Northeast fall foliage golf doesn't stop in New England

By Chris Baldwin, Contributor

RED BANK, N.J. - It's Halloween and the leaves have barely started to turn in this central New Jersey riverside town. The colors are still glimpses in the green, flapping in the breeze.

This scene is available throughout New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia. In fact, while most of New England closes up shop on its fall foliage tours, the color show's only beginning in large parts of the Northeast.

Even if nobody really knows it.

"People seem to think that the leaves stop at the Massachusetts border," said Chris Hanson, the head professional at Greystone Golf Course, a public track in the Baltimore area. "But you can find some really nice fall settings much farther south than that."

If that's what you're looking for, that is.

"Leaves?" golfer Jerry Samuels asked. "I'm glad they haven't changed yet. I'd be fine if they never did. To me, leaves just mean you're going to lose a number of your golf balls."

Well, there's that. Golfers love scenery as long as it doesn't interfere with their games. And beautiful, colorful leaves often end up on the fairways, hiding that perfectly hit drive. Wayne Conley, the owner of Conley Resort in the tree haven Western Pennsylvania zone of Butler County, says that his course traffic slows to a crawl once those leaves do turn.

"The golfers don't want to be searching for every shot," Conley said. "(The leaves changing) pretty much signals the end of the season for us as far as regular traffic."

It doesn't have to be that way though. There are plenty of spots in the Northeast where you can get color-splattered scenic golf without a lot of pain. For a much longer time period than you'd think. Especially after a long, hot, dry summer like the one just finished. That delays the changing of the leaves in regions that are open for golf much later than one might expect.

"It almost never snows even in North Jersey until after Thanksgiving," said regular New York area golfer Sherri Klein. "If you're out there in the in-between weeks before it gets really cold, you get some good conditions and a lot of times you'll almost have the course to yourself.

"I drag my husband out to play. Besides, spring blossoms, it's the prettiest time of the year."

All the New Hampshire, Vermont, Newport and Boston area courses touting their now-you-see-it, now-you-don't fall foliage specials do not want to hear this of course. But there are leaves out there beyond New England.

Hidden Fall Color Zones

Atlantic City: With the old school neon, the new school Borgata Hotel driven high-end shops and the timeless boardwalk, not a lot of people think trees when it comes to this hardcore gambler's paradise. And it's true that a number of the surrounding courses offer largely links style golf.

But playing the Michael Hurdzan- and Dana Fry-designed Sand Barrens can be a surreal fall golf experience, with the colorful trees standing out against the huge sand bunkers, adding an almost alien feel to the land. Plus, for pure leafy color bursts in natural surroundings, it's an easy drive to Cape May National Golf Club. Here you're literally playing in one of the largest private bird sanctuaries in the state.

"I don't know if people realize how the water helps make the Atlantic City area's winter weather much more temperate," said Rob Clark, the general manager of the Seaview Marriott Resort & Spa's two golf courses. "We can be playing golf while places 30 minutes from us in either direction are buried in snow."

Maryland magic: Nobody thinks of Maryland when it comes to fall foliage. Its red and orange colored leaves might as well be in a tree witness protection program. Yet there are numerous courses, particularly those near the Potomac River, that are awash in fall scenery.

Try the Swan Point Golf Yacht and Country Club for its color-splotched river views. Or head to Pete Dye's Bulle Rock and stare up at the towering hardwood trees and gawk as the course beats you to death. For the more budget conscious there's Greystone, where you're liable to notice those leaves rustling and your shots going every which way in the tough fall winds.

You're not going to run into any buses filled with gawking tourists exhaustively filming fall's changeover on their camcorders in Maryland. It's not that other "M" leaf-hyped state. You are going to find some picturesque visions with even more interesting golf.

Williamsburg, Virginia. : This historic town doesn't just provide a trip back into Colonial times. It can almost bring a quick trip back into the seasons for Northerner golfers. The leaves change much later here. Temperatures danced in the 80s in Williamsburg this week, while they were in the low 60s in New York. And unlike the 12-hour marathon drives to Myrtle Beach, Williamsburg is an easily bearable six and a half hours from New York City.

It isn't Southern hot either. There's still a Northeast change of the seasons here, one that lasts well into November with Crayola-colored popping leafs galore.

Playing at a place like Kingsmill Woods Course or the Golden Horseshoe Gold Course when the leaves are changing adds another dimension to some challenging tracks. The Golden Horseshoe Gold is a Robert Trent Jones Sr. design that meanders along 125 acres of woodlands. It's also an Audubon Sanctuary.

Sometimes finding those hidden color explosions is a simple matter of following the birds. It will bring you to places you'd never suspect.

Chris BaldwinChris Baldwin, Contributor

Chris Baldwin keeps one eye on the PGA Tour and another watching golf vacation hotspots and letting travelers in on the best place to vacation.

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