HAMILTON, N.Y. -- To ace Seven Oaks Golf Club, you'll have to navigate snaking streams and slick greens.
Located just below the old stone buildings of Colgate University, a small private liberal arts college founded in 1819, Seven Oaks Golf Club was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., who graduated from nearby Cornell in 1930 and brought his services about 80 miles northeast to Hamilton. He originally designed the course in 1934, but the Great Depression put a 20-year stop to it until it eventually came to fruition in 1956.
Seven Oaks is good enough to be included in Golf Magazine's list of the top 20 public golf courses in New York for 2010. The flawless condition of the golf course, as well as being tough enough to challenge collegiate golfers (with a 74.6/146 slope/rating), is the biggest reason why.
At less than 7,000 yards, you'd think today's college kids could overpower this golf course, but narrow fairways, thick rough and many hazards running across fairways prove otherwise. Seven Oaks hosted the 2010 Patriot League Golf Championship, where no player was able to break 70 and the team title was won by Lafayette with a two-day total of plus-38.
Twelve holes feature water hazards, and they're often perpendicular streams that require a decision to lay-up or go across. On the par-5 fifth hole, you have to carry water three times: first off wetlands in front of the tee, then carry a stream twice on your second or third shots. The par-5 18th hole is a fitting final challenge -- a narrow, snaking par 5 with a creek on the right side and woods left, followed by a daring approach to a green guarded with water right and short. It's hard to believe many players can reach this 546-yard beast in two shots safely.
But it's the Colgate maintenance team that deserves a bigger tip of the cap over Jones, who delivers a tough test. The large greens here are easily some of New York's finest -- and fastest, so don't think you can get away with thinned chip shots. Perhaps the funniest part of the day for my brother and me was hitting a few putts on a pretty scruffy practice green, then both proceeding to blow our putts by the hole about 20 feet on the much speedier first green. You've been warned.
Seven Oaks Golf Club: The verdict
Rod Christian, who runs the New York Golf Trail, includes Seven Oaks Golf Club for golf groups passing through Cooperstown. The Leatherstocking Golf Course, located just around the corner from the Baseball Hall of Fame, is a superior destination play for its prettier lake setting. Seven Oaks, meanwhile, is mostly flat, but still plenty scenic, laid-back and forested.
Hamilton is a small college town with little more than a single intersection of bars and restaurants that need to service less than 3,000 enrolled students, so it's more of a stopover than a layover along your golf trail route. Getting to Hamilton is hardly a straight shot, but rather a ride on smaller two-lane rural highways. It's a scenic drive that takes you through some of the mid-state's remote country and is a real pleasure, especially when the fall colors begin to take shape. Seven Oaks Golf Club is also about a 40-minute drive from Verona and the golf-rich Turning Stone Resort.
On site at the golf club is a small clubhouse and halfway house. To get to the new driving range, you'll have to take your car about a half mile from the clubhouse.