The Berkshires' Cranwell Blends the Old World with the New

By: John Torsiello

The coolest thing about the Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club is that the owners and operators have managed to seamlessly mesh a historic hotel and golf course with New Age amenities and creature comfort.

The 8th Hole at Cranwell

When you visit Cranwell, whether it's for the Wayne Styles and John Van Kleek-designed tract built in 1926, the state-of-the-art spa, an Old World dining experience at the resort's Wyndhurst House, hanging out in one of the tastefully decorated rooms or ambling about the scenic property, you are clearly away from the worries and cares of the modern world. You're transported back to a simpler, more genteel lifestyle, where clocks lose significance and the only thing that matters is making your tee or dinner times.

The Cranwell Resort, Spa and Golf Club in Lenox, Mass., is imbued with a sense of permanence, its history rich and deep. The hotel was built during the "Gilded Age" and welcomed wealthy industrialists and writers of the day. Frederick Law Olmstead, the man who created New York City's Central Park, was commissioned to design the grounds at what was then a mansion called Wyndhurst owned by the furniture baron John Sloane.

Cranwell's 18-hole course (well, actually 19 holes, but more on that later) is a picturesque, traditional New England resort course routed over the hills surrounding the facility and through mature woodlands. The layout features some great views of the arts-rich Berkshire Hills, which attract tourists and second-home owners throughout spring, summer and fall.

The course features tree-lined fairways and naturally contoured greens that have been carefully preserved over the more than 80 years since the course was built. In addition to being awarded a four-star Rating in Golf Digest's 2008-09 "Best Places to Play," the course also received the SpaFinder Reader's Choice Award "Best Spa for Golf" and "The Best of Northeast Golf" Reader's Choice Award.

Besides the course, there's an extensive golf practice facility on premises that includes a real nice short-game area and an indoor complex for use during inclement weather. The resort recently undertook considerable renovations to the course, which now has improved fairway conditions and restorations of the classic bunkering of Stiles and Van Kleek.

My wife and I visited Cranwell, with the trip arranged by the resort's friendly director of marketing, Norma Probst, an avid golfer who says she doesn't get to play enough and must sit in her office and gaze outside at the course that wraps around the resort.

My wife is not a golfer, so she headed to the room for some R&R and a glass of wine, while I trotted out to the first tee and hooked up with some other guests. As always, the atmosphere at Cranwell was relaxed and unhurried. After some first-tee banter we headed out for our round on a sunny day.

To say Cranwell is a quirky course would be an understatement. But it's quirky in a pleasant way, with the fairways flowing naturally over the land as was typical of most tracks built at the start of the 20th Century. It also has several short par-4s that play tougher than their scorecard yardage indicates.

The first three holes wander near a small clubhouse where head pro David Strawn keeps a careful watch over the proceedings. The tee box on the third hole, a little 152-yarder with a huge pine tree guarding the left side of the putting surface, is right by the resort's roadway, so you may have to hold your swing to allow cars pass by.

Cranwell Golfers with Mansion in Background

From the fourth hole on the course dips into woodlands and really takes on a character of its own. The fifth, a 233-yard par-3, is one of the most demanding short holes you'll find anywhere and the only hole here with water. Okay, I admit it, I hit driver on the hole because I didn't think I could get a 3-wood home. I still came up a bit short on the right side of the green - it's that long a carry.

The eighth is one of the neatest on the course. You tee off next to the resort hotel and can cut the distance on the 347-yard par-4 dramatically if you take the drive over trees hugging the left side. It's all downhill to a small green that's easy to miss if you don't concentrate on the pitch shot.

You had better score well on the front side because the inward nine is much more difficult, with several brutal par-4s and some very good par-3s on tap. The 11th is one of the course's signature holes, a 200-yard par-3 that plays through a chute of trees to a severely slopped green. Huge bunkers guard the putting surface. The 13th is a superb, dogleg par-4 that plays 426 yards from the tips. The drive is blind to a valley landing area, and then it's back uphill to the putting surface. I smoked a driver and still had a long-iron into the green.

The finishing hole is a feel-good, wide-open 393-yard par-4 that allows you to hit driver and follow up with a mid- or short-iron into the slightly elevated green. Then it's a bit of a drive, or walk, back to the clubhouse, which is fine because it allows you to take in the scenery and tally up your score.

And remember that 19th hole? The par-4 is situated near the eighth green and plays toward the clubhouse, allowing golfers who need to get back for dinner or a spa treatment to enjoy a nine-hole round.

The par-70 track measures just 6,204 yards from the tips. I would suggest playing the whites (5,979 yards) the first time around to get a feel for the course and then moving back for a bit more challenge, something you'll experience especially on the approach shots.

My wife and I later walked across the lawn to the Wyndhurst Dining Room, where I advise you will feel most comfortable wearing at least a sport coat and a good-looking pair of slacks. The room is attractive and rather small and, once again, lends a feeling of being back to a time where the enjoyment of food was one of the main pleasures of life, not something to be gotten through while keeping an eye on your wristwatch or sitting in front of a television.

We started with an Equinox Farm Mesclun salad, consisting of Belgian endive, European cucumbers, grape tomatoes and a sherry vinaigrette. Then I moved on a grilled flat iron steak with a merlot sauce, while my wife chose the roasted fresh salmon filet with mustard caper sauce. Delicious. You've got to try Cranwell's Famous Apple Tart for dessert. It's topped with vanilla ice cream and a caramel sauce.

The second night we hung out at Sloane's Tavern Bar by the clubhouse and had an equally good, albeit quite different, experience, downing cheeseburgers and a side order of fries along with more than a few beers. That's another nice aspect of Cranwell. You can highbrow it in the Wyndhurst or put on shorts and a T-shirt and relax with the golf bums down at the grille.

Make sure to spend ample time perusing the surrounding area, such as downtown Lennox with its chic shops, a nearby outlet mall in Lee, and Stockbridge, the town that illustrator Norman Rockwell brought to life each week for decades on the covers of The Saturday Evening Post. The Norman Rockwell Museum, located a few miles from the center of Stockbridge, is definitely a must-see.

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John Torsiello is an editor/writer living in Connecticut. He has written extensively about all aspects of the golf industry for a number of national and regional publications. He is a regular contributor to "Golf Course Industry," "Lawn and Landscape," "Golfing" and "Fairway Living" magazines as well as various online publications. He has strong, ongoing relationships with industry professionals and has worked closely with course owners, architects, developers, course superintendents and general managers around the country. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including first place from the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association for a piece that appeared in "Golf Course Industry" magazine.