Glimmerglass, Leatherstocking & More

By: John Torsiello

Standing upon the 11th tee at the Leatherstocking Golf Course in Otesaga, N.Y., we finally understood why the locals nickname the eight-mile-long, mile-wide Lake Otsego, "Glimmerglass."

It was a crystal-clear morning and a strong sun literally danced off the flat waters of the lake, creating a shimmering, mirror-like effect that ripped our minds away from the next tee shot for almost a full minute.

12th Green with Farmers' Museum Behind

James Fenimore Cooper, perhaps early America's greatest author, lived a long tee shot away from Leatherstocking. He popularized Glimmerglass and the surrounding area in works that included his famous "The Last of the Mohicans." This area in south-central New York State is actually billed by the lords of tourism as "The Leatherstocking Region," and a drive along its rural roadways gives one the impression that nothing much has changed since Cooper's heyday in the early-1800s.

Well, that's not exactly true. Decidedly Americana downtown Cooperstown, which sits a short walk away from the Otesaga Resort Hotel and its Leatherstocking Golf Course, has evolved over the years into a baseball Mecca. The game's Hall of Fame is located here and the streets of the small hamlet bristle with baseball-themed restaurants, pubs and retail shops. There's also a new opera house and a theater a few miles away from the Otesaga Resort Hotel that caters to summer tourists that flock to the area to enjoy the lake, the Hall of Fame and all the activities that come with Cooperstown.

Close by the hotel is the Fenimore Art Museum, which houses an impressive array of early American art and a wonderful collection of Native American artifacts. Across the street is the Farmers' Museum, which depicts and simulates life in early rural America. You get the picture; there's a lot to do in this Empire State hamlet.

Leatherstocking with Otesaga Hotel in View

But the crowning jewel of all the fun is the Otesaga Resort Hotel and estimable Leatherstocking Golf Course. The truly world-class, 135-room hotel and the 18-hole layout celebrated their 100th anniversaries last year. The stately, Federal-style hostelry, with an imposing front portico supported by massive 30-foot-high columns, occupies 700 feet of lakefront on the southern shore of Lake Otsego.

Staying and dining at the hotel (the resort also owns the 15-room Cooper Inn a short walk from Baseball's Hall of Fame) and/or playing the Leatherstocking course is heady stuff.

Leatherstocking is a finely maintained classic, originally designed by Devereux Emmet (the same guy who crafted Congressional Country Club in Washington, D.C., site of the 2011 U.S. Open). It was given an upgrade by architect Bob Cupp a few years ago, and offers 6,416 yards of challenge and scintillating views of Lake Otsego and the surrounding countryside.

This is old school golf at its best, with the layout following the natural contours of the land upon which it was routed. The par-4s range from short and quirky to beefy, with many complicated by doglegging fairways and elevated greens. And, oh, the putting surfaces! The greens are kept on the slick side, somewhat unique for a resort course, and with their diabolical undulations, a 20-footer can quickly turn into a three-putt if you don't employ a butterfly's touch with the flat stick.

One of the best holes on the par-72 track is the 11th hole I mentioned at the top. The 560-yard par-5 tumbles sharply downhill to a huge green that sits in a swale. A 40-yard chip shot can turn into a disaster (over the green is bad, really bad) if not played correctly off the sheer down-slope that meets the green at its base.

But the real fun comes at the end of the round when you're routed back to Lake Otsego. The 16th is a very cool, 366-yard par-4 that starts from an elevated tee. It calls for a straight drive in order to find a fairway landing area between a pond right and bunkers left. The approach is over a stream, with the lake acting as a backdrop.

The 17th is an exceptional par-3 measuring 182 yards from the tips. It plays across water to a green that sloped back to front. Hint: Take one more club than you think, as the water runs up almost to the edge of the putting surface.

Leatherstocking's 18th Hole

The round culminates in grand fashion at a 515-yard par-5 that keeps the customers coming back for more. The tee occupies a small parcel in the lake. You can while away a few minutes waiting for the fairway to clear by gazing at the largemouth bass that make their home nearby and fishermen seeking a prize catch.

Bite off as much of the dogleg-left as you dare and you're left with a second shot that must steer clear of the lake that hugs the left side of the fairway all the way to the putting surface. The green sits almost directly below the veranda of the Otesaga Hotel. Here, you will be observed by guests lingering about the property.

The Otesaga Hotel is a first-class place to unwind and enjoy a post-round meal and cocktail either on the terrace or in one of the hotel's several tastefully appointed dining areas. We were feted in the formal dining room (jackets required) and enjoyed a masterfully cooked meal. There was some wild dancing in the lounge area following dinner and a late-night stroll down to the lake, where a brisk breeze blew from the north and a full moon cast a golden glow across the rippled surface of Glimmerglass. Hey, you can't make this stuff up.

The Otesaga has been a haven for travelers since it opened in 1909. Check out the old photos that adorn the walls of the hotel's corridors and try to get a room that overlooks the lake. Massive trees surrounding the 18th green (and the green itself) are floodlit to make for one awesome sight for even non-golfers on the clear, cool evenings that appear often in Cooperstown.

The next day we headed back to Leatherstocking for another round on a morning that dawned misty and chill. We stopped by for a chat with director of golf Dan Spooner, and chewed the fat with the bag boys, well, really "bag older guys," who, good naturedly listened to our stories of almost hitting a boater that was picking up golf balls near the shoreline with one of our drives on 18 the previous day.

We capped our visit with a ride on Lake Otesgo in a restored circa 1930's wooden pleasure boat captained by Bill Michaels, who also runs the Fly Creek Cider Mill and Orchard.

A trip to The Otesaga Hotel and Leatherstocking Golf Course, forays into downtown Cooperstown, and visits to the area's many cultural spots, farms (recommended is a side trip Ommegang Brewery, about 20 minutes from Cooperstown), and roadside stands are guaranteed stress-relievers. The only problem is that you have to eventually leave, which provides the only downer of the trip.

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This story originally appeared in Cybergolf on June 22, 2010.

John Torsiello is an editor/writer living in Connecticut. He has written extensively about all aspects of the golf industry for a number of national and regional publications. He is a regular contributor to "Golf Course Industry," "Lawn and Landscape," "Golfing" and "Fairway Living" magazines as well as various online publications. He has strong, ongoing relationships with industry professionals and has worked closely with course owners, architects, developers, course superintendents and general managers around the country. He has won a number of awards for his writing, including first place from the Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association for a piece that appeared in "Golf Course Industry" magazine.