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New England at the Turn

By early October, a New England summer has rusted over and nearly outlived its usefulness. Then again, it often isn't until things are withered and due for reclaiming (old farm implements, wayward souls) that people here take notice of them. In the Northeast hardwood forest, autumn brings urges and urgency. Walking in what feels like mild air, you notice that a passing car stirs up twigs and leaves in its wake. The shards of a defunct summer are suddenly before you, vibrating like minced herbs on a saute pan. Before you reach home the sky has blossomed gray with clouds and a chill has descended. This is provisioning time in New England--bale hay, salt the herring, gather books for a new semester. Accomplish now what will otherwise go undone.

The purest pleasure I've ever taken at the sight of autumn foliage has b een on rides through battered industrial towns like Pittsfield, Mass., and Derby, Conn. Seeing birch and maple arrayed in full color above a snarl of utility wires, on some oily street where chain-link fencing guards a buckled warehouse--and to have the trees visually overwhelm their sullen surroundings--breeds wonder. Drape that same cloak of fire over the villages of the Berkshires and southern Vermont on a sunlit day and the effect is aesthetic overload. To steady yourself, it is wise to spend a good portion of these shorter, cooler days on a golf course, where no matter how fine the trees look, they still play the traditional adversarial role.

What follows is one man's idea of the ultimate long fall-golf weekend. The fun, of course, is in discovering your own.

The Crumpin-Fox Club opened in 1983 as a sign that the shires of upper Western Massachusetts were gentrifying with the close of the century. Its scorecard says Robert Trent Jones designed it, but the work was done by Roger Rulewich, who was forced to cool his heels for a few years between finishing one nine and beginning the other. With so many name-drop stops to come on this fall golf itinerary, Crumpin-Fox is the right place to begin. The obscure road that leads into club property is only a mile off I-91 near the Vermont border, and as quickly as you're there you feel at home. The Crumpin-Fox clubhouse is an open, post-and-beam design with barnboard trim, rustic to look at but digitally wired and professionally run. First-time players fall right in with a mix of regulars and other newcomers. The golf director is Ron Beck, a transplanted Chicagoan who has earned a passel of PGA honors for uncommon achievements like starting up a successful caddie program at a public course in the middle of nowhere.

Range balls here are complimentary. Green fees are downright reasonable. There's a weather-proof box for scorecards on the second tee, to bail out forgetful type s. And few daily-fee courses derive more of their persona from a logo than this one, whose symbol is a cartoon fox wearing a conspiratorial expression that fits the sneak-in-one-last-round mentality of the October golfer.

Compared to the refinement of the other four courses on the itinerary, Crumpin-Fox shows some of the untamed qualities of relative youth. They're still softening its edges here and there. Given the density of the original woodland, the front nine wisely emerges from a cordon of trees that defines the first four holes, spiraling down toward old meadowland that opens up a player's horizons. The fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth holes provide elbow room and a good chance to score. A long manmade pond down the left side of No. 8 bends in front of the green to create a water carry--heroic shotmaking courtesy of a humble-looking water hazard.

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