By Charlene S. Mixa
A Fantastic Family-Oriented Resort in the Northern Catskills
Fun! Family! Friends! Have the best family vacation ever! Experience an old-fashion resort vacation where there is something for everyone. A place where the whole family can reconnect! Children, teens, and adults relish the vast schedule of activities. Kids and teens are busy with swimming, boating, fishing and teen mixers plus lots of other fun and games while developing life long friendships. Parents relax, play a round of golf, do some wine tasting, enjoy the spa, dance, and play bingo in a hassle-free setting. Create unforgettable memories that pass from one generation to the next at a place where “family comes first” – Sunny Hill Resort & Golf Course. New York’s premier family and golf resort is only a few hours from New York City but light years away in pace and flavor.
Arriving at Sunny Hill Resort & Golf Course, we admire its acres of open space, rolling hills and stunning views of the Northern Catskills. At the office, we are greeted with genuine hospitality by the staff decked out in military attire, because “Thursday is Military Night.” With directions to our room in the Parkchester building, we drive the short distance and unload. Featuring two queen beds with a separate vanity and bathroom area, the room mirrors a traditional hotel room only larger. A huge ottoman is great for luggage but is actually a fold-a-way bed. From our balcony we have fantastic views of Sunny Hill and the Catskill Mountains. Front and back doors with jalousie windows allow a cross breeze of fresh mountain air. No AC needed here!
On our property tour with Greg Stewart, he explains that in the 1920’s Peter and Gurine Nicholsen christened their home Sunny Hill Farm and opened it to guests. It was more than a place to stay but truly an extended family. Today, the third generation – Gary, Wayne and Gail Nicholsen – continue the family tradition of making Sunny Hill a premier family and golf resort. At the office we meet Gail, Wayne and Gary and immediately sense their passion, enthusiasm and energy. They love what they do and are great at it! The next generation of family members is also getting involved becoming a bigger part of the Sunny Hill team.
Wow, Sunny Hill abounds with things to do and activities. We pass the large pool area with its splash pad, play area and numerous slides. Nine holes of the 18-hole executive golf course wind around the guest buildings and lodges. Softball/kickball fields, English lawn bowling, shuffleboard, and a horseshoe pit as well as volleyball, basketball, and tennis courts are all close by. Greg points out the huge Garwayne Dining Hall where guests are served three meals each day. A 10-acre private lake, Lake Loree, is stocked with game fish, plus has row boats, paddle boats and a nature trail. Greg shares that Sunny Hill offers a full program of entertainment throughout the entire season and has special events, too. More activities can be found at the Entertainment Center, which includes the Sunny Hill Day Camp Center, nine holes of miniature golf, other interactive table and arcade games. Viewing the Weekly Schedule of Activities, Sunny Hill definitely has a little bit of something for every member of the family. Thunderhart Golf Course, an 18-hole course, a few miles away is also owned by Sunny Hill. Impressed with all Sunny Hill offers, Greg drops us off and reminds us to check out “Military Night.
Walking Sunny Hill on our own, we amble over to Lake Loree and follow the gentle nature trail around the lake. Conveniently the primary attractions and activities at Sunny Hill are all within a comfortable walk. Several teens are out walking the executive golf course and enjoying some friendly competition. Parkchester is at the top of the hill, giving us an extra “stretch of the legs” as we climb the hill to our room.
At exactly 5:30 PM the bell gongs announcing dinner time. Everyone heads to the Garwayne Dining Hall. This 300-seat dining hall is buzzing. Families gather at tables with their friends. You can feel the energy as kids share the highlights of their day’s activities. Assigned to a table of other couples we quickly learn that dinner is family style except we select an option for our entrée. One couple at our table has been coming to Sunny Hill for 50 years! Another family has been coming for 34 years. Families come the same week each year creating lifelong friendships. Conversations continue over our delicious dinner of a Garlic & Herb Tilapia, Mushrooms, Peas with Pearl Onions, a Mixed Salad, and a Sour Cream Coffee Cake. We learn so much about this fascinating family resort from our tablemates and just watching the excitement in the dining hall. Gary Nicholsen makes a few announcements during dinner of winners of various tournaments and reminds everyone to join in the evening events.
