flight or the golf package rates at Bandon or Kohler or Kiawah or Greenbrier or Pebble, your wife would say NFW to Vegas without her, and Phoenix is too pricey and too damn hot. And you call yourself a man, yet you still haven't sampled a genuine, bona-fide original Buffalo wing from the Anchor Bar in Buffalo?! The wings are reason enough to come, the golf around nearby Niagara Falls is surprisingly good, and the Niagara gentlemen's clubs put Myrtle's to shame. Need I say more? If it weren't for scratching your shoulder-season golf itches in warmer climates or course collecting Golf Magazine's Top 100 You Can Play, taken on the whole Buffalo might actually be better suited as a driveable, more affordable boy's weekend destination than any of those named above. Next-to-no-rules at the go-go bars across the river, the best wings on the planet, one of the 7 Wonders Of The World, and some great golf on top of it all? What's not to love? Or, you might even be able to parlay this into a "family" weekend, checking off the obligatory visit to Niagara Falls with the kids while you manage to sneak off for a couple early morning rounds.
When To Go: Obviously Buffalo sees lake effect snow earlier and later in the year than most places in the Northeast. So I'd recommend playing it safe by sticking to the period from May-September. The warmer months are markedly more tolerable here than say, the heat of South Carolina. Highs average in the mid-60's in May, 70's in June, July, and September, and a balmy 80 in August.
So this is the perfect spot for a late summer/early fall buddy trip: less heat, less crowds, less greens fee premiums. Labor Day weekend is probably the ideal time to visit, in order to catch both the annual Buffalo Wing Festival and maybe a Bills home game (although hotel room reservations would have to be made well in advance, the room premiums would be appropriately steep, and attending both would probably necessitate another couple days' vacation to also accommodate some golf). Or, this would be the perfect destination for a rowdy lower-budget bachelor party golf weekend.
Orientation: Buffalo seems to be about 7 hours from every major city in the Northeast, including Boston, NYC, Philly, and Baltimore, and it's only 3-1/2 hours from Pittsburgh. So it's a much easier drive than the 13-plus hours to Myrtle, which leaves more time for golf/partying/recovery. Once you're there, it's only about 30 minutes between downtown Buffalo and the Canadian side of the Falls.
Where To Play: Most of the good upscale area golf is located on the Canadian side. Thundering Waters ($90-$110) is a John Daly signature course that was named Niagara area Course of the Year three years running from '05-'07. Per Buffalo Golf Guide, Thundering Waters is located just 1500 yards from Niagara Falls. It requires precision off the tee and a delicate touch around the greens. 14 holes wind through a mature forest, while the remaining 4 are legit links style. The course features a picturesque layout with a risk-reward style, and combines the parkland tranquility of Augusta National with the heathland treachery of British Open golf. T&L Golf also recommends Legends On The Niagara's Battlefield course (~$100): "Unquestionably the best of Niagara Falls area golf. Built by the Ontario government to promote tourism, it's proven a tough rival for area public courses now pitted against a foe with bottomless pockets. These are a couple of the most perfectly manicured courses on earth. The Battlefield is a particular joy and a stern challenge, with otherwise uninterrupted swaths of green pockmarked by 110 flash-faced bunkers. Stretched across the site of the Battle of Chippawa, a draw between U.S. forces and the British during the War of 1812, the front 9 fills a virtually treeless stretch of open space, achored by a 19-acre lake and more than a few traps. The knees-a-knockin' 4th, a 449-yard par 4, looks to have more sand than fairway." Legend's sister Ussher's Creek course is "a more conventional experience, woodsy and traditional in appearance, and a whisper shorter than its partner. But its namesake creek meanders across more than half the holes, and the occasional calamitous hazard--say, the vast pit of sand in the middle of the 14th fairway--gives it plenty of personality."
