Autumn is my favorite time to play golf. The temps are in the 60’s and 70’s, perfect sweater or wind shirt weather, although we can still get those balmy days when the thermometer pushes toward 80 and we haul out the shorts and shirt sleeves one last time.
The courses are in pristine condition after a season’s worth of care by superintendents and their grounds crews. There are some fantastic greens fees specials to be had at many clubs, and you’ve still got time to visit courses on Golfing Magazine’s Golf Stimulus promotion. The crowds and six-hour rounds of summer are history.
Yep, October is a wonderful time to be outdoors and taking in the annual colorfest known as fall foliage time. Heck, me and my buddies will play as long as there is no snow on the ground and the temps are at least in the mid-40’s. Just because you flip the calendar to November and Thanksgiving is a few weeks away, there is no need to throw the sticks in the closet.
We can find stunning natural beauty on a golf course at this time of the year, when the maples and oaks turn brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow and the hills are afire with nature’s annual show. New England affords some of the best venues for autumn golf to be found anywhere in the country.
Here’s a selection of New England golf courses where we believe foliage mixes perfectly with our ongoing quest for par.
The Berkshires of western Massachusetts draw visitors each year to gaze at the colorful hills, shop in funky boutiques and wander through art galleries. The golfers among them stay and play or stop in for a round at the Cranwell Resort, Spa & Golf Club in Lenox.
Cranwell’s golf course, a classic design by Jon Van Kleek and Wayne Styles, was built in the 1920’s and is an eclectic track. Several of the tee boxes offer vistas of the surrounding countryside with the best views coming on the seventh green and eighth tee box, both of which are near the hotel’s main building and elevated from the rest of the property.
The hand of legendary golf course designer Donald Ross is all over Tekoa Country Club, located at the scenic foothills of the Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts.
Ross designed an original nine holes in 1923 and five of these remain intact, the second, third, fourth, 14th and 15th. Geoffrey Cornish, one of the most prolific of all New England architects, redesigned the course in 1961 and added 13 gems of his own to today’s present routing.
While not overly long at 6,215 yards from the tips Tekoa’s smallish, undulating greens are difficult to find and a good short game is essential to score well here. All four of the par-fives are under or around 500 yards in length and reachable in two for big hitters, further adding to the pleasure and challenge of a round here.
A short drive east from Cranwell in Southwick, Mass. is The Ranch Golf Club, one of the finest daily fee layouts in New England. The course was built on former farmland and offers a pleasing variety of holes, from links style to those that pass through mature stands of pines, maples and oaks.
The first several holes are flat in character and open, with their manicured fairways framed by tall fescue grasses that change color in the autumn. One of the best woodland holes is number four, appropriately named “Deer Run,” a 441-yard par-four that winds its way uphill amid tall pines that imbue the hole with a sense of solitude usually found only at northern New England courses.
The views from the ninth and 16th holes, both par-fives that start from dramatically elevated tee boxes and tumble down to the valley below, are awesome when the trees blaze with color.
The Crumpin-Fox Club in Bernardston, Mass. was carved out of the forest close to the Vermont line and the surrounding woodlands come alive with hues or red, yellow and orange in the fall. Many of the holes here are tree-lined with ample bunking and enough water to create a few jangled nerves as the round proceeds. Some of the greens are elevated, further complicating proper club selection, especially when the breeze kicks up.
The 550-yard, par-five eighth is one of the more celebrated holes in New England. A lake runs along the entire left side of the fairway towards the putting surface, necessitating an eventual approach shot over water to an undulating green.
Waubeeka Golf Links in South Williamstown, Ma. is known for its stunning views, whether it’s summer or fall. The course is routed through mature forest that bursts with color at this time of the year.
There are a number of good holes at this charming layout located in the corner of western Massachusetts, not far from the border with Vermont and New York states, prime leaf-peeper territory.
Waubeeka’s fifth hole is a tough par-four that plays 435 yards from the tips.
There is trouble down the entire right side that juts out into the fairway at the 150-yard mark. The hole starts from an elevated tee but it actually climbs uphill the remainder of the way to the putting surface. Hint: Be short of the green rather than long. It’s an easier up and down.
The 10th hole is simply a brute. The 230-yarder, a par-three, is the sixth handicap hole on the course, which gives you an indication of how tough it is. There is room to run a low shot onto the green but the opening between bunkers protecting the putting surface is narrow. The green is multi-tiered.
Vermont offers leaf peepers with golf clubs in their hands perhaps the best place for doing their thing during early to mid autumn.