After dinner we’re off to the Lawn Concert and the “High Peak” Rock Climbing Wall. Kids of all ages line up to tackle the wall, which is one of the “highest” rock climbing walls around. The adults groove to the oldies of a musical duo as we watch the kids take on the wall. Richard and I enjoy a fun game of shuffle board and shoot some hoops. Now it’s time to muster the whole family for Millitary Night. Bringing out the military “Just for Fun Rides” everyone is lining up to rumble along in the jeeps, Humvees and other former military vehicles. These “fun” vehicles are a thrilling rides rolling through Sunny Hill. Amazing to see the excitement riding in an old military vehicle can be for the young and old alike. Fantastic! Impressive! Everyone has a great time!
With our windows open and fresh mountain air, we have a wonderful night’s sleep. Off to the dining hall, we gather at our table for breakfast options of pancakes, fresh fruit, bacon, eggs and of a variety of cold cereals. The Dining Hall curtains are open this morning giving a most spectacular view of the Catskills.
Now for golf in the Northern Catskills! Thunderhart Golf Course, an 18-hole championship course, is a short drive from Sunny Hill. There we meet Kevin Smith, the next generation of the Nicholsen family, who gives us an overview of Thunderhart and the 16-room building adjacent to course. The facility is ideal for golf outings and group functions. Pairing up with another couple, we prepare to take on Thunderhart.This par 72 course offers ponds and bunkers plus breathtaking views of scenic beauty in its challenging design. The front and back nine are a contrast of the front a more traditional golf experience on a hilly terrain, while with great views, while the back nine has less elevation with each hole cut through the beautiful forest of the Catskills. It’s a busy Friday, so we grab a tasty sandwich at the turn while we wait to tee off on No. 10 a unique Par 3. Playing over a pond surrounded by tall shrubs and reeds, at what appears to be a 90 degree angle, club selection is really critical. Watching the men tee off first, I realize this hole plays a lot longer than the distance. Awesome, I land just off the green and make my par.The course is challenging with plenty of variety for any level of golfer. After golf, we do some shopping at the Pro Shop before heading back to Sunny Hill.
Relaxation is next on our agenda. Our balcony with its awesome view of the Catskills, a nice breeze and comfy chair is perfect for just sitting back and enjoy the scenery. At 5:30 PM we head to the dining for a terrific dinner of Roast Turkey Breast with Gravy, Mashed Potatoes, Homemade Stuffing, Steamed Green Beans, and Fudge Frenzy. Again the dining room is bustling with excitement and energy. Since Saturday morning is check-out, Friday night is the final fling at Sunny Hill. Gary invites everyone to join in the Friday Night “Celebration of America” on the lake.
Excitement is everywhere as guests walk over to the Lake. The shores of Lake Loree are aglow for this patriotic celebration. We feel the energy and enthusiasm as kids, teens and parents gather enjoying delicious food and a live band. Sunny Hill pulls out all the “Just For Fun Rides” including the military vehicles, a Bumble Bee Buggy, Captain America ATV, the Sunny Hill Train and more. Laughter! Fun! Thrills! Hopping on the train, it goes all through Sunny Hill and even to some areas we hadn’t visited. Munching on hot dogs with sauerkraut and a beer we laugh at the “Singing Bear Jamboree” and watch the children’s smiling faces. As patriotic music plays, everyone ooh’s and aah’s over the dazzling fireworks. Singing along with the music, we reflect on how grateful and proud we are to live in such a wonderful country. The Friday Night Lake Party is absolutely fantastic! Truly a party of fun-times that will stay with families for a lifetime.
With 600 rolling acres, a large variety of accommodations and a full menu of activities to fit every mood, Sunny Hill certainly does offer something for everyone. Even more, guests experience a real sense of family. Guests come year after year because it is like “coming home”. Through their passion and dedication the Nicholsen family continues the tradition of giving each family a vacation “they’ll never forget.”
If you go:
Sunny Hill Resort and Golf Course 352 Sunny Hill Road Greenville, New York 12083-9710; 518.634.76421; www.sunnyhill.com
Greene County Tourism, 700 Route 23B, Leeds, NY 1245; 518.943.3223