96 Hours in Portsmouth, NH:
Promoting Past – Pushing Present
New England is a much celebrated region of the United States. Rightly so. The earliest times of the nation’s foundations — some even before America became an independent county — can be found in many small communities dotting the landscape.
Settled in 1623 Portsmouth is an ironic name simply because New Hampshire has the shortest length of coastline in the country — just 18 miles. In days long since gone — Portsmouth was a hard scrabble environment — seafaring provided an intersection connecting Old and New worlds together.
The Portsmouth of contemporary times has sought to balance the story line of yesteryear while demonstrating a desire to incorporate a new beat — resonating in quality shops down town and top tier gastronomy. Portsmouth is not a museum experience with various sightseeing elements locked in a time warp. The vibrancy provides for an eclectic mix of activities in tandem with an energy level that provides a steady pulse without ever being overwhelming.
Situated with an ideal location just off I-95 — Portsmouth’s stature gains from being near to Boston — under 60 miles — but clearly with a separate identity tied to The Granite State. There is no sales tax in New Hampshire and this means a steady diet of willing customers eager to forsake the heavy hand of government in the nearby Bay States which levies a 6.25% figure.
That’s not to say Portsmouth is entirely free of government’s hands in one’s pockets. As you enter the core downtown area — you quickly see the ubiquitous invasion of pesky parking meters with their insatiable thirst to nickle and dime your currency.
On the flip side the compactness of the downtown allows for easy walking to all of the key locations. The center point for any visit rests with North Church — located on Market Square. The Church came into existence in 1657 but the one you see today stretches back to 1835 and is beautifully designed with a steeple that launches itself 150-feet high into the sky. At night time the illumination of the Church’s facade is utterly captivating as you gaze at the steeple as it literally becomes a beacon to the heaven’s.
No visit to Portmouth can miss the majesty of the Music Hall. Opened in 1878 the Hall has been a showcase for the fullest range of performers and those entwined in the arts. The Hall was updated in recent years and the ambiance is equally matched by its intimate nature — there’s not a bad seat in the house. www.themusichall.org
The Portsmouth calendar is filled with a range of events throughout the year — suffice to say, there’s rarely a dull moment to be had. Few places can keep all members of one’s family fulfilled — Portsmouth does that in all facets.
Upcoming events …
Restaurant Week Portsmouth & the Seacoast Nov 5-14
Festival of Trees Nov 20-22
Arrived early afternoon to Breakfast Hill GC — located 10 minutes from Portsmouth in Greenland, NH.
The course opened in 2000 and is the handiwork of architect Brian Silva — a mainstay in the New England area for many years. Silva began his involvement in course design through a long time working relationship with the late Geoffrey Cornish — responsible for countless courses and re-design efforts throughout New England.
The 6,493-yard par-71 is located on rolling 170 acres of land owned by the same family for over 250 years. The layout is bolstered with granite rock outcroppings that creep into the scene numerous times throughout the round. Breakfast Hill is not long but it requires a deft ability to keep one’s ball in play. Push the envelope too much and the course will push back with greater vigor. Golf is challenging without being overly so. Facility is comprehensive in the services provided, bolstered by top tier customer service and rates that encourage repeat plays. www.breakfasthill.com
One of the more established clubs in the immediate region is the Portsmouth Country Club. Located in nearby Greenland, Portsmouth is a semi-private club which provides opportunities for outside play. The original 9-hole course opened in 1901 before another nine holes were added 32 years later. That course was later used for the development of a bomber base by the US Government. This forced the club to find another location which renowned architect Robert Trent Jones started working on in 1956 and opening in July, 1957.
