Long before Cooperstown became the St. Andrews of baseball—in fact, long before Abner Doubleday's game became our national pastime—the author James Fenimore Cooper predicted that the town bearing his family's name would become "a place of favorite resort for those who wish a retreat from the dust and heat of the larger towns."
Cooper knew whereof he spoke. For more than a century, escaping from the dust and heat of the cities to the pristine serenity of Cooperstown has ranked as one of summer's most gratifying retreats. The tidy redbrick and clapboard buildings along Main and Lake streets haven't changed much since Cooper's day. Lake Otsego still glimmers like glass.
Being a baseball fan, of course, makes the trip even sweeter. Every summer, tens of thousands flock to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum (800-425-5633). The thickest crowds arrive for Hall of Fame Weekend (August 4-6, 2001), when the current crop of inductees gains entry (Dave Winfield, Kirby Puckett and Bill Mazeroski head the class of '01).
But baseball's not the only ancient game in Cooperstown played with a small white ball and nine a side. Right on the forested lake shores lie a pair of picturesque layouts—the Leatherstocking Golf Course and Otsego Golf Club—that harken to the early days of golf in America.
Albany International Airport (ALB), about sixty miles east of Cooperstown, serves four airlines with direct flights from New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.; Cooperstown is a ninety-minute drive via Interstate 90 and local roads. From New York City, you're looking at a five-hour ride. Break up the drive with some great golf by heading up Route 17 to the Catskills, home to such challenges as Tom Fazio's course at the Nevele Grande Resort and Country Club (800-647-6000), and the Monster (7,650 yards from the back tees) at The Concord Resort and Country Club (845-794-4000). From there take Route 17 to Route 10 and Route 8, get on Interstate 88, and follow the signs from exit 17.
The Leatherstocking Golf Course (607-547-5275, $65 for Otesaga guests, $80 for non-guests) sits adjacent to the Otesaga Hotel and matches it in grandeur. Designed in 1909 by Devereux Emmet, the course, though not very long by titanium standards (6,416 yards from the tips), plays extremely tough (a slope rating of 136). Huge elevation changes, false fronts and heavily guarded tabletop greens place a premium on strategy and course management. The four finishing holes hug the shore of Lake Otsego, with a tributary traversing the seventeenth fairway and an island tee box leading to the dramatic eighteenth, a par five curling around Black Bird Bay inlet. This picturesque course will trick you enough to make you thirst for revenge—which you can prepare for at the new Bob Cupp-designed practice range.