Autumn Harvest: The Sweetest Golf Season - MASSGOLF

18 HOles and a Bag of Cider DOnuts: Enjoying a Massachusetts fAll Day

By: Rich Rapp

In Japanese, the word momijigari directly translates to “red leaves hunting,” but more broadly describes the act of taking a trip to observe the transitioning foliage. It sounds a touch more elegant than “leaf-peeping,” however, in practice, it’s the same thing that New Englanders do every autumn when the landscape is all too briefly swept with a breathtaking array of colors.

Of course, the other pillar of the season around here, coinciding with the fireworks of foliage, is the apple harvest. Droves of people descend upon the orchards, camera phone in one hand, a basket of freshly picked apples in the other. Then there are the Insta-weary, who may skip the stroll through the trees and cut to the finish line, where a box of fresh, sugar-dusted apple cider donuts awaits.

Allow me to posit a third pillar of autumnal New England glory—golf! Nothing beats a little fall ball, especially before the bulk of the leaves are strewn upon the grounds.

In spring, a burst of excitement reigns, as you emerge from hibernation and head to the course. There’s a brief period of re-acclimation with the swing, during which you can forgive yourself a crooked number or two. After all, you’re just shaking off the rust. But quickly, the burden of expectation sets in. This is a new season, an opportunity to trim the handicap, maybe even the waistline. Personal improvement is a must.

Summer is indulgent and perhaps vain. We demand carefully manicured courses. We sidle up to the first tee in neatly appointed, moisture-wicking fabrics with a low number in mind. When the round is over and there’s plenty of sun yet to burn before it dips below the horizon, might we greedily stretch the day? Squeeze in another 9 or 18?

Then comes autumn. A season of meditation and reflection, perhaps with a side of aching nostalgia. As Emerson wrote, “We are reformers in the spring and summer, but in autumn we stand by the old. Reformers in the morning, and conservers at night.”  You’re probably not making any swing changes right before winter settles in, best to lean on the one you’ve got. The ball won’t fly quite as far in the chilly air—no need to tie your back muscles into knots pursuing distance gains. The putting surface may be a hair slower and a touch more unpredictable. Therein lies the rub of the green.

As the air grows intoxicatingly sweet, the sunlight rapturously golden, and the breeze crisp, measuring your mood in relation to par reveals itself to be futile, and, in fact, silly. With daylight dwindling at an alarming rate, you’ve already won by stealing a few hours of seasonal splendor before winter takes hold.

With that philosophy in mind, I set out to enjoy a quintessential autumn golf day and I suggest you do the same. Route 2 looked to be the ideal avenue, fertile with orchards and golf courses.

My first destination was The Woods of Westminster, which is somehow not the name of a Game of Thrones episode. But before we get to the golf course, I want to add perhaps my strongest recommendation for this type of outing: set your maps app to avoid highways. One of the absolute greatest pleasures in life, particularly on a cool day with the windows down and the heated seats on, is a slow, winding drive through the Massachusetts countryside. My playlist leans folksy Americana a la Simon & Garfunkel and Townes Van Zandt for these meandering roads, but friend, you do you.

Upon arriving at the golf course, I was quickly confronted by an utter lack of pretension. Two boats sit curiously at the end of the landlocked gravel parking lot. Walking up the hill towards the clubhouse, 70s classic rock floated from mounted speakers, guiding me towards the charmingly open-air pro shop. From there, the exposed beating heart of the place was visible: an old sailboat converted into an outdoor bar, jib turned downward for sun protection, and string lights spiraling out from the mast. A patio encircles the ship, which grows increasingly active as the day wears on. And if you really need the priorities around here spelled out for you, the mast is topped with a flag that reads, “It’s a bad day to be a beer.”

It was a good day to be a golfer.

I’m normally a staunch advocate of walking the golf course, but the Woods of Westminster is a rare exception. Located just a few miles from Wachusett Mountain, the terrain is dramatic. Were you to walk, you’d quickly find yourself in the throws of an arduous hike. Even in a cart, the round felt like a direct interaction with nature. The dense rows of pines make most holes feel like their own carved out slices of tranquility. I even happened upon a bobcat cub happily padding along behind the 11th green.

The course is quirky to be sure, as the rugged terrain imposes its will on the routing. There is a fine mix of demanding shots and birdie opportunities on the short track, which keeps things interesting. And please remember, we’re out here for some momijigari and fresh air. Should you make the mistake of taking the round too seriously, the two on-course tiki bars will serve as blatant reminders to take it down a notch.

The 340-yard 9th hole is a thrill ride, a drivable par-4 playing from the top of the hill down a ski slope to the green, which sits a few paces away from the sailboat bar. As I made the turn, the fragrant smoke from the grill and Stevie Nicks wistfully crooning “Landslide” wafted up the fairway, almost luring me from the 9th green directly to a stool aboard the ship, but there was more golf to be played.

The back nine plays briefly (and severely) down the hill on the 10th, before turning around and marching right back to the top. The landscape is more demanding than the front nine, which makes the pay-off of the final inward holes all the more rewarding. As you play back down the hill on the 18th, once again, that grill smoke beckons from the red-bricked harbor where the boat bar is permanently docked.

I did circle back to the ship after the round. The $49 weekday green fee included a cart and lunch—how can you beat that?

From there, I headed for Carlson Orchards. It was a good 30-minute drive from the course, but the final 10 minutes winding through the town of Harvard made the trek worth it. Grandiose visions of returning to the office with a box full of cider donuts, conquering hero for the greater good, were dashed by the fact that the donuts are only sold on weekends. But a bag of apples and four pack of cider served as a fine consolation prize.

There are plenty of orchards and golf course combinations to explore throughout the Commonwealth, so why not steal away for one of the purest pursuits the game has to offer? Forget par and savor your surroundings. Take it from Hawthorne, a fellow Bay Stater, who wrote, “I cannot endure to waste anything so precious as autumnal sunshine by staying in the house.”

How do you like them apples?


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