COOPERSTOWN, NY – If you want your faith in Americana restored, look no further than the Revolutionary War, frontier-age bucolic splendor of Upstate New York. It’s alive and well, in all it’s “Golf, God, and Country” greatness.
Now we’re not talking “upstate” like the way NYCers use the term – to them “upstate” is anything north of Yonkers! No, to everyone else, it’s the frozen I-90 corridor, Erie Canal country, “from Albany to Buffalo” as the old song goes, where every house proudly waves a flag, where stone buildings still stand from the time when John Burgoyne and Barry St. Leger were marching through the state, (ultimately meeting defeat at Saratoga and Fort Stanwix respectively), and where both local and national pride warm the hearts of the hardy locals through some of the country’s fiercest winters.
Bu summers are sublime, and perhaps nowhere is as idyllic as fabled Cooperstown. Hard by Lake Otsego – “Glimmerglass” as the locals call it, the town is home to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Glimmerglass Opera House, countless Revolutionary War sites, and one of the country’s great Golden Age golf courses – Leatherstocking Golf Club, a Devereux Emmet design from 1909/1919, (front nine/back nine respectively).
We’ve already broken down Leatherstocking like a fraction HERE***, but with summer waning, it was time to come back and bask again in the glorious dappled sunshine blazing off Glimmerglass, the soothing breezes wafting between the verdant, tree covered hills, and the stately majesty, yet refined elegance of the Otesaga Hotel.
Like the Otesaga itself, Leatherstocking Golf Club is a Grande Dame who is still as sharp, sprightly, and salubrious as she was the day Devereux left her and headed back to Bermuda in that interesting pith helmet he used to call a hat One can’t help but feel invigorated seeing the 18th green hard by the lake and taking the walk down the stone path to the first tee. The setting is an elixir, restorative in every way.
“Leatherstocking has always been regarded by golf design intelligentsia as one of the great resort courses in America,” stated broadcaster and golf design Bruce Moulton. “It’s got as gorgeous a natural setting as you could ask for, it’s got tiny, but lightning fast greens with lots of contour, and the terrain is fantastic – tumbling up, down, and around the rugged lakeside hills. But best of all, it still has all the design features Emmet built there 100 years ago.”
Moulton is right: plenty of golf courses have lakeside or Oceanside settings, but it’s the clever design tricks Emmet used on the course that make it play much longer and harder than the mere 6,400 yards on the card.
“It’s the longest 6,400 yard golf course I’ve ever played!” said golfer Lee Lemon, (who by the way makes the “All-name” team with golfers Fred Funk, Stew Cink, and Mona Mennan). “Emmet deliberately routed the shorter par-4s like two and seven so that the approaches play straight up the most severe hill on the property. And between the reverse camber of the 11th fairway and the angles over the water on 18, just try hitting either of those par-5s in two!”
Indeed, the par-5s in particular are especially strong. Emmet always built show-stopper par-5s and the set at Leatherstocking are the equal to any course he ever designed, even venerable Garden City. Indeed 11 and 18 are true three-shot holes, but four and 15 may be even more interesting architecturally, with sod-faced bunkers criss-crossing the fairway, making the golfer carefully plan his way through, around, or over them.
Sure the new holes at 16 and 17 are modern water holes that don’t quite fit with the rest of the golf course, but 17 is a shorter, Blackbird Bay-side version of the 16th at Cypress Point, (hit it way left and play it as a short par-4).
“Emmet was also a friend and contemporary of Macdonald and Raynor, so some of their favorite templates appear at Leatherstocking, including an Alps, a Short, and a Cape,” added Moulton.
For all those that lament the loss of great Emmet work at courses like Congressional or despair that so many of Emmet’s best designs are fiercely private, Leatherstocking is a museum piece where so much of Devereux’s work has been so ardently protected and promoted.
“We want to preserve all the great work he did here,” stated a rightfully proud Director of Golf Dan Spooner. They did a terrific job of that. If Dev were alive today, he’d certainly be elated to see that even in this age of 500 cc drivers and laser beam irons Leatherstocking not only still befuddles the best golfers in the game, but still enchants everyone who visits her.