A thought occurred to me during a long—okay, a really long—drive on the New York State Thruway. It was accompanied by something I first sensed many years ago as a college student in the Finger Lakes: The light truly is different here, and special, just as it is in Ireland, Hawaii and the Canadian Rockies. I admit I'm far from the first to take note of this—back in the nineteenth century, the artists of the Hudson River School set up their easels from the Catskills to Lake George and far beyond, capturing in opulent oils the mix of brilliance and melancholy in upstate light.
Of course, the golfer's mind could easily add a sloping green and a few bunkers to those landscapes, as nowhere is the light more inspiring than on one of the area's courses during a fall afternoon. Starting in Cooperstown and going around the horn to the Adirondacks, here is a look at three of the best upstate regions in which to entertain yourself—on the course and off—between now and the end of October.
Cooperstown and Binghamton
Tourist towns that are well kept, walkable and lined with curiosity shops often run the risk of crossing into Thomas Kinkade territory, and that goes double for one that is promoted as "America's Most Perfect Village." But Cooperstown never lays the quaintness on with a trowel. As such, it has a lot going for it as a family destination: the Fenimore Art Museum, the Glimmerglass Opera, microbrews like Ommegang's distinctive Belgian ales, aquatic recreation on Otsego Lake, and, of course, the Baseball Hall of Fame (see left).
By car, Cooperstown is roughly four hours from both New York City—a straight shot up the New York State Thruway (I-87)—and from Boston, via the Massachusetts Turnpike (I-90). Continuing along I-88 brings you to the golf-rich area around Binghamton, where a cluster of courses offers excellent value and a diversity of styles.
Where to Play
Conklin Players Club
Conklin Players is the sort of family success story that bolsters one's faith in the game's future. Designed by two brothers and their brother-in-law, the course opened in 1991, and its reputation has been expanding ever since. It's known especially for good conditioning—one of the founders is also the superintendent. Regulars may warn you that the course is also notorious for its par threes, including one downhill plunge that plays as long as 259 yards over a gaping ravine.
1520 Conklin Road, Conklin. Architects: Rick Rickard, Rick Brown and Marty Brown, 1991. Yardage: 6,772. Par: 72. Slope: 127. Greens Fees: $38–$54. Contact: 607-775-3042, conklinplayers.com.
Leatherstocking Golf Course
Leatherstocking is full of antique features, including small, fast greens and slippery contours, both natural and man-made. Walkability is built into the design, as are lovely views of Otsego Lake, which figures prominently into the strategy of the closing holes. The drive to the cape fairway from the island tee on the eighteenth is a shot to look forward to.
60 Lake Street, Cooperstown. Architect: Devereux Emmet, 1909. Yardage: 6,415. Par: 72. Slope: 135. Greens Fees: $85–$95. Contact: 800-348-6222, otesaga.com.
The Links at Hiawatha Landing
Built on parkland but no walk in the park, this track just west of Binghamton attempts to approximate the windswept conditions of a British links. Most of the greens are accessible by the bump-and-run and there are no forced carries, although the absence of blind shots makes it perhaps less quirky than the average links across the Atlantic.
2350 Marshland Road, Apalachin. Architects: Brian Silva and Mark Mungeam, 1994. Yardage: 7,104. Par: 72. Slope: 133. Greens Fees: $39–$70. Contact: 607-687-6952, hiawathalinks.com.
Best of The Rest
The short but tight Chenango Valley State Park (nysparks.com) is part of New York's impressive network of affordable courses. It was designed by Hal Purdy, who was once construction supervisor to Robert Trent Jones. En-Joie Golf Club (enjoiegolf.com) in Endicott is one of Michael Hurdzan's early works and was for many years the PGA Tour's upstate stop.