“September.” It’s the most common answer to the question of avid amateurs all over the world: “What’s your favorite month of the year to play golf?” October isn’t bad either. And there have been Novembers to remember. Which leads me to a short list of my favorite destinations for fall getaway.
The criteria isn’t complicated: Walkable courses where the backdrop is trees, showcasing colorful leaves. Throw in thoughtful architecture, good conditioning, snappy service and sensible shoulder-season value, and that’s how I arrived at these five.
1. Leatherstocking in Cooperstown, NY.
On a fall Friday, back when I lived in New York, my parents came for a visit. My dad’s a golfer and my mom is a traveler. Both appreciate baseball. So we loaded up clubs and a few friends and made the scenic four-hour drive to Cooperstown, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. Stay at the Otesaga Resort Hotel, which overlooks Otsego Lake and the Leatherstocking Golf Course. Designed in 1909 by Devereux Emmet, it’s known for its fun finish—a long par 3 over water, and a reachable par 5 that flanks the water from tee to green. Before or after your round, you’ll need a half a day for a good tour of the Hall of Fame ($23 for adults, $12 for children, active or retired military and kids six and under are free). You’ll come back enriched on the history of America’s favorite pastime, a personalized bat or two, a phone full of golf pics and a new appreciation for the fall colors in the Northeast.
2. Big Cedar Lodge in Ridgedale, MO.
Johnny Morris started Bass Pro Shops selling bait out of the corner of his father’s liquor store. With his fast fortune, Morris is reinvesting into all that he loves about the Ozarks. High above Table Rock Lake, Morris is piecing together the ultimate golf getaway. With Top of The Rock, the dramatic par-3 course designed by Jack Nicklaus, to Buffalo Ridge, designed by Tom Fazio, both of which are used in the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf (usually in April), there’s already a nice mix of challenges for any level of golfer. But Morris is adding a Gary Player family course, and the design team of Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw are getting started on another championship routing. It’s the setting, amenities, fishing and family atmosphere surrounding the Big Cedar Lodge that separates it from the rest. And it’s only getting better.
3. Barton Creek in Austin, TX.
It’s never a bad idea to take advantage of the Texas hill country in the fall—especially as the college football season is in full swing and the Sixth Street district in downtown Austin is teaming with collegiate energy and enthusiasm. In Barton Creek, there is plenty of lodging options, four courses and countless menus full of authentic Tex Mex. The two Fazio courses both feature dramatic elevation changes from tee to green. No shock that you’ll need to putt like Ben to score on the Crenshaw course, which has some undulating greens. And if you’re willing to take a short drive or shuttle ride, the (Arnold) Palmer course is about thirty minutes off property. I always look to go to Barton Creek in conjunction with Austin City Limits, a popular music festival that runs for two weekends in October (Oct. 2-4 and Oct. 9-11). Headliners this year: Foo Fighters, Hozier, Alabama Shakes, Modest Mouse and Florence + The Machine, just to name a few.
4. Madden’s on Gull Lake in Brainerd, MN.
It was love at first sight. From the simple and cozy cottage on the water, to the Classic, one of the most underrated courses in the country, I can’t say enough about all this resort has to offer any golf getaway, but especially one in the fall. Although I say underrated, the Classic is actually rated No. 63 on Golf Digest’s list of Best Public Courses in America, but I’d put it even higher than that. And it’s not necessarily for what it is, I like it for what it’s not, which is a clash with its surroundings. Superintendent and designer, Scott Hoffman, moved very little dirt to peel back and deftly design a perfectly charming walk through the red oak trees. There are babbling brooks, big lakes and subtle breaks throughout your round at the Classic. From doglegs, cattails and tap-in birdies, there’s no better place to recap fall golf than sitting around a fire pit, which is on the Classic’s back deck, looking out to the ninth and 18th greens. And with 45 other holes, all catering to various skill sets, Madden’s is a must for a lot of Midwesterners.
5. Cabot Links in Inverness, Nova Scotia.
Most people know Mike Keiser because he built Bandon Dunes, which can be good value (and weather) in November. But in the fall, I’d suggest Cabot Links, Keiser’s East Coast creation. It’s a four-hour drive from Halifax, and the leaves in this part of the world are so electric, it’s as though you’re making your way through a cartoon. It’s no wonder there’s the annual Celtic Colors International Festival, or “Festival of Colors,” which runs for two weeks in October and includes food, music and artisans from all over the country (Oct. 9-17). As for the golf, Cabot Links, built by Rod Whitman, is already one of Canada’s most popular courses. This summer, Keiser and his partner at Cabot, Ben Cowan-Dewar, opened the Cliffs course, a Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design that continues to exceed lofty hype and expectations. With at least ten holes cut along a dramatic mile-and-a-half of Nova Scotian coastline, it’s hard to think it won’t be in the conversation as one of the best courses in North America.
For more of my favorite spots for fall golf, also consider:
- American Club in Kohler, WI
- Sunriver in Bend, OR
- Grand National in Auburn-Opelika, AL
- Forest Dunes, Arcadia Bluffs and Treetops in Northern MI
- Greenbrier in White Sulpher Springs, WV