Downshifting in price to the next tier, T&L Golf also likes the upscale, pretty holes at Royal Niagara GC ($60-$68, 866-769-2518), play the Iron Bridge/Old Canal combo. Then head for the oldest course in North America, 9-hole Niagara-on-the-Lake GC ($24, 905-468-3424), circa 1881, claiming both a redbrick fort and one of the Great Lakes as hazards. Also try Hunters Point GC ($38-$60, 877-714-4659) for howling winds and frequent nods to the best of old world courses. Wrap it up at Whirlpool GC ($58-$67. 905-356-1140, niagaraparksgolf.com/whirlpool). T&L Golf says "A classic design by Stanley Thompson, this was Niagara Falls' first championship-caliber public course. A great value, Whirlpool is often very busy, so book early." T&L also digs Loch Ness Links ($59-$68. 905-346-2664, lochnesslinks.com). A links-style course esigned by Graham Cooke, this gem has long attracted Americans crossing the border for some great value-priced golf.
Where To Eat Buffalo Wings: Half the reason to come here for a golf weekend is to make the pilgrammage to Buffalo's Anchor Bar (1047 Main St, 716-853-1791, www.buffalowings.com), home of the original Buffalo wing. Among varying Anchor Bar legends, my favorite version has it that back in 1964, the owner's wife Theresa Bellissimo was trying out different preparations as a way to move an accidental over-order of chicken wings when the idea for the spicy sauce hit her. (The official story on their website says she had a moment of inspiration while making a snack for her son's hungry friends.) Her fried concoction quickly became a local favorite (it probably didn't hurt that Buffalonians can use a "winter layer" more than most) before eventually becoming the nationally-revered bar food, gameday essential, and $400 million food category known as the Buffalo wing. While locals view Anchor Bar as "tourist wings", and online reviews of Anchor Bar consistently complain of parking issues, rundown décor, and bad, slow service, you still gotta make one visit just to cross it off your bucket list. Take a bottle of their sauce home too.
If you only have time (or room in your cholestorol level) to hit one Buffalo wing spot, Southwest Airlines Spirit mag and a former Buffalonian friend of mine both agree that the area's best wings are served just outside the city limits at the 60-year-old Duff's (3651 Sheridan Dr, 716-834-6234, http://www.duffsfamouswings.ca/home.html). Duff's also won 2008 Best Of Buffalo wings in local Buffalo weekly Artvoice.
More off the beaten path, locals dig the wings at La Nova, Gabriel's Gate, Buffalo Brew Pub, and Bar Bill. The Bear from the Downingtown Football website recommends P.J. Bottoms over Anchor Bar, "beats the original, hands down."
Journalist Matt Reynolds (an upstate NY native) took a thorough approach when an idea at a party turned into the documentary film, The Great Chicken Wing Hunt. With a rag-tag group of wing enthusiasts, Reynolds toured New York, parts of Canada, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Slovakia and Poland in search of the best wings. The journey culminated in a stop at the National Buffalo Wing Festival in Buffalo. (As of Spring 2012, Reynolds was about $5 grand short of finishing the film and asking for donations. www.kickstarter.com/projects/1377919912/the-great-chicken-wing-hunt--a $40 donation gets you a digital copy of the film and Reynolds' Wing Festival-winning sauce recipe.)
To sample 'em all, attend the annual Buffalo Wing Festival, usually around Labor Day (www.buffalowing.com). Bring the pocket difibulator. Surprisingly, a good scouring of the internet revealed no such thing as a guided Buffalo wing tour in the city of it's origin.
The other Buffalo food specialty that most folks outside of Western New York state may not have heard of is a hearty sandwich called Beef On Weck (or Wyck). It's lightly marinated medium rare slices of roast beef, sometimes drenched in natural juices, that's stacked and served on a Kummelweck roll, which is a hearty German-type white sandwich roll that's topped with chunks of Kosher salt. Buffalo's best spots for Beef On Weck are Schwabl's, Eckels, Charlie The Butcher's, and Steve's Pig & Ox Roast. Guy Fieri on Diners, Drive-Ins & Dives digs The Buckhorn for Beef on Wyck. Some wing joints, such as Brennan's Bowery Bar and Duff's, also serve this Buffalo specialty, although they're slightly less tasty than the aforementioned spots.
Travel Channel digs Buffalo's Ted's Hotdogs as a break from the wingfest, with some of the best 'dogs in the country.
