Your tee time isn’t for another hour, but it’s hard not to be thinking about the round, because sections of the gorgeous Leatherstocking Golf Course are spread out before you. Actually, it is difficult to drink coffee on the veranda at the Otesaga Hotel and not take your eyes off the Devereux Emmet track, which was built in 1909.
It’s even tougher not to be playing, in your head, the holes he laid out on the shores of Lake Otsego, especially the 18th, a curvy par 5 that hugs the water and requires three precise shots to a testy two-tiered green. In time, you keep telling yourself, in time. But the sun is rising ever so slowly, the dew of the fall morning is only starting to evaporate, and there still is plenty of French Roast to be drunk (and plenty of that delightful Hennepin from the local Ommegang brewery to work out of the system). So you content yourself with some more gazing at the greens and fairways as the cool lake breeze brushes gently across your face.
This is Cooperstown, the New York village 60 miles west of Albany and founded in 1786 by William Cooper, the father of James Fenimore Cooper, the man who wrote “Last of the Mohicans” and, yes, “Leatherstocking Tales.” And you quickly get the sense that this is no ordinary town, or golf course, as you trudge up the second fairway and listen to cows moo from the Farmers’ Museum across Lake Street. Men and women in period dress stroll around the property, which beautifully recreates an agricultural village of 1845. One hammers out a new pair of horseshoes on an anvil, and another milks his cow. The Museum is visible as you play the par-3 third, when you turn down No. 4, and then again at No. 12. It is the lake that suddenly gets your attention again, still quiet and smooth at this early hour, the famed“glimmerglass” about which Cooper wrote so eloquently. And down the road is the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame and Doubleday Field.
The vistas from the quirky Leatherstocking course with its intriguing green complexes and false fronts are what grab you for much of your round. But there are other diversions along the way, such as the Fenimore Art Museum, standing behind the eighth green with its excellent collection of North American Indian art.
The course crosses Lake Road and takes you up the hill through a quartet of tough holes, and then it’s back down toward the water, with anticipation building for the finish through a series of good, but not necessarily great, holes. As the final four approaches, the water is suddenly closer, and the design is more interesting and intense.
What’s not to love about the downhill tee shot on No. 16 to an ample landing area and then a short iron over a wee burn toward the pin? Or the drive off the 182-yard 17th to a green guarded by three bunkers, the lake running the entire right? Then it is time to play No. 18 and time to decide just how much of the “glimmerglass,” which also happens to be the name of the fabulous summer opera house in town, you want to bite off with your drive, which you hit from an island tee.
Two more shots, and you are back on the green, looking up at that veranda and understanding quite clearly why you could not take your eyes off that hole earlier in the morning.
You are glad that you have booked a tee time for the following day.