When the dog days of August give way to crisp September mornings, golfers thoughts turn to….golf, of course.
For died-in-the-wool, can’t-get-enough-of-the-game golfer, autumn is perhaps the best season of the year. Oh sure, spring gets us northerners all jacked up to finally get out the sticks and smack the ball around in earnest after a long winter break. And summer is delightful time to play the game from early in the morning until well into the evening hours.
But autumn is a very special time of the year. The crowds and six-hour rounds of summer are history. The courses are usually in superb shape as the temperatures moderate and superintendents have repaired any damage done by the sometimes-brutal summer conditions. The weather is still warm enough to play with a perhaps only a wind jacket or light sweater. Let’s not forget about autumn’s “shoulder season,” when courses drop their prices, usually in mid to late October.
And how can we forget about the natural beauty one can find 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 fire with nature’s annual light show. Traditionally New England affords some of the most stunning venues for autumn golf to be found in the Northeast. And what better place to take in the natural splendor of a crisp autumn day than on a golf course surrounded by nature?
Here’s a selection of southern New England golf courses where foliage mixes easily with the quest for birdies.
The Berkshires of western Massachusetts draw thousands of leaf peepers each year to gaze in wonder at the colorful hills. The golfers among them stay and play or stop in for a round at the Cranwell Resort and Spa in Lennox and Waukeeba Golf Links in Williamstown.
Cranwell’s golf course, a classic design by Jon Van Kleek and Wayne Styles, was built in the 1920’s and is a wonderfully 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.
Waukeeba Golf Links demand accurate shot making and precision around and on the putting surfaces. Water comes into play on half the holes here and bunkers guard most of the greens. The views from the course are outstanding, with the Berkshires surrounding the layout on all sides.
A short drive east from Cranwell 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 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 simply awesome when the trees blaze with color.
A short drive north finds The Crumpin-Fox Club in Bernardston, carved out of the forest close to Vermont. Many of the holes are tree-lined with ample bunking and enough water to create a few jangled nerves as the round proceeds. 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.
Blackstone National Golf Club in Sutton, Mass. and nearby Blissful Meadows Golf Club in Uxbridge are two superb tracts that, because they are routed through woodlands, offer the golfer peace, quite and plenty of color from late September through October.
Rees Jones worked magic at Blackstone National, creating a layout that flows easily over the natural terrain framed by old stonewalls and small streams. Number 18, a 485-yard par-five, is a really nice hole visually.
Blissful Meadows has several great par-threes that call for a shots over “waste” areas that come alive with color in the fall, like numbers 13 and 15.
Other good foliage bets in the area are Maplegate Country Club and New England Country Club, both of which were cut from mature woodlands.
Perhaps the most beautiful track in southern New England at any time of the year is The Orchard Course at Newport National Golf Club. The Orchard is a true links style layout, with tall grasses lining the fairways and few trees. Despite this paucity of maples and oaks the track is nonetheless a pleasure for the senses during the autumn, when the fescues take on a different hue, especially in the twilight as the sun sets and casts long, purplish shadows over the course.
Fox Hopyard Golf Club in East Haddam, Ct. is a classic woodland course that is a true joy to play, from spring to late 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 easily down a tree-lined fairway and across a stream.
In central Connecticut, Gillette Ridge Golf Club and Wintonbury Hills Golf Course, both of which are located in Bloomfield, give 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.
At Wintonbury Hills the 14th hole, a 455-yard par-four, makes the senses tingle in the autumn, with a pond running along the right side of the fairway and a green surrounded by tall trees. Wildlife is often seen cavorting in the wetlands and pond to the right with various species of waterfowl gliding in for respites during warm fall afternoons.
Great River Golf Club in Milford, one of the top daily fee tracts in southern New England, draws visitors from miles around for its challenge and beauty. Perhaps no time of the year is more splendid at “The River” than autumn, when the trees along the Housatonic River turn various shades of color. Perhaps the prettiest hole on the course at this time of the year is the 163-yard par-three sixth, a super short hole that plays downhill to a green surrounded by woods and the Housatonic rolling by to the left.
Lake of Isles Golf Club in North Stonington, CT offers two layouts that are challenging & scenic and afford golfers of all skill levels a truly unique experience. All 36-holes fit the landscape perfectly. It is a truly beautiful property. You really have the feeling of being out in the wilderness.
So take your clubs and camera and head to your favorite course to enjoy the most colorful time of the year in southern New England.