Act now to see Mid-Atlantic's autumn glories

By Dale Leatherman, Contributor

WILLIAMSBURG, Va. -- When summer fades, it's time to shake the beach sand from your shoes and head west. The mountains have been beckoning all summer, promising lower temperatures and humidity, and a more lush green than you'll find in the sun-baked lowlands. Now there's an even greater enticement -- the mountain courses are dressed for fall, nature's last colorful dance before the quiet sleep of winter. There will be days when you'll chase a hint of frost off the first tee, but you'll have your jacket off turning No. 9 as the day warms to the mid-60s. The air's crisp, clear and in some places thin enough that you'll gain 10 yards or so on your drives.

It's the best of times for golf.

Here are a few places with dazzling fall foliage, but you'd better go soon. It'll all be over by late October.

The Greenbrier at White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia, has a golfing reputation dating back to 1910. At this time of year a sea of yellow chrysanthemums fronts the white-pillared the main entrance to the hotel is fronted by a sea of yellow mums and the golf courses are a riot of color.

The Meadows Course, a Bob Cupp redesign of an old Dick Wilson layout, runs down a valley between two mountains covered with mixed hardwoods and pines. There's color wherever you look, on every hole. The fifth hole of the Nicklaus-designed Greenbrier Course is the highest point on all the courses and commands a panoramic view from the tee. From the ninth tee you can see the Allegheny Mountain pass through which the Midland Trail carried settlers west.

The Old White Course, virtually unchanged from its original design in 1913, has commanding views of mountains south, north and west. Before you putt out on No. 4, look back toward the tee and the towering Kate's Mountain beyond.

The Homestead in Hot Springs, Virginia, is another elegant and historic Allegheny Mountain resort known for its five-star rating and three championship golf courses.

The Homestead's Cascades is the state's No. 1 course and among the top 50 tracks in the nation. The late Sam Snead, a one-time member of the Homestead staff, called it "the finest course in the South."

Designed in 1924 by William S. Flynn, the Cascades has three of the prettiest finishing holes to be found. Hole 16 has a pond in front, a creek to the left and a dense, colorful forest behind the green. Holes 17 and 18 hug the stream and pond, finishing off with a par-3, 145-yard shot from an elevated tee over the pond to an elevated green. The Lower Cascades, a Robert Trent Jones Sr., design, has mountain ranges on both sides. Its most scenic hole -- and one of its most challenging -- is No. 11, a 358-yard par-4. From the elevated tee you can see much of the course and the mountain beyond.

In the fall the air at the Homestead is crystal clear and the mornings are frosty and fresh. The hotel lobby is at 2,300 feet above sea level and parts of the Old Course are even higher. Laid out in 1892 (the oldest course in the state), the Old Course is covered in massive hardwood trees. The tenth fairway overlooks two mountainsides ablaze with the colors of oak, maple, poplar and cherry, and the Kentucky brick Georgian hotel with its landmark tower.

Wintergreen Resort near Charlottesville, Virginia, is know for its mountaintop setting, environmental conscience and 45 delightful holes of golf. The Stoney Creek Course, 27 holes crafted by Rees Jones, runs through a valley lined with a variety of colorful hardwoods and underbrush and occasionally opens up to views of mountains in the distance. A different view is to be had on the Ellis Maples-designed Devil's Knob atop the mountain. At 3,850 feet, it's the highest course in the state and experiences fall in early October, well before the valley turns.

Devil's Knob had a complete facelift early in 2003 that improved drainage and irrigation, added additional tees, enhanced the landscaping and sharpened many of the design features. The course is an absolute stunner in the fall.

From Devil's Knob's No. 16 tee, a downhill 408-yard par-4, you're treated to a panoply of color on the mountains beyond. No. 17, a 173-yard par-3 with a little pond in front of the green, drops 100 feet from the tee and has a magnificent view of the Shenandoah Valley.

"We blow the leaves off each morning, but we still caution players not to use colored balls that can get lost in the leaves," says director of golf Mike Mayer. "It's not a long course, but the premium is on accuracy, particularly this time of year."

Charlottesville's Keswick Hall overlooks an Arnold Palmer layout that ranges through forests of ancient oaks and wetlands, with some surprising elevation changes and great views of distant mountains.

Also in Charlottesville is the historic Boar's Head Inn and its Birdwood Golf Course, one of the top ten collegiate courses in the country. Also rated one of the top 100 courses in the Mid-Atlantic by Washington Golf Monthly, the Lindsay Ervin design ranges over 500 beautiful acres.

In the Shenandoah Valley northwest of Charlottesville is Bryce Resort, which has a course designed in 1974 by Ed Alt. The starting hole is one of the most scenic -- and promises more great vistas to come. The course follows a valley, so from the first tee you're looking down fairways flanked by brilliantly hued mountains. If you're a private pilot checking out the fall foliage from the air, take advantage of the resort's airstrip and check out the golf course.

Another valley course is the Shenandoah Valley Golf Club near Front Royal, Virginia. The original two nines, designed by Lynwood Morrison in 1965, were joined by a Rees Jones-designed Blue Nine in 1984. For more than three decades the trees and floral plantings on this course have flourished under the direction of a full-time gardener, so that playing it anytime of year is a visual treat. The track boasts mountain views on all sides, a factor that makes the glass-fronted clubhouse, which overlooks all three nines, much in demand for receptions and other social functions. The No. 2 tee on the Blue Nine, a 183-yard par-3, faces south toward the mountains where the Skyline Drive begins. Blue No. 8, a 148-yard par-3, faces mountains to the west. Play it late in the day for spectacular sunsets.

