French Woods Golf Course in Hancock, N.Y.: Attracting visitors to the foothills of the Catskills
HANCOCK, N.Y. -- Set in the foothills of the Catskills, N.Y., Hancock seems hardly a blink in the road just off Route 17, yet the new French Woods Golf Course just east of Binghamton and north of Scranton, Pa., is attracting people from New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
They come for a good golf experience at a great price along with comfortable lodging and outdoor pursuits such as fishing and hiking.
French Woods is quite remarkable and extremely playable considering it was designed by a logger-turned-golf-course-developer, Russell Bass, a successful entrepreneur in the area. When Bass decided he wanted a better course to play than the local muni, he decided to build it himself on his own land. No problem.
Bass took a tape measure and started walking. He stopped at about 350 yards out establishing the first hole, a straight routing to a small green with trees on either side of the fairway.
Then out came the tape measure again to mark the distance for hole two at about 135 yards, a par-3 downhill. It was a bit soggy where the green was to be located, so Bass created four ponds to contain the water and serve as interesting hazards.
"He knew there were a lot of wetland areas -- the land is, after all, located in the Upper Delaware region -- so it made sense to turn them into ponds," said Gerald DaBrescia, Bass's friend and president of Hancock Partners, a group of local leaders who have come together to revitalize the small, sleepy town of Hancock.
And so it went as the course meandered through woods and over hills and meadows until Bass had laid out 6,018 yards of fairways and about 20 reed-lined ponds that certainly made the local geese very happy.
French Woods G.C.: The course
French Woods Golf Course has some challenging doglegs and mostly roll-up greens, many on the small side and tricky with pronounced undulations, while fairways tend to be wide and lined by tall hardwoods and pines. There aren't a whole lot of bunkers on the course, but those that exist, lie close to the greens.
One outstanding feature of the course is the nonstop views of the distant Catskills and Pennsylvania hills. For example, on hole seven, you're teeing off a high ledge with the hill dropping down near the green that lies in a kind of bowl below, while hole 16, a dogleg left, takes you around two pretty ponds.
Playing at the end of the season, we found greens in pretty good shape, although slow. But allowances had to be made for a lousy, drizzly day when no one but a couple of die-hard golf writers and one other hardy twosome were out there slugging away (the course closes when the snow sets in). French Woods could use a few strategic fairway bunkers, but overall, the course is great fun to play in a really beautiful area pretty much in the middle of nowhere yet accessible from everywhere.
The course returns to the clubhouse twice, a handsome, large, log cabin-style building on the top of a ridge with views from the dining room, bar and outdoor deck, reaching out to Pennsylvania. In season, you can enjoy lunch and dinner as well as scheduled events, and if you get lucky, you'll meet Bass's wife, Lynn, who helps out in the operation -- even rising at sunrise in the off-season to whip up bacon and eggs for some early bird golfers.
Nine newly minted on-site cabins built by Bass feature large beams, lofty ceilings, large, fully quipped kitchens, and front and back decks. From Cabin 8 set into a hillside, you can see the 12th and 15th greens and the 13th tee, while fairways are spread out in all directions.
Along with your dose of mountaintop rustic ambiance, cabins come with large, modern kitchens equipped with all the gear you need to make a meal for your gang, including a microwave, full-size fridge and stove. Cabins also have large, flat-screen HDTVs with satellite, and 10 minutes down the road, you can stock up on necessities such as milk, coffee and munchies.
Each two-story cabin sleeps eight, and there is enough room in the loft to fit a slew more of your pals and relatives if they bring sleeping bags. The cabins are not typically macho-style -- all deer heads, pot-bellied stoves and tin cups -- but have cool accessories such as a cluster of wall mirrors, pottery groupings and baskets, while bedding is new and comfortable. Men will appreciate the good knives and the charcoal barbecue on the back deck, also furnished with sturdy redwood tables and benches.
Another accommodation choice is the first-rate, 32-room Hancock House Hotel & Eatery, also built by Bass in the center of Hancock. Here you get a free breakfast, great beds and high-speed Internet. You'll love the bar and restaurant, too.
French Woods Golf Course: The verdict
With green fees and a cart less than $40, French Woods Golf Course, along with Bass Cabins accommodations, add up to a golfer's find.
Although a perfect getaway for golfing groups, the cabins also make a good base for other activities such as kayaking, fishing and visiting the Catskill's historic attractions, including the Fort Delaware Museum and the Bethel Woods Center for the Arts, a top music venue.
Ask about French Woods' unlimited play-and-stay vacation packages.
December 3, 2012