The venerable and stately Otesaga Resort is an island of tranquility in today’s sea of testosterone-fueled, 8,000-yard golf courses charging greens fees that would feed a family of four for a month. This year, the resort celebrates its 100th anniversary, just one more good excuse to drive to Cooperstown and step back into an earlier, more gracious era of golf matches celebrated not at some sticky-tabled sports bar, but with civilized cocktails on the veranda overlooking Lake Otsego.
Visiting the Otesaga Resort may be like stepping into a perfectly mannered fin de siècle time capsule, but there’s nothing genteel about the adjacent Leatherstocking Golf Course, which is as tough as a James Fenimore Cooper frontiersman. That’s one of the many reasons the course was named one of the ten best public courses in New York State by Golfweek, and was ranked second overall in the New York region by Zagat.
The course was laid out a hundred years ago by Devereux Emmet, but the demanding 6,401-yard track plays like a modern masterpiece, with well-bunkered greens, water in play on more holes than you can count, and a risk-and-reward finishing hole that is one of the best anywhere. Among the more dangerous hazards are the views from the many elevated fairways. The course sweeps along the western edge of Lake Otsego and, when you’re not trying to keep your ball out of it, you’ll be captivated by the sight of the sparkling blue water nestled in the woods and mountains. The challenges on the course are distributed between both the front and back nines. The 404-yard seventh hole may look short on the scorecard, but it’s the toughest hole on the course because it plays straight uphill and, most of the time, right into the wind. A tiny green compounds the difficulty. Just as you begin to relax, you’re faced by the troublesome par-three ninth hole, a 186-yard, bunker-guarded gem.
Birdie opportunities come along in the middle of the back nine, with the downhill 137-yard, par-three 12th hole starting a string of mouthwatering scoring holes. The 13th and 14th holes are short par 4s, followed by the 462-yard par-5 15th, where visions of an eagle fill your head on the tee.
The Leatherstocking’s three finishing holes will sober you up right away. The 366-yard par-4 16th looks like more of the same birdie-fest, but it demands a perfectly accurate drive even to make par. The par-three 17th plays all of its 182 yards and calls for a knee-knocking carry over a wide Lake Otsego water hazard to a devilish green. Then comes the grand finale, the 515-yard par-5 18th hole, at which you tee off from an island after deciding just how much of the lake to challenge on the sweeping dogleg left to reach the green that sits in front of the magnificent veranda of the hotel itself.
The Otesaga Hotel by itself is worth the trip. It’s a magnificent, Federal-style edifice with an imposing front portico supported by massive 30-foot columns. The Otesaga occupies 700 feet of lakefront property on the southern shore of Lake Otsego, the famed “Glimmerglass” of James Fenimore Cooper’s novels. Like the golf course, the hotel is a hundred years old this year, but a multi-million dollar renovation and modernization program has restored it to its original grandeur and it has earned a coveted AAA Four Diamond Award for providing exceptional accommodations, excellent service, and an elegant atmosphere.
Hungry after your round? Fine food always has been a feature at the resort: the first meal served in 1909 featured caviar canapes, broiled halibut with potatoes Parisiennes, lamb chops Monte Carlo, seasonal fresh vegetables and fruits, coconut cake, and rhubarb pie. Today, the Otesaga, which operates on the American plan (breakfast and dinner included), offers a variety of dining options and typically features locally grown foods from Central New York.
Golf fits seamlessly with the many other amenities at the Otesaga. You can swim in the pool or the lake, rent a canoe, or hire a guide to take you and your foursome (or family) fishing. The absolute-must-take side trip at the Otesaga is to the world’s best-known sports shrine, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown.
Between the fine golf, numerous must-make side trips, and absolutely first-class accommodations, it’s no wonder the Otesaga has been a go-to place for New Yorkers for a century.
♦ Otesaga Resort Hotel
60 Lake St.
The Otesaga’s Leatherstocking Golf Package ($263-$295.50 per person, per night, double occupancy, with a two-night minimum) offers unlimited golf, cart, and range privileges. It also includes a standard guest room, breakfast and dinner daily, and a special discount coupon for use in the gift shop or golf pro shop.