Portsmouth CC illustrates the Jones approach to course architecture. Long airport runway tees, enlarged bunkers positioned at key points and extended greens with various internal movements are a consistent theme. The par-72 7,153 yard course is challenging for the better player with a 74.3 course rating but still provides sufficient playability with a maximum 126 slope. The turf is well kept and the clubhouse and facilities are top shelf. The issue for the course is looking to update the design. Many of the bunkers were placed at a time when ball and club technology was from a different era. Portsmouth can be even better with just a bit of a renovation to what Jones created. Word to the wise when playing – the course is located near major waterways that can generate plenty of pesky insects that can make playing a real chore. Be sure to spray oneself before playing. www.portsmouthcc.net
Marriott has seen fit to properly restore the grand hotel which opened in 1874 and which sits majestically adjacent to the coastline. The close proximity makes for an easy visit to the nearby Wentworth-by-the-Sea Country Club. The course provides a mixture of looks — a number of holes are sequestered with flanking pine trees providing demanding corridors to play through. Blessed with tumbling fairways which makes it pivotal to get to the preferred locations off the tee – no small chore — given the probability the shotmaking required. The opening long par-5 hole clearly sets the tone with what I just mentioned. And, there’s the par-4 4th which is a stunner — a cape-like hole that tempts the big play but likely requires a prudent play with safety in mind.
Wentworth dates back to 1897 and while the course isn’t long — 6,300 yards from the tips. Renowned architect Donald Ross helped improve the course in 1921 and Geoffrey Cornish expand the layout to a full 18 in 1964. The course provides plenty of fun shots — most notably the closing stretch which ventures near the water. The closing hole will leave a lasting memory — water guarding the green like a fierce dog guarding a junkyard. A superb course to play for all levels and in superior playing condition. www.wentworthbytheseacc.com
Located immediately adjacent to the airport — the Pease Golf Course is a 27-hole layout that provides functional golf options. The original 18 is straightforward and fairly basic with a few holes of note. The 9-hole Blue Course provides a golf offering that is solid compliment to the main 18 and which provides a number of instances when wetlands must be avoided. Pricing is most reasonable and the service level is quite attentive. www.peasegolf.com
Getting there —
Portsmouth is early accessed through any means. There is Portsmouth International Airport at Pease and rail access is also possible via Amtrak which provides nearby drop-off locations. By car travel is via I-95 — the downtown core area is just minutes from the Interstate.
Where to stay —
One of the more attractive places to stay in Portsmouth is The Hotel Portsmouth. Located within an easy walk of Market Square the facility was recently upgraded and provides a most comfortable location with quick access to all other key areas. Ample parking is available and given the usage of parking meters that’s a huge plus. The hotel touts its wherewithal to deliver on a range of fronts along with providing the intimate nature of a bed and breakfast. It most certainly does that and more. www.thehotelportsmouth.com
The Wentworth-by-the-Sea, a Marriott Hotel & Spa, is a top tier lodging experience. Provides tee times to the Wentworth-by-the-Sea CC which is immediately adjacent and has a range of activities for all ages and interests. The hotel has been updated to provide an old style charm but the hotel is far from being a historic relic. Top tier dining is available through the SALT Kitchen & Bar. The hotel also provides a full array of services with a quality spa, pools and tennis, to name just a few activities. www.wentworth.com
Where to eat —
Want to quench a thirst and satisfy a food hunger? Try The Franklin Oyster House — a revival of what was once there dating back to 1867. Owner and chef Matt Louis provides a winning combination of gastronomic delights. www.franklinoysterhouse.com
Need a breakfast alternative? Try — Café Expresso in Portsmouth – www.cafe-expresso.com. Sensational array of breakfast items come in all types of offerings and presentations. Lunch is also a good bet too if your stomach has room left to fill.
When downtown be sure to check out the Portsmouth Gas Light Company. Located in the former home of the city’s first utility, built in 1837. Provides indoor and out door food service along with live music 7 days a week and The Third Floor Night Club provides an ideal setting to stretch your legs and enjoy the vibe provided. www.portsmouthgaslight.com
Where to shop —
A myriad of different offerings in Portsmouth but one place clearly needs to be any visiting agenda — Pickwick’s Mercantile. The array of offerings and stylish presentations — both of the items and the staff — will have you marveling on all levels. The most essential element is taking one’s time because there’s so much to take in when there. www.pickwicksmercantile.com
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OVERALL GOLF ASSESSMENT … Portsmouth provides a good golf product. Clearly, avid players will need to gain access to Wentworth-by-the-Sea GC because it provides a quality design with the richest array of design attributes. The layout is blessed with a range of design items and provides a good contrast between the holes surrounded by trees and those that are more exposed.One of the virtues of Portsmouth is being so near to everything. The golf, while not great by any means, is far from being pedestrian and the costs associated with the varying levels of golf options is quite reasonable on all fronts.
For more information go to www.GoPortsmouth.com