In 1974, Robert Trent Jones, Sr., put the finishing touches on a 6,940-yard, par-74 course at Cacapon Resort State Park in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia. The course elevation is 900 feet, so the crest of Cacapon Mountain, at about 2,400 feet, towers above the fairways and is resplendent in its fall colors. Cacapon, with its rustic cabins and lodge, is a lovely, affordable family getaway with a golf course one would not expect to find at a state park.

Western Maryland's ski country has a gem of a course at Wisp Resort, overlooking Deep Creek Lake. The Dominic Palumbo-design measures 7,122 yards from the tips and is a daunting venue, but pretty. When the trees turn, you're looking at a full array of color from the oak, cherry, birch, maple, and walnut trees lining the fairways. There are many views of the mountains and Deep Creek Lake.

Pennsylvania's family-style Seven Springs Resort is one of the mid-Atlantic's premier ski areas, but before the snow flies the golf course has a last, spectacular fling. The track is 3,100 feet above sea level, and from most tees you can see two states (Maryland and Ohio) and three counties. No. 11, once voted one of the best par-3s in the state, has a lake on the right side of the green and dense forest behind. From the tee, you look down at the lake, the trees, the green and the valley beyond. It's truly magnificent.

Western Pennsylvania is also the home of Hidden Valley, another family-friendly resort surrounded by well-established resort communities. The 1988 debut of the course designed by Russell Roberts was lauded by Golf Digest as one of the best new courses -- and has aged well. The twelfth hole arguably has one of the best views of the area's fall foliage. More than half of the holes are elevated, with vistas of 30 to 40 miles. The tees of No. 12 and No. 13 and the fairways of No. 4 and No. 16 have birdseye views of the mountains and the farms out toward Somerset.

One of the finest courses in the region is the Pete Dye-designed Mystic Rock at the luxurious Nemacolin Woodlands Resort east of Pittsburgh. There a plenty of mountain panoramas on this hilly course, where the skillful use of rocks, sprawling sand bunkers and strategically placed greens makes for many memorable holes.

The new Palmer Course at Stonewall Resort in Roanoke, West Virginia, was built on the grounds of a long-deserted farm. There's not a dull hole on the route, which has many elevation changes and some dazzling panoramas. The great variety of evergreens and hardwoods make this a special place to play in autumn.

A spectacular combination of fall foliage and golf is to be found at the Raven Golf Course at Snowshoe Mountain, West Virginia. The dramatic mountain setting and architect Gary Player's use of cliff-side tees is powerful magic. Hit from 200 feet up on the fourth hole, even the weakest drive becomes a thing of beauty as it hangs suspended against a colorful mountain backdrop.

"This course will be a thrill for people who come in the fall," says Player. "They're going to have an experience they've never had before. These mountains talk to you. One day there's snow; then spring comes and everything turn dark, dark green; then fall arrives and the mountains look like they're on fire."

The narrow, forest-lined fairways hand out many a lesson in lost balls and humility, but the views are so spectacular you won't mind the sacrifice.

Also good for fall play: Virginia

Williamsburg, Virginia, which is becoming as famous for golf as for history, normally would be a great fall destination, but many courses were heavily damaged by Hurricane Isabelle. Next year, keep in mind Stonehouse, Royal New Kent, Kiskiak, Kingsmill, Ford's Colony and, of course, the famous Golden Horseshoe Gold and Green courses.

On the water's edge in Virginia's Northern Neck is the newly renovated Tides Inn and its wooded Golden Eagle Course. Close to the metropolitan area, General's Ridge Golf Course in Manassas, Virginia, is a riot of ravines, woodlands and steep slopes; Forest Greens in Triangle features sculpted greens and several entertaining blind tee shots; The Ospreys at Belmont Bay in Woodbridge is studded with woods and wetlands and has one of the area's most dramatic holes in its No. 17; Virginia Oaks in Gainesville is a classy route with five holes on Lake Manassas; the exceptional back nine of Lansdowne Resort in Leesburg rises and falls, often abruptly, on its way through dense woods along a stream; Augustine Golf Club in Stafford is a traditional, stately venue, scenic and quiet, with few parallel fairways.


On Maryland's Eastern Shore, both the River and Lakes layouts at Queenstown Harbor Golf Links are amply endowed with water, but it is the impressive River Course which includes, but does not intrude upon, sensitive environmental areas with a plethora of colorful wild plants. In Annapolis, the heavily-wooded South River Golf Links is surprisingly hilly for the area and presents golfers with big elevation changes, eight lakes, and long carries.

Easton's tough Hog Neck Golf Course starts in open country near a highway, then dips into blissfully wooded terrain; and Swan Point Yacht & Country Club in Issue occupies a river peninsula, so that water comes into play on a dozen holes.

Dale LeathermanDale Leatherman, Contributor

Dale Leatherman is a full-time freelance travel writer specializing in golf and adventure travel. For nearly 20 years her "beat" has been the Caribbean, where she can combine golf, scuba diving and other sports. She has also written about golf in Wales, Scotland, Australia, Costa Rica, Canada and the U.S., particularly the Mid-Atlantic region.

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