History has not been kind to James Fenimore Cooper (1789-1851), author of The Last of the Mohicans and member of the founding family of Cooperstown, N.Y. He gets roasted in Mark Twain’s essay “Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offences.” But even if there were a Twainsville or Clemenstown, those towns would fall short of the quaint rural charms of Cooperstown, with its red brick shops and white church steeples along Main Street and, of course, the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Sports fan don't need more reasons to visit Cooperstown than the Hall of Fame. Wherever baseball was first played — Hoboken, N.J., is the most likely candidate — the living heart of the game is the Hall of Fame Gallery where simple plaques tell the stories of Ruth, Williams and Mays with terse descriptions of their achievements ("Hit safely in 57 consecutive games," "Hit .406 in 1941"). “The history of baseball has the quality of myth,” wrote The Natural author Bernard Malamud, and the National Baseball Hall of Fame is America's only sports Valhalla (sorry, Canton and St. Augustine). However, Cooperstown has plenty of other diversions, especially if you play golf. The Leatherstocking Golf Course (6,416 yards, par 72, Greens fee: $99, website), named after Fenimore Cooper's most famous hero, is one of the gems of public-access golf in the Northeast. The 1909 Devereux Emmet design winds through the hilly Upstate New York countryside along Lake Otesaga. Though short by today's standards, Leatherstocking's narrow fairways and those wily Emmet greens are more than an adequate defense. The real fun is found in the final three holes. The long downhill par-4 16th plays into a narrowing fairway with water on both sides; No. 17 is a short par-3 over water [photo, above right]; and No. 18 is a standout finishing hole, a par-5 which starts from an island tee box and finishes in front of the stately Otesaga Hotel. Note: You won't be able to play Leatherstocking during Hall of Fame induction weekend because the course is open only to Hall of Famers. Don't feel too bad. Pete Rose can't play it then either.
(On a personal note, I ran into Jim Rice at Leatherstocking. Fortunately, I was wearing a Red Sox hat. I told him him he was one of my favorite players and congratulated him on his 2009 induction to the Hall. He asked to try one of my wedges, which he hit smoothly onto the green. When I told I lived in New York City, he gave me a sideways look. "New York? I've got to go!" he said and drove off in his cart.)
Where to Stay: The Otesaga Hotel (otesaga.com) is Cooperstown's second most famous landmark. Just a short walk from town and the Hall, the Otesaga lets you step back in time to a more graceful age without sacrificing modern amenities. Cooperstown is also home to many quaint bed-and-breakfast inns. For a complete list, contact the Cooperstown Chamber of Commerce (cooperstownchamber.org). Where to Eat: The Otesaga offers a five-course meal complete with music and candlelight in its main dining room (jackets required, guys). You can get burgers and lighter fare at the Otesaga's Hawkeye Bar and Grill. In town, you'll find a handful of decent dining options. The best is the contemporary American fare at Alex and Ika Restaurant (alexandika.com), which Frommer's named one of the top 10 restaurants in New York state.
What to Do: The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Leatherstocking Golf Course are the primary attractions, but Cooperstown also has the Glimmerglass Opera (a renowned opera company performing in July and August, glimmerglass.org) and the Fenimore Art Museum (fenimoreartmuseum.org). Beer drinkers shouldn't miss the Ommegang Brewery (ommegang.com), the best Belgian ale you'll find west of Brussels. Save room in the trunk for a case to take home.