It is said that playing golf at the highest level takes imagination—the ability to visualize a ball in flight before hitting it, then tailor and even invent shots to execute that vision and make galleries explode in cheers. We can’t do that. Nonetheless, we’ve got plenty of golf imagination, enough to visualize the perfect all-New Jersey course, one that would be world-class in anyone’s book.
The raw material is already in place. Few states rank above New Jersey in first-rate golf holes. American golf took off in this part of the country, and many gems of the Golden Age of golf course design (roughly the first third of the twentieth century) were built here and flourish today. Most of these august layouts—Baltusrol, Essex County, Pine Valley, Somerset Hills—are private clubs, but the state is rich in top-drawer modern courses, public (Scotland Run) and private (Hidden Creek).
An old saw among golf writers is that building a “dream eighteen” is simple; pick the eighteen at Pine Valley Golf Club and be done with it. But where’s the fun in that? Anyway, it would shortchange the bounty of Jersey golf, which runs from the northwest corner of Sussex County (Ballyowen) to near the tip of Cape May (Sand Barrens).
Instead, we decided to create a fantasy layout limited only by the state’s borders—a dream state, if you will, which we call the Country Club of New Jersey. Membership is free but limited to those who, like Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, can traverse space and time with a click of the heels and a flick of the imagination. At CCNJ, there is no travel time to the club, no tee times, and only a mental distance between holes. Once on the course, however, members must be able to complete these perfect eighteen holes in under four hours. CCNJ will tolerate no slow play. We didn’t work this hard assembling the course to wait for the group ahead of us to clear the green.
Seaview Resort & Spa (Absecon), Bay Course, #1
Par 4, 357 yards
Short but tough, a lovely opener from a tournament-tested 1914 Donald Ross design. A long bunker and out-of-bounds guard the right side; native grass-covered mounds protect the left. The green slopes away from the approach, demanding an old-school running shot to get near the flag.
Pine Valley Golf Club, #2, Par 4, 368 yards
Picking one hole here is like picking a favorite Sports Illustrated swimsuit model—you can’t go wrong. Club historian and acclaimed author James Finegan says Pine Valley founder and architect George Crump would have chosen this little monster, with its terrifying tee shot (hit the narrow fairway or die) and enormous, rippling green. We gladly defer.
Sea Oaks Golf Club
(Little Egg Harbor), #16
Par 5, 540 yards
A downhill double-dogleg, it’s reachable in two if you take the aggressive line off the tee and skirt the trees starboard. The small green, guarded by water, makes laying up prudent, but you can bail out right if you lose faith mid-swing.
Plainfield Country Club,
#11, Par 3, 147 yards
Members call this the shortest par 5 in New Jersey. (Ha!) It’s listed as the #18 handicap hole. (Ha-ha!) With the green’s severe back-to-front slope, any shot that lands past the pin leaves you a putt that, like Creedence’s “Proud Mary” rendition, keeps rollin’, rollin’, rollin’… With a devilish crown and ridge through its center, the green is no picnic from any spot.
McCullough’s Emerald Links (Egg Harbor Township), #7
Par 4, 464 yards
Augusta National co-designer Alister MacKenzie kick-started his career by winning a hole-design contest in the British magazine Country Life in 1914. MacKenzie’s strategically ingenious creation is brought to life at McCullough’s, a fascinating municipal course in which each hole is patterned on a famous one, most in the British Isles. Noted architect (and Egg Harbor resident) Stephen Kay, designer of McCullough’s, made this hole a gaping 159 yards wide, but much of it is waste bunker. On the tee, you have to choose between a safe (but long) route to the hole or a risky (but much shorter) route.
Ridgewood Country Club (Paramus), Center Nine #6, Par 4, 291 yards
A course’s quality often can be judged by its short par 4s. CCNJ’s shortest comes from a club that has hosted the Ryder Cup, the U.S. Senior Open, and the U.S. Amateur. Members call this superb hole the Five and Dime, because if you don’t make five, it’s a ten. The farther you hit your tee ball, the more trouble you bring into play.
Trump National Golf Club, (Bedminster) #6
Par 4, 438 yards
This is the finest, toughest, most beautiful and costly par 4 in the world! Or so the champion hypemeister might say. But seriously, this dogleg-right is a no-brainer pick. The downhill approach to a large peninsula green has many players bailing left—into a bunker, from where they will have to hit a scary explosion shot toward water.
Forsgate Country Club (Monroe Township),
Banks Course, #12
Par 3, 144 yards
Close doesn’t count on the hole named Horseshoe. Exact is more like it. Nor will a horseshoe in your pocket help—there’s no luck involved. Horseshoe refers to the contour of the raised green ringed by bunkers. A crooked short-iron tee shot will undoubtedly leave a wild bucking lag putt.
Hidden Creek Golf Club
(Egg Harbor Township), #3
Par 5, 501 yards
Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw designed America’s most praised modern course, Nebraska’s Sand Hills Golf Club, and they have one New Jersey design to their credit. It’s a total delight. The second shot on this hole is a do-I-or-don’t-I temptation, with the imposing “Quarry” waste hazard beckoning on the right. The false-front green makes the approach look shorter than it actually is.
Bayonne Golf Club, #16
Par 4, 470 yards
Rightly hailed as one of the golf world’s wonders when it opened last year, for the Herculean labor involved in constructing heaving, Irish-looking links on a flat, industrial site facing New York Harbor. This downhill hole (Heaven’s Gate), with a tiny green tucked against the Hudson River, is long and strong.
