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, even well into October and even November, 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. New Jersey and eastern Pennsylvania afford some of the most stunning venues for autumn golf to be found in the Northeast.
“Actually, autumn is one of our busiest times of the year here,” said Keith Hicklin, director of golf at the acclaimed Architects Golf Club in Lopatcong, N.J. “From September through October and beyond we get a lot of golfers. We don’t have a ton of trees, but the hills behind make for a really nice backdrop once the leaves turn. I really feel it is why a lot of people come here at this time of the year.”
Offered Mark Kelson, general manger of The Club at Morgan Hill in Easton, Pa., on the border with New Jersey. “The views here are one of our strong points and we have some incredible vistas during the fall. People love sitting on the patio deck and looking out toward the mountain range. It’s just spectacular around here during the fall.”
Okay, let’s take a golfing fall foliage tour of some of the best places to play when the leaves turn color.
Of course, The Architects Club is a great layout any time of the year. Although it doesn’t have a lot of trees surrounding the various holes, the hills in the distance serve as magnificent backdrops for a leisurely and visually exciting round of golf during autumn.
The Architects Club is actually a tribute to some of the great golf course designers in the long history of the game. Stephan Kay and Golf Digest Architecture Editor Ron Whitten combined their talents and knowledge to select 18 architects to honored in the shaping and detailed design of each hole on the layout.
The par-71, 6,863-yard gem features holes patterned after such luminaries as Old Tom Morris, C.B. MacDonald, Walter Travis, A.W. Tillinghast, William Flynn, Donald Ross and Robert Trent Jones.
The experience of paying tribute to the legends of golf course design and playing the layout is only enhanced during the melancholy days of autumn.
The Club at Morgan Hill features dynamic terrain, spectacular views and a layout that winds around a mountaintop. The course has earned numerous distinctions since it opened in 2004, both for its routing, conditions, and natural beauty.
Kelly Blake Moran created a track that rolls easily over the terrain and affords several dramatic elevation changes, large greens, grass hollows and geometric-shaped bunkers. The view toward the nearby hills during autumn from the majestic clubhouse and several nearby holes is awesome.
“Looking north you have a 50-mile view on a clear day,” said Kelson. “You can see the Delaware Water Gap and the Delaware Valley. In my opinion, the views from number nine green and the 12th tee are perhaps the most spectacular. But the sight from the 11th and 16th tees and the 16th green are almost as good. And how can you beat sitting on the patio deck and looking at the mountain range.”
The 159-yard par-three ninth hole features a steep elevation change and a chance to stand and gaze at the colors in the distance. The 11th is a 421-yard par-four and the 16th a 396-yard four par that offer impressive elevation changes.
“We don’t really have a lot of trees on the front nine, but the back nine goes go through woods and you can look at the south side of the mountains that are to our north,” said Larry Wise, head pro at Center Valley Golf Club in Center Valley, Pa. “I would say standing on the 10th tee facing north and looking out over the lake with the fountain in the middle and up onto the southside of the mountains is a most impressive view during autumn. (The 10th hole at Center Valley is a rather short but nonetheless tricky 360-yard par-four.) We will play right into December if the weather holds.”
Center Valley is a pleasing mix of links-style holes and those routed through mature woodlands, including pines and deciduous trees. The back side Wise refers to as a classic “North American design,” which features two lakes and fairways guarded by trees left and right.
With a name like Skyview Golf Club in Sparta, N.J. it is no surprise that the layout offers scintillating views during the autumn.
“We have a lot of elevation changes and there are some hilly spots where you can see for quite a distance,” said Joe Kelly, general manager and head pro at the facility. “When the colors come on and the weather starts to change it is a great time to be here.” Skyview has been recognized by Golfing Magazine as New Jersey’s “Most Scenic Course.”
Kelly said many outing organizers are beginning to appreciate autumn golf.
“The truth is that the weather in late September and October is more reliable than say from April through May. We are having a lot more groups play their tournaments in the fall these days because of that factor.”
Perhaps the best view on the course can be found on the 9th and 18th tees, which sit at the highest points on the property. You can see a good 25 to 30 miles on a good day from those venues.
“We’re at the beginning of the Blue Ridge Mountains,” said Chad Kulp, general manager at Whitetail Golf Club in Bath, Pa., “so we get a ton of foliage over on that side of the facility. On a clear day, you can also see towards Lehigh University and the big observatory they have there.”
Whitetail, which was designed by local architect Jim Balukovitch, sits on rolling terrain overlooking the charming town of Bath. The view from the clubhouse is breathtaking in the fall. The course itself is a fairly open, parkland style routing that includes plenty of water.
The view of the Blue Ridge Mountains is on the front side, which is slightly elevated. Maybe the best look is from the tee at number eight, a dogleg right par-five.
The views at Great Gorge Country Club in Vernon, N.J. might have been notable for being a bit more hedonistic in nature when Hugh Hefner ran the club as an amenity to his famed Playboy Club back in the 1970’s and 1980’s. But the 27-hole complex, which was brought into the Crystal Springs Resort portfolio in 2004, boasts some of the best views of foliage in the northwest New Jersey area during late September and October.
The most scenic nine holes here may the “Railside Course,” which rolls over dramatic terrain and through mature stands of trees that come ablaze with color in the autumn. The par-three third hole on the Railside nine even features artifacts from a formation reminiscent of Stonehenge in England. The scenes on the “Quarryside Course,” with its spectacular rock outcroppings and water hazards, and the “Lakeside Course,” which is set amid lakes and mature trees and has some dramatic elevation changes, are also stunning in the fall. The Architects GC
Phillipsburg, NJ • 908-213-3080 www.thearchitectsclub.com Center Valley GC
Center Valley, PA • 610-791-5580 www.centervalleyclubgolf.com The Club at Morgan Hill
Easton, PA • 610-923-8480 www.theclubatmorganhill.com Great Gorge CC
McAfee, NJ • 973-827-5996 www.crystalgolfresort.com Skyview GC
Sparta, NJ • 973-726-4653 www.skyviewgolf.com Whitetail GC
Bath, PA • 610-837-9626 www.whitetailgolfclub.com