Leatherstocking Golf Course
Cooperstown, New York, USA
6401 YARDS (PAR 72)
COURSE RATING/SLOPE: 70.8/135
COURSE ARCHITECT: Devereux Emmet (1909)
COURSE WEBSITE: http://otesaga.com/leatherstocking-golf-course
ROUNDS PLAYED: 1
LAST PLAYED: May 22, 2011.
LOW SCORE: 79 (+7)
However, some great research done by John Lyon over at Golf Club Atlas in this thread proves that Emmet had some help, especially with the construction of a second nine holes that took place about 10 years later. Lyon’s research shows that course superintendent Len Raynor and Stephen Carlton Clark, who founded the Baseball Hall of Fame and helped build the spectacular Otesaga Resort Hotel in Cooperstown, both helped with the course expansion around 1919.
Leatherstocking is very short by modern standards, measuring out at just over 6400 yards from the back tees but the course is no pushover, with clever green complexes and lots of strategic play needed to get into proper positions throughout the round.
After a gentle opener, you have a very strong mid-length two-shotter at the 2nd, with a fairway that slopes sharply from left to right. The approach is hit over a dry depression area to a green set up on the hillside with deep bunkers protecting both sides in front. Shots coming up short will be blind to this elevated green. Good golf hole.
The 3rd is a very solid par 3 that runs slightly downhill to a green that best accepts a left-to-right ball flight. There are a series of small bunkers that protect the direct line to the green on the front right but the green is open in the front left, allowing for running approaches.
There is a road that runs down the entire right side of the par five 4th hole, causing a bit of stress off the tee. However, there is plenty of room to bail out to the left and the real strategy comes into play on the second shot, which must skillfully avoid a number of well-placed fairway bunkers, including two of the center-line variety. From there, the third shot is hit to a green well-protected by bunkers left and all putts slope toward that left side.
The 5th is a pretty hole with an interesting greensite but perhaps a hole that would benefit from some strategic tree removal. It is a mid-length dogleg left par four that requires a draw over or around trees protecting the left side of the fairway. The green sits in a nice corner of the property, with more trees protecting the left side of the green and rendering a left greenside bunker practically useless. The putting surface itself slopes sharply from back to front.
The tee shot on the par four 6th is played from in front of the clubhouse patio and it’s an awkward one, as you need to hit a left-to-right shot around or over some mature trees that protect the players from wayward tee shots from the adjacent 18th hole. The approach shot is hit to easily the smallest green on the golf course, one that falls off severely on the right and at the back into bunkers. A tough little harlot!
The next few holes climb well uphill and the par four 7th is a brute. The fairway is slightly offset from the tee, favouring a left to right shot. Left off the tee is pretty much dead due to trees lining that side of the fairway. If you do get into trouble off the tee, you’ll be faced with clearing a well-placed fairway bunker that sits less than 100 yards in front of the green. Otherwise, the main difficulty at the 7th is the uphill second to a green with a significant false front and a huge depression area in the front right. Par is a good score here!
The par four 8th is a dogleg right that starts downhill off the tee and features a blind landing area. That landing area falls off sharply to the left but there is plenty of room through the fairway and there is also a well-placed tree that might block out your approach. The green is long and narrow with some nice subtle undulations, with bunkers flanking the right side and a fall-off area to the left.
You cross over the main road to play the next four holes and the uphill par three 9th is a really scary tee shot. Right is not an option, as the road runs down the entire length of the hole and the green falls off sharply in that direction as well. Left is fine and you can actually get a little help off the hillside, with many balls kicking right onto the green. I was told that a lot of work has been done to this greensite in recent years to make the hole easier and I can attest to its penal nature. Missing short left is really the only option, as anything right or long is a certain bogey, or worse.
The 10th is a midlength dogleg left par four where many will opt for a fairway wood off the tee, as the landing area falls off quite a bit to the right, requiring a precise tee ball. There is more room than you think on the right but the approach is best made from the fairway to a green perched at the highest point on the property. Bunkers surround the entire putting surface and the green falls off severely at the back, with the possibility of long approaches sailing out of bounds. The contours on this green are quite interesting – a really good golf hole.