Woodstock Country Club in Woodstock traces its roots to 1895 and opened first on a hillside cow pasture. The course was moved to the lowlands with Robert Trent Jones, Sr. redesigning the new layout. Only 6,200 yards or so from the tips, the par-70 tract can play friendly or bite you when you least expect it. Most of the trouble comes from the sparkling clear waters of Kedron Brook, which rambles along 12 of the holes. Several par-fours have their tee boxes located on the side of a hill that overlooks the valley below. The Inn is world class.
Brattleboro Country Club, located in the town that gave it its name, was first established in 1914 and was known for many years as one of the top courses in the lower portion of the Vermont.
This gem is loaded with history, as befits many of the classic old New England tracks. Somewhere near the present site of the Brattleboro Country Club a six-hole track was established in 1899, the Wantastiquet Golf Club, although golf was played earlier, in 1894, about five miles away in Dummerston by then-resident Rudyard Kipling and his guest from England, Arthur Conan Doyle.
Brattleboro Country Club once hosted 1913 U.S. champion Francis Ouimet did, as well as three-time U.S. Open runner-up Tom MacNamara, who designed the 2,754-yard nine-hole layout for the opening of the club on July 1, 1914.
The course as it exists today grew out of a 1930 do-over by Wayne Stiles, and a 2000 expansion and partial rerouting by Vermont native Steve Durkee. Eight classic Stiles’ holes remain (9-12, 15-18), with ten contemporary Durkee holes woven in (1-8, 13-14), with ample elevation, charming variety, and pleasing views at every turn.
Blackstone National Golf Club in Sutton and nearby Blissful Meadows Golf Club in Uxbridge in southeastern Massachusetts are two superb tracts routed through woodlands and offer the golfer peace, quite and plenty of color from late September through October.
Rees Jones created a layout at Blackstone that flows easily over the natural terrain framed by old stonewalls and small streams. Number 18, a 485-yard par-five, is a visually nice hole.
Blissful Meadows has several great par-threes that call for shots over “waste” areas that shimmer with color in the fall, like numbers 13 and 15.
Fox Hopyard Golf Club in East Haddam, Ct. is a classic woodland course that is a true joy to play in the fall. There are a few open holes on the layout, but most of the track rambles up and down the hilly woodlands of the Connecticut River Valley area. Two of the best are the 202-yard par-three fourth hole that begins from an elevated tee that offers stunning views of the countryside, and the next, a 505-yard par-five, that also starts from a hill and flows down a tree-lined fairway and across a stream.
In central Connecticut, Gillette Ridge Golf Club located in Bloomfield, gives the golfer great views during the fall. One of the best holes for foliage at Gillette Ridge is the 431-yard par-four third that bends downhill to the left and demands an approach to a green bordered by woods to the right and a pond to the left and rear.
Quarry Ridge Golf Club in Portland, located on the slopes of the Connecticut River valley, offers some of the best vistas of hillsides loaded with color in all of Connecticut. This is a true shot-maker’s delight, with dramatic elevation changes, an interesting mix of long and short holes and tricky greens. The course is regularly listed among the best in Connecticut and conditions are always top-notch.
Portland Golf Course in Portland, which measures just over 6,200 yards from the tips and plays to a par of 71, is set in the rolling hills of the Connecticut River Valley,and its tree-lined fairways, various elevation changes, and doglegs make the track, scenic and challenging and enjoyable for players of all ages and levels.
Portland GC was opened in 1974 and is known as a friendly, affordable place to enjoy the game. Conditions are always stellar and the club has a fine restaurant where you can enjoy a pre-round meal or sit and relax after a day on the course.
Up in Maine, near Old Orchard Beach and the city of Portland and only an hour’s drive north from Boston is one of the state’s best, and prettiest, golf courses, Dunegrass Golf Club.
North Carolina-based architect Dan Maples brought a Carolina feel to Maine when he designed Dunegrass, a 6,684-yard, par-71 course that features sandy waste areas and pine needled rough. The course, which opened for play in 1998 and remains in pristine condition, sprawls over 300 acres.
While the tract is not long it does require a thoughtful approach on every shot. Proper club selection is a must as is the ability to chip and putt around and on the undulating greens. There are plenty of bunkers in the fairways and around the greens to further complicate matters.
Nearby Nonesuch River Golf Club, another gem of autumn, was designed by Tom Walker, who was a longtime course architect with Gary Player Design. The extremely scenic, 6,300-yard, par-70 Nonesuch layout, while not long, demands thoughtful approaches to each hole and accurate placement off the tee and on shots to the greens. Proper club selection is a must as is the ability to chip and putt around and on the undulating greens. There are plenty of bunkers in the fairways and around the greens to further complicate matters.
Autumn is for playing golf, not sitting inside and watching college and professional football. Just remember, the cold winds of winter will be arriving soon enough, so let’s enjoy the beauty that is all around our golf courses at this time of year.