Leatherstocking Golf Course in Cooperstown, NY
Tee Time: June 16, 8:00, 77 F, Breezy
Designer: Devereaux Emmet/(R)Robert E. Cupp, 1909
Playing Partners: Mike Mantle (my dad), Charlie Clouse and Allen Cogan
Tees: White, Par 72 (69.4 rating/130 slope/6,040 yards)
Course Handicap: 11 (9.3 index)
Stats: 90 (44-46); 32 putts; 7/14 fairways; 6/18 greens; 0 penalty strokes
If I said I had just gotten done walking the same turf as legends such as Babe Ruth, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams and Harmon Killebrew you would probably assume I’d just taken batting practice at Fenway Park. Those Hall of Fame hitters also played golf, and they’ve all played at Leatherstocking Golf Course in Cooperstown, New York. This course sits along the land surrounding Lake Otsego in the lush forests of upstate New York. Coming in at 6,401 yards from the longest set of tees, I stepped to the first hole expecting a lazy round of long drives and short wedge shots for a low score. I was way off. All three days we played from the middle White tees and I actually drove the ball well yet still came out with scores of 90-99-90 in three rounds. Leatherstocking Golf Course is an old course and offers a challenge that is in line with tracks from those days. Small greens, strategically placed trees and uneven fairways make pars hard to accumulate.
The front nine starts with a relatively straightforward par-4 but right away shows the demands on the short game with a sloping green. This is a common theme throughout the course with multiple tiers, putts that gravitate toward the water, and even lines that won’t follow the same path twice. Play this course 100 times and you would never see the same putt twice. The par 3’s begin with hole no. 3, a slightly downhill 193-yard shot over bunkers to the right and lots of rough to the left. Sand traps are placed in dangerous spots all over the course, and on the third hole they are not only greenside, but also sit in those awkward distances from the green that leave shots where just getting on the green is a challenge. The par 5’s on this course are the birdie holes, but even they need to be managed perfectly to leave a putt for a 4. The first one is reachable, but the green is surrounded by dips, sand traps and gnarly rough aching to swallow up wayward fairway woods. And with the difficulty of getting up-and-down on these greens, being near the green in two does not equal an easy birdie.
The back nine is where you can make up the strokes that the front side ate up. The stretch of 10-11-12 run up in the hill across the street and feature severe elevation changes, but as long as you can find fairways off the tee, birdies are available. The par-5 11th can be reached by using the hard-running slope to your advantage, but once again has a green that is tricky to read. The par-3 12th is the shortest on the course, but drops over eighty feet to the green and makes club selection very important. The wind, which is always blowing harder through the trees than it feels on the ground, can sneak up on you and combined with the elevation changes can be a two- or even three-club difference from the measured yardage. The 254-yard 14th is the fun hole. It sits there with a pin in the dead center, begging to be driven. As I found out, keeping a ball on this green from the tee is a tall order with the front-to-back slope that runs balls into the back rough or another deep bunker. The short, 462-yard par-5 15th is the easiest hole to make a red number. Any decent tee shot should leave an iron approach, but don’t go long. Long is death, with more of the steep, rough banks that balls tend to get perched in and are impossible to chip consistently. I did manage to slice an approach off of the maintenance barn, off one roof onto the next and back onto the course, which is lucky. The 16th and 17th are relatively mild holes that are more memorable for their beauty. These are the holes that return you to the lake views that make the course so special and with good shot management won’t hurt you.
I could go on and on about how much fun this course is. I could also go on and on about how frustrating this course is. I could go on and on about how beautiful Leatherstocking Golf Course is. I could go on and on about how much fun the Hall of Fame Classic golf tournament was and how friendly and hilarious our playing partner Eddie Murray (2003 H.o.F. inductee from the Baltimore Orioles) was. I could mention how anytime my dad hit a good fairway wood, he would summon this commercial: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SmxFif-Cy2E. But I did get my handicap index beat up by this weekend of golf, so I’ll sum up my play at Leatherstocking with this:
#18, Par 5, 505 yards, 4-handicap, My Score: 5
Amenities: B; like anything built in the early 20th century, the slightly bland clubhouse is small by today’s standards; but part of “amenities” includes the staff, of which every employee in uniform went above and beyond to make your day memorable in the best possible way.
Difficulty: A-; the classic example of a course that doesn’t need to be extremely long tee-to-green to be difficult, this course is about hitting spots on the fairway and getting on the greens. Greenside hazards and deep rough make up-and-downs seemingly impossible, and with several greens smaller than a postage stamp, hitting those GIRs is a big challenge.
Scenery: A; Lake Otsego and the surrounding forest provided amazing picturesque views the entire round and when blended in the background with the lighthouse and classic architecture of the Otesaga Hotel offers a timeless quality that easily ranks up with the more famed panoramas of Pebble Beach and Augusta National in my opinion.
Value: N/A. I neither paid a dime to play this course nor do I know how much the rates are, so I feel it unfair to grade this criteria.
Overall: 3.74 (A-); combining this sneaky challenge of a golf course with the infinite wonders of the National Baseball Hall of Fame just a five minute walk down the road, Cooperstown makes a great summer trip for every sports fan; a great morning round on the shores of Lake Otsego and a slow stroll through the jaw-dropping history of the Hall of Fame and the timeless plaques of baseball’s legends is practically a requirement for anyone looking to connect with the roots of baseball as well an old-school golf challenge.