The 11th is by far the longest hole on the golf course at around 560 yards but one that plays significantly downhill, especially near the approach. Trees run down the entire right side so you need to favour the left with a fade off the tee. This hole is a three-shotter for most but you’ll want to hit your layup as far as possible in order to get a view of the green, which sits well below fairway grade. A running approach might work in firm, summer conditions, as the fairway slopes sharply downhill and from right to left. The green is protected by bunkers left and one solitary bunker at the back right.
You have a little dropshot par three at the 12th to a very wide green that is surrounded by small bunkers. To be honest, I wasn’t a fan of the bunkering here and feel that a single wraparound, Raynor-styled bunker would work better. The bunkering was just too busy for me but I’m sure many others will disagree.
The 13th is the first of two short fours in a row. The challenge off the tee is apparent right away – do you pull driver and try to clear the cross-bunkers and leave a wedge approach or do you opt to lay back and try a shot from 150 yards or so? From there, you hit into a clever little greensite that sits a shade below fairway grade, meaning you can only see the top 3/4 of the flagstick. There is a huge grass depression area in the front left for wayward approaches. Neat little two shotter!
The 285 yard 14th is definitely driveable for the longer hitter. There is a centerline bunker about halfway down the length of the hole, challenging any layup off the tee and the fairway pinches quite a bit near the green, with trees framing both sides. The defense lies at the green, one that is long but very narrow and falls off severely, especially on the right and at the rear.
The 15th is a short par five that doglegs slightly to the right but features land that slopes back to the left. There is a hillside on the right that needs to be avoided in order to give the best look at the green, which sits a bit lower than fairway grade. There are some well-placed fairway bunkers ready to thwart any misplaced layup or approach and there is an interesting punchbowl-styled greensite here as well, open in front and it definitely accepts a running shot. This is likely the best scoring opportunity on the entire golf course.
Say what you will about the finishing stretch at Leatherstocking perhaps being out of character with the rest of the course but damn, it’s not an easy finish! The 16th is a downhill and relatively short par four that is played toward the Otesaga Hotel that sits in the background. A 3-wood or long-iron might be the smart play, as there is trouble left with bunkers and a pond bordering the right side of the landing area. The pond runs all the way up the right side to the green and even splits into a creek that bisects the fairway about 80 yards or so from the green. This hole is no bargain.
The 17th hole is a mid-length par 3 that features a full carry over Otsego Lake, with a bailout area well left. There is some movement in this green from left to right. The hole played much shorter than the yardage when I played due to a helping wind.
How much do you want to bite off the dogleg? That is the question on the tough par five finisher at Leatherstocking. The tee essentially floats out on Otsego Lake and the club built a long and expensive bridge ($350,000 according to the gentleman I played with) to transport the players from the 17th green past the tee and to the 18th fairway. The bunker in the distance provides an aiming point and from there, the hole doglegs close to 90 degrees to the left. The cape hole features water down the entire left side and the green has a couple of tiers to add some challenge at the end of your round. If you’re not careful, this can be a pretty penal finisher.
The course sits on some dramatic land and if I was to think of a comparable course, the closest I can come up with that I’ve played is Lookout Point in Fonthill, Ontario, a Walter Travis design. Both courses feature splendid topography and similar green surrounds, with fall-off areas and tiny little droplet mounding. I’m not sure if Travis and Emmet ever worked together but there certainly were a lot of things that seemed familiar to me at Leatherstocking.
The course does have some quirky routing, no doubt a necessity due to limited available land but I always enjoy and appreciate a blind shot or two and how can you not find an approach like the one on the par five 11th to be anything less than exhilarating?
If you’re long and straight off the tee, you might be able to tame Leatherstocking, as you’ll only need wedge approaches into most holes. However, trouble lurks off the fairway, with clever fairway bunker and greenside bunker placements and some very interesting greensites – some elevated, some below fairway grade.
The conditioning was above average considering the terrible spring weather seen in the Northeast in 2011 and the greens rolled true. I played with a couple of locals and while they gave me a knowing smile when I told them how much I enjoyed their course, they quickly followed it up by saying “How about we keep this our little secret? We like having the course to ourselves!”.
Is this a top 100 course in the US? No it’s not. However, it’s certainly a wonderful, sporty layout that can be enjoyed by every level of player and one that I would definitely try to see again if I was anywhere in the vicinity.
I truly think this is a course worth studying and I’m very happy I stopped in Cooperstown to see it up close.