Essex County Country Club (West Orange), #11
Par 3, 202 yards
Recent renovations have restored the gleam of this classic course, the state’s oldest private club. Its uphill, chasm-spanning eleventh hole is ranked among the world’s 500 finest holes. Its toughness has never been in doubt. But pruning, sprucing, and tree removal have made it better-looking than ever.
Hollywood Golf Club (Deal), #7
Par 5, 541 yards
A Walter Travis Golden Age gem—visually bold, strategically demanding—Hollywood never gets enough press. Its seventh favors the thinking golfer who lays his second shot far down the right side. From there, finding the three-tiered green, not the huge left-side bunker, is a more manageable task.
Metedeconk National (Jackson), #27
Par 4, 446 yards
A super-demanding, precise tee shot is required on this dogleg right. Don’t flirt with the pitch pine guarding the right corner; favor the left side for a better look in. A long iron or fairway wood over water to a tight, two-tiered green follows, with a bunker left and snarling native grasses long. In a word: a brute.
Galloway National Golf Club, #15
Par 4, 409 yards
This brutish par 4 begins with a fearsome tee ball. Get aggressive with a driver and you risk finding a solitary bunker on the right or the massive waste area left. The uphill approach is no bargain, either; all told, the hole’s presence on lists of the world’s best is well justified.
Somerset Hills Country Club (Bernardsville), #2
Par 3, 175 yards
Golf-architecture connoisseurs consider this A.W. Tillinghast masterpiece among the country’s finest Redan-style holes. These feature a narrow, diagonally positioned green with a deep bunker in front. This green tilts from front right to back left and has a deep front bunker and hidden flanking bunkers.
Sand Barrens Golf Club (Swainton), West #8
Par 4, 448 yards
From an elevated tee, players must shape their drives from right to left to hit the fairway. The large, subtle green is receptive to long approaches because it’s open in front. But if the pin is tucked in the back left corner of the green—defended by a large tree and two bunkers—you might not be able to see the pin, never mind attack it.
RiverWinds Golf Club
(West Deptford), #17
Par 3, 156 yards
Ask golfers which of the world’s great par 3s they’d kill to play and they’ll say the island-green seventeenth at the TPC at Sawgrass, annual home of the PGA Tour’s Players Championship. Here is New Jersey’s best such hole. From a 40-foot-high cliff, you have to hit the green below, which—gulp—is situated in the Delaware River.
Baltusrol Golf Club, (Springfield), Lower #17
Par 5, 650 yards
It’s only fitting to end at the state’s most storied club in terms of championship history: Baltusrol has hosted fifteen USGA national competitions, as well as the 2005 PGA Championship won by Phil Mickelson. The Lower’s penultimate hole is one of golf’s storied three-shotters. Two straight, solid strikes are needed to clear the cross bunkers 400 yards from the tee, still leaving you a daunting long-iron approach to a well-trapped green. A par here and you’ve earned your nineteenth-hole beer.
If CCNJ’s main course is closed for maintenance—hey, that happens—this layout should do.
Scotland Run Golf Club (Williamstown), #16
Par 4, 402 yards
Haworth Country Club, #1
Par 5, 561 yards
Crystal Springs Golf Club (Hardyston), #11
Par 3, 186 yards
The Ridge at Back Brook Golf Club (Ringoes), #9
Par 4, 397 yards
Atlantic City Country Club (Northfield), #14
Par 4, 339 yards
Hominy Hill Golf Club
(Colts Neck), #17
Par 5, 537 yards
Pine Barrens Golf Club (Jackson), #2
Par 4, 409 yards
Twisted Dune Golf Club
(Egg Harbor Township), #14
Par 4, 414 yards
Pine Hill Golf Club, #17
Par 4, 453 yards
Shackamaxon Golf and Country Club (Scotch Plains), #8
Par 4, 475 yards
Cape May National Golf Club (Erma), #18
Par 4, 446 yards
Fiddler’s Elbow, Forest
(Bedminster Township), #17
Par 3, 194 yards
The Architects Golf Club
(Lopatcong Township), #13
Par 5, 524 yards
Canoe Brook Country Club,
North Course (Summit), #17
Par 4, 455 yards
Hackensack Golf Club (Oradell), #14
Par 4, 356 yards
Suburban Golf Club (Union), #14
Par 4, 393 yards
Ballyowen Golf Club (Hamburg), #6
Par 3, 203 yards
Liberty National Golf Club
(Jersey City), #17
Par 4, 445 yards
CCNJ members join for the unparalleled 36 holes of golf. Still, a club worthy of this name demands some top-notch extras, too. Hamilton Farm Golf Club in Gladstone boasts some serious celebrity members such as Matt Lauer and Michael Jordan, who no doubt also enjoy its eighteen-hole par-3 course, the Highlands, designed by Michael Hurdzan and Dana Fry. It’s the country’s only short course with a USGA rating. Tiger Woods purportedly hasn’t broken par in several attempts. We’ve replicated it—as well as its equestrian center, home to the U.S. Equestrian Team—at CCNJ. Our grass and clay tennis courts are based on those at Somerset Hills. The golf practice facility comes to us from Hillsborough’s Royce Brook Golf Club.
Members can arrive via private boat or helicopter, à la Liberty National, and enter Crystal Springs’ impressive clubhouse on a hill. (We need a big one because we’ve got a robust membership.) The huge American flag outside, which can be seen for miles, comes from Bayonne GC. We’ve paid homage to Atlantic City Country Club by taking ACCC’s own historic bell, which long ago reminded golfers of the last trolley back to town, as well as a wooden dining room floor pocked with old spike marks for that unmistakable feel of authenticity.
Swimming pool? Sorry, the kids make too much noise.
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