Sunny Hill Resort, the Place to Vacation in the Great Northern Catskills

My arrival to Sunny Hill, a 'rural city with no neighbors.'

My arrival to Sunny Hill, a 'rural city with no neighbors,' was a bit cloudy but the rest of the visit was all sunshine!

Sunny Hill Resort & Golf Courses is only 123 miles from my childhood home at 2 Florence Street in Binghamton, New York. Why it took me five decades to find it I will never know but I am happy I did. Let me tell you why. My first sense of Sunny Hill was driving past the 'Top of the Hill' driving range and thinking that Einstein must have come up with the name since it was perfect. As I drove into Sunny Hill, even though it wasn't completely sunny overhead I felt completely bright within. What is great about the 'East Coast Golf Journey, is that I am discovering golf resorts close to home right in my own back yard. Granted, the whole East Coast is my backyard since I live in Florida and have land to build a summer home  on Mount Prospect, not far from where I grew up, in Binghamton . If you are from the Metropolitan New York-New Jersey area or Upstate New York and Pennsylvania here is the top-of-the-list option for a 'Drivation," a vacation near home that you can easily drive to. Actually Sunny Hill is centrally located for the entire Northeastern United States. Enough of the logistics, let me tell and show you why there is a magical vacation awaiting you at Sunny Hill.
With the present day Nicholsen owner & operating family—Wayne, Gail and Gary from left-to-right.

With the present day Nicholsen owner & operating family—Wayne, Gail and Gary from left-to-right.

This is not a five-star resort but it is a resort with five stars—Gary, Wayne, Gail, Aunt Flory and You! Why you? I was the newest member of the Nicholsen family. You are the next.  Gary, Wayne, and Gail are the children of Mae and Arnold Nicholsen who transformed a dairy farm to the foundation of today's family and golf resort. Aunt Flory is Mae's sister and a gem to meet at age 97. You will meet her later and hopefully in person soon as she is a vintage woman in all regards.
With the Theil family from New Hampshire in the spacious and modern Garwayne Dining Hall.

With the Theil family from New Hampshire in the spacious and modern Garwayne Dining Hall.

I arrived mid afternoon after the lunch hour. Gail was very accommodating and saved a lunch for me. That shrimp scampi was as tasty as all the other meals I enjoyed in the Garwayne Dining Hall, which is named after Gary and Wayne. I met father Erik and son Christian Gundersen who literally arrived hours before at JFK from their home in Norway. The 8 unit Arendal guest lodging is named after  the hometown in Norway of founder Peter Nicholsen who purchased the land in 1920. There is a strong Norwegian and Viking presence epitomized with the Viking Obstacle Course and an annual Race Weekend. I met Thor, Gail's husband, and I think he is a viking—tall, big, strong a man as I have ever seen. I know what you are wondering—the boys got something named after them, what about Gail? Lake Loree, a 15-acre recreational paradise for the young and old kids alike, was created and named after Gail Loree Nicholsen, seven years before the new dining hall arrived at Sunny Hill. CLICK here for a VIDEO INTERVIEW with Sunny Hill guest Joe DeAngelis.
First green on the Sunny Hill course with the Edmonton and tennis courts in the background.

First green on the Sunny Hill course with the Edmonton and tennis courts in the background.

I was having such a good time I almost forgot about the golf- not! Remember this is Andy's Golf & Travel Diary, where one is traveling to the golf wherever it may be! After enjoying my special lunch and checking into my room at the Edmonton, I grabbed my clubs and walked 200 yards to the Sunny Hill golf course clubhouse. I could have just as easily pitched a ball to the first green as the front nine encompasses most of the resort buildings. The back nine was added in 1989 and with the acquisition of Thunderhart, a nearby 18-hole championship layout, in 2005 Sunny Hill became the only family operated resort in New York State with 36 holes of golf. The onsite course is a beginner type course with a par of 66 and the longest hole, the 425-yard par-5 13th. It is perfect for beginners and the occasional golfer like Joe DeAngelis in the video interview above who only plays golf when he is up from Long Island at Sunny Hill. CLICK here for a VIDEO INTERVIEW with Kevin Smith, the Director of Golf at Sunny Hill.
With Kevin Smith, the Director of Golf at Sunny Hill, in a very special place, the 5th tee at Thunderhart.

With Kevin Smith, the Director of Golf at Sunny Hill, in a very special place, the 5th tee at Thunderhart.

Thunderhart will challenge any golfer's game with a variety of holes and one very special hole—the highest, with the best view—the short par-4 5th hole. On that tee is a monument to Bill Gressick the PGA of America Golf Professional at Pleasant View Golf Course from the very first day of operation in the Fall of 1968 and for the next 15 years thereafter. Pleasant View, while quite appropriate, was Thunderhart's original name, but not Viking enough for the Norwegians of Sunny Hill. The Nicholsen's are improving the golf experience on Thunderhart's second nine with the addition of several fairway bunkers. There is lodging at Thunderhart making it the ideal secluded get-away golf trip for good friends, men or women or both that want a more intimate golfing experience. Do you know who else was there on opening day to hit the first tee shot at Thunderhart? The one-and-only-one, the Squire, Gene Sarazen. Wow! One departing golf shot, Director of Golf Kevin Smith has created a NIKE hot spot at Thunderhart. See him for the best deals on NIKE apparel and equipment!
Gary Nicholsen, Mr. Patriot, with Cyvelle `Tinker` Nicholsen at the Lake Party Friday night.

