The Panorama Course at the Balsams Resort is a Donald Ross signature golf course built in 1912, making it one of the oldest and most storied golf courses in New England. The course is situated on the western slope of Keazer Mountain in the heart of New Hampshire's rugged Great North Woods.
The course still features sixteen holes with their original Ross designs and routing, along with the customary Ross trademarks: large fairways and hazards, but not much bunkering, along with large, inverted saucer-shaped greens. According to the locals who know the course the best, that's what this Ross design is about - the last 100 yards to the hole - including hitting the right approach and figuring out the putting surfaces.
It's been said about Panorama that that's "easier said than done.'' The course provides very few flat lies, while the greens can range from "tricky'' to outright "confounding'' and are also difficult to hold on approach shots. Ross liked to choose his green locations before laying out the rest of the course, and many of Panorama's greens are carved directly into hillsides or set on knolls and ridges. The greens are also rarely on the same level as the fairways.
The 18-hole, par-72 courses plays to about 6,800 yards from the tips, with a USGA rating of 72.8 and a slope rating of 130. For an older course that made use of the natural topography, rather than bulldozers, there's a good variety of golf shots on the course. There are also some spectacular, 40-mile mountain views, beautiful foliage, and the added challenge provided by the mountain winds.
Some of the more noteworthy holes include No. 11, a par-4 that features a tee shot to a wide landing area. What makes this hole so challenging is the approach shot that follows. It plays to an elevated green that falls away sharply to the back left, making it the most difficult approach on the course.
Perhaps just as challenging are the par-3 holes on the course, which some consider more demanding than the par-4s. Hole No. 5 is a prime example, as the tee shot calls for a forced carry over a "tarn'' (mountain lake) to a wide, flat green, which often features a difficult, "tucked-away'' pin placement.
Two more noteworthy holes are the finishing holes for each nine. Hole No. 9 is the most-photographed on the course. This par-4 plays uphill to a green perched atop a natural dome that sits beside a man-made lake. Hole No. 18 features an even steeper uphill approach to a green where golfers may not even be able to see the flag.
Over the years, Panorama has received its share of honors and awards, and Golf Digest consistently ranks the course the best public course in the state.
The Balsams Resort is located a few minutes down the road from the golf course, and features a 15,000-acre estate that also offers hiking, biking, tennis, swimming and fishing on Lake Gloriette, and swimming at the resort pool. In the winter months, the resort offers skiing, snowshoeing, ice skating and dog sledding.