Upscale Grub, Niagara Falls (Canadian side): T&L Golf likes the alfresco dining at Eficurean (Niagara-on-the-Lake, 905-468-3408), featuring a wide selection of sandwiches at lunch and a mouth-watering slab of Black Angus at dinner. Also, many of the larger local wineries offer fine restaurants as well as tastings and tours. Try Cave Spring Cellars (905-562-3581), Hildebrand Estates Winery (905-468-3201), and Peninsula Ridge Estates Winery (905-563-0900) for high-end drinking and dining.
Best Bar Nearby, Niagara Falls (Canadian side): Of course, the other half of the reason to do a golf weekend here is Niagara's gentlemen's clubs, which are easily among North America's best. From stories I've heard, due to looser Canadian laws, describing most area clubs as "full contact" would be an understatement. So stock up on singles before you go. Head for Gentlmen's club central, Lundy Street. The Sundowner was highly recommended in a sportswriter's blog I stumbled across ("I'm still recovering from the night I spent there,"), plus it was ranked as the #9 club in North America by readers reviews on The Ultimate Strip Club List, and the online feedback always references plentiful top-shelf talent and mind-blowing couch dances. The popular nearby Seductions International also gets good reviews. For less crowded environs, the upscale Penthouse Club (also on Lundy) serves as something of a worthwhile overflow club for Sundowner and Seductions, particularly on weekends. Mint's also got high rankings from reader reviews at TUSCL. Private Eyes once got fined for "crossing the line" (I'm assuming it's still in business?!). Or hit the Doll House.
If you're trying to stay out of trouble, T&L Golf likes the Olde Angel Inn (905-468-3411), a low-ceilinged pub opened in 1816. The steaming steak-and-kidney pie, washed down with a pint of Angel Inn Lager, makes for a blissful end to a golfing day. Or hit standby Hard Rock Café, conveniently located in downtown and connected to the Casino Niagara, this rock-and-roll-themed restaurant remains a lure for tourists and locals alike. 905-356-7625, www.hardrock.com. $$
Best Bar Nearby, Buffalo: Chippewa Street is home of some great bars, clubs, and restaurants.
Buffalo weekly Artvoice named these joints as 2008's Best Of Buffalo:
Best Bathroom Graffiti: Old Pink, Best Beer Selection: Pearl Street, Best Bowling Alley: Voelker’s, Best Cocktails: Chocolate Bar, Best Dance Club: Level, Best Dive Bar: Old Pink, Best Bartender, Female: Jenn Parker @ Club Diablo, Best Bartender, Male: Jimmy @ Cathode Ray, Best Happy Hour: Soho, Best Jukebox: Essex Street Pub, Best Karaoke: Roxy’s, Best Live Music: Mohawk Place, Best Neighborhood Pub: Allen Street Hardware, Best New Bar: Bayou, Best Place to Shoot Pool: Pearl Street, Best Place to Throw Darts: Macaroons, Best Place to Watch a Game: Pearl Street, Best Upscale Bar: Stillwater, Best Wine List: Bacchus
Where To Crash: T&L Golf recommends the Radisson Hotel & Suites Fallsview. With a spectacular view overlooking the Horseshoe Falls, the Radisson is centrally located, providing easy access to all of Niagara Falls' key attractions while remaining affordable. $116-$224 per night. 905-356-1944, radisson.com.
Further Diversions: Experience the Falls the delightfully soggy, old-fashioned way on the Maid Of The Mist riverboat (www.maidofthemist.com), or via a helicopter tour (www.niagarahelicopters.com). After you've finished your round and enjoyed a meal, take a walk to the Fallsview Casino, a huge draw for the region since it first opened in its permanent location in 2004. Open twenty-four hours for those who want to sneak in a hand of blackjack before their morning round. 888-325-5788, fallsviewcasinoresort.com. If you're lucky enough to be in Buffalo in September, combine your golf weekend with a Bills game at Ralph Wilson Stadium (see the ESPN.com Bills travel guide at: http://sports.espn.go.com/travel/stadium/index?stadium=nfl_2837).
[Fat Guy Note: I have not taken this trip or explored any of these courses/locations. As always, proper research and reservations are required. I'm just the idea guy on this one.]