Gary Nicholsen, Mr. Patriot, with Cyvelle `Tinker` Nicholsen at the Lake Party Friday night.

The first time I met Gary Nicholsen was when he was the Master of Ceremonies for my first evening meal in the Garwayne Dining Hall. With this being the last night for the week-long visitors, it was revival-like to celebrate the past week and get pumped up for the Friday Night event—the Lake Party—complete with music, hotdogs, beer, soda, ice cream, "Just for Fun" rides and Fireworks. "Just for Fun" rides? Yes, there's the real-sized Monster Truck, Fire Truck, Paddy Wagon with the Munsters front end, the Bumble Bee Thing and so many military vehicles that they have to have a separate night for them. I can't tell you how much fun I had down at the lake party. I had never had a ride in a firetruck before and my father was a city fireman for 25 years. I do remember Dad taking me to the station and letting me sit in the back of the hook-n-ladder—my Kramer experience (Seinfeld Episode 117, The Secret Code). The fireworks, choreographed to patriotic songs like America the Beautiful, God Bless America, Neil Diamond’s Coming to America and Bruce Springsteen’s Born in the USA were inspirational and spectacular to say the least. Gary Nicholsen, in my opinion, is Mr. Patriot and the Sunny Hill Resort is Hometown, USA! CLICK here for a VIDEO INTERVIEW with Wayne Nicholsen, Snowmobile Hall of Fame Member.
Snowmobile Hall of Fame member Wayne Nicholsen in front of a tribute area in Armae Hall at Sunny Hill.

Snowmobile Hall of Fame member Wayne Nicholsen in front of a tribute area in Armae Hall at Sunny Hill.

There is a twist here in that most people head south in the winter to find summer yet Wayne had a summer job in the north and stayed to enjoy sports like snowmobile racing. With an introduction from his older brother Gary, the public face of Sunny Hill, raced for enjoyment and the thrill it generated within him. Thirty years later, 25 years with sponsor Ski-Doo, Wayne Nicholsen was inducted into the Snowmobile Hall of Fame in St. Germain, Wisconsin in 2011. Humble, like his sister Gail and brother Gary, he readily accepts the sport's highest honor with a great sense of gratitude, pride and amazement. With their children involved in the business and their spouses too and even grandchildren, the whole Nicholsen family has the same perspective when you share a story or a compliment about Sunny Hill. They, as much as their guests, know and appreciate what a special place it is, especially in today's world of electronic gadgetry and living in the next moment. Life will always be about the spirit behind the curtain and living in the present moment, something you can surely do at Sunny Hill. CLICK here for a VIDEO INTERVIEW with Aunt Flory at Sunny Hill Resort.
We are both well seated for an interview with dear, precious & beautiful Aunt Flory at Sunny Hill.

We are both well seated for an interview with dear, precious & beautiful Aunt Flory at Sunny Hill.

There were many highlights in my visit to Sunny Hill. The present day story of and my visit to Sunny Hill would not be complete without meeting 97-year old Aunt Flory. Mae's sister is an incredible person. What a precious person is the lady who sat on my lap for the interview! Quite outspoken and to the point, you will have to meet her in person, if you haven't already, to know what I mean! What an insightful interview she gave me though I had to edit the 15 minutes or so down to only two or three. Sunny Hill is a family place and what family doesn't cherish their nonagenarian! There is a bell outside the dining hall that is rung by the children at Sunny Hill every day as a signal that it is time for dinner. It reminded me of my Mom opening the door and yelling that it was time to come home for supper. The bell was taken from the one-room schoolh0ouse that Arnold Nicholsen attended as a child. It rings loud and clear. I think it is appropriate that the video interview above with Aunt Flory ends with children ringing the bell. Maybe that is the ultimate story of Sunny Hill? Aren't we suppose to become childlike in our older years? The connection and sharing that takes place at Sunny Hill may be Story No. 1. What a wholesome, beautiful, human activity we all can benefit from doing more of.  I concur with the sentiments of guest Francis Pabst from Ramsey, New Jersey who wrote in a poem—"Take me back, if you will to that sweet Sunny Hill." God Bless our great country, Aunt Flory, the entire Nicholsen Family and the Sunny Hill Resort in the Great Northern Catskills!
With Christian & Erik Gundersen & Gary Nicholsen (far R) at dinner the first night.

With Christian & Erik Gundersen & Gary Nicholsen (far R) at dinner the first night.

Enjoyed riding in the 'Just for Fun' Fire Truck, though unlike Kramer, I did not get to drive!

Enjoyed riding in the 'Just for Fun' Fire Truck, though unlike Kramer, I did not get to drive!

This looked like fun but I think I am too tall.

This looked like fun but I think I am too tall.

Kevin Smith, now nicknamed Swoosh, is the NIKE Man!

Kevin Smith, now nicknamed Swoosh, is the NIKE Man!

Boy I wanted to ring that bell too! Note the NIKE Thunderhart shirt!

Boy I wanted to ring that bell too! Note the NIKE Thunderhart shirt!

Sunny Hill, always gracious and welcoming. Come back soon or go for the first time! I will see you there!

Sunny Hill, always gracious and welcoming. Come back soon or go for the first time! I will see you there!