Trip from MA to NC October 3-9, 2015
Before starting on my NY/NJ/VA trip, I need to add some thoughts about Timber Point and make a correction to my Top 100 Spreadsheet.
Timber Point: In my previous post, I was fairly negative about Timber Point. It has been pointed out to me that the original club had only 18 holes and since the club folded (and the property was taken over by Suffolk County) another 9 holes were added with no additional land involved. I was advised to read the description of it in Dan Wexler’s Missing Links. The original course was designed by Charles Alison, one of the greatest architects ever and of the 18 holes I played, I believe 13 are “as they were” on the original. The phrase “as they were” is in quotes, as they are not close to the original based on Wexler’s course layout drawing. For example, #8 is shown in Wexler’s book with 23 bunkers along both sides…it now #7 and has one greenside bunker and lots of water and marshes on both sides (terrible hole with almost no place to lay up on a second shot). The bunkers throughout the course are much smaller …and many have been eliminated. So, I stand by my point regarding Timber Point today, but that is a not reflection of what it was like about 90 years ago.
Top 100 Spreadsheet: Many of you are on the distribution list for my Top 100 Spreadsheet (also often referred to as the “World’s Greatest Spreadsheet). Several days ago, it was pointed out that I have a mistake on v76 (which has also been in most of the previous versions of the spreadsheet). Specifically, on the “Worldwide” worksheet, the 1997 Golf Magazine Worldwide Top 100 (column “Y” in v76) excludes #96, The Estancia Club (AZ). As Estancia only made that one appearance on any World 100 (of the ones I track), it does appear at all on this worksheet. I shall add it for my next version (v77). Please note that no other course is labeled #96 in 1997. I sincerely apologize for this grievous error, which should have been found in the proofing process. I have no excuses, but expect to have some (if not all) of my Spreadsheet pay to be withheld…and must admit this is deserved.
Knoll Country Club (West) October 3, 2015: After several years driving together between Boston and Pinehurst, Pat and I realized that these long trips in a car were not healthy for our relationship (nicely put!). She hated the long drive (especially my driving), and I wanted to stop and play golf courses.. Sooo, we worked out a great compromise, which made both of us happy…she flies back and forth and I drive and play “some” (of course never an excessive amount) golf along the way. This year she was invited to a Woman’s Member-Guest in Chattanooga, and I decided to explore courses in NJ that I had never played.
I left Boston Saturday 10/3 at 7:35am to start the trip. The weather all up and down the east coast was horrendous and my carefully planned trip could easily fall apart. The plan was to start by playing Hollywood Golf Club on Saturday afternoon, but I called and it was closed due to the weather (Hollywood is in Deal, NJ and is very close to the Atlantic at the northern end of the NJ shore). After several calls, I found that Knoll CC-West (originally scheduled for Monday morning) was open for play…so it was to Knoll (in Parsippany, NJ) that I headed. I got there around 1:30pm and was able to get right off #1. There were a few groups on the course, and they were very slow, so I hopped around in my cart (as the course was VERY wet, carts had to be kept on cart paths) playing in order: 1-2, 4, 6-7, 5, 8-9, 13-18, 10-12, and 3…got in all 18 in about 2:30.
Knoll has only made one Top 100 list…the “spoof” 1939 list where it was #85. Knoll was built by Charles Banks, who took over Seth Raymor’s design and course construction business upon Raynor’s untimely death in 1926 (at the age of 51). As Knoll opened 3 years later, it seems questionable that Raynor was its designer, but who knows? Banks is generally given credit for the course. It was certainly not in very good condition, and it was very very wet (tons of rain, it was all of 50 degrees, and the it blowing at about 25mph…what was I doing there?). But it was fun seeing the “superb bones” from a Raynor?/Banks track…large bunkers, squared off greens with wonderful mounding, and the usual template holes (which one invariably compares to others one has seen). The Biarritz here had the dip in front of the green.
Paramount CC October 4, 2015: While never having appeared on a World or USA 100, I have wanted to check out Paramount because a friend (and fellow golf nut, who again will go un-named as per my policy) became involved with the ownership and management of the club, which previously was Dellwood CC on Rockland County, NY.
I stayed at Paramount the night of 10/3, but made a nostalgic stop on my way from Knoll. The stop was at New York CC, which is about 5 miles from Paramount. Back in 1973/74, the predecessor to New York CC was the world’s first “singles golf club” (and I was a member “in good standing” for two golfing seasons) and was perfectly named “Chateau de Vie”. The golf course was not exactly of Top 100 quality, but when you grew up playing the Kissena Golf Course in Queens (a true “muni”) it was world class in comparison (Chateau de Vie even had grass on its tees). Today’s course has been renovated but the basic layout seemed to be unchanged (I didn’t play it but did walk around a couple of holes).
Ahh yes, those were the good old days, at least as well as I can remember them. What happened at Chateau de Vie stayed at Chateau de Vie!!
Moving on…on Sunday morning at 7:30 I went off the first tee of Paramount. The course is on the former home of the founder of Paramount Pictures, Adolf Zukor, and was designed by A. W. Tillinghast and opened in 1920. Dellwood CC ran into financial problems several years ago and the club was sold to investors. Noted architect Jim Urbina oversaw a major renovation of Paramount that was completed about 2 years ago.
It is located in a beautiful setting surrounded by foothills. It is also very hilly with almost no flat holes. I took a cart…it would be a very difficult walk (and I was playing 36 this day). Best holes are:
--#2 (590 yard sharply downhill par 5, turning right to left),
--#3 (135 yard par 3 uphill to green well protected by bunkers in front and a green that slopes sharply back to front; #6 (406 yard uphill par 4 to an infinity green),
--#12 (394 yard dogleg left…with reverse camber (fairway slopes to right)…and a green with a brutal back to front slope…do NOT be over this green!), and
--#16 (450 yard par 4 bending right to left with a nicely rumpled fairway and a brutal green sloping right to left.
There is a public road that transverses #1 and #7, which creates architectural issues (and perhaps insurance/safety issues), but design changes are presently being contemplated for the better. Like any major renovation, this is a work in progress. The course certainly has excellent bones, and while I never saw it pre-Urbina, the result to date is excellent. However, one word of caution…the greens here are as tough as you will find. They are in excellent condition, but they are among Tillie’s toughest, especially given today’s green speeds. The course is only 6781 yards (par 70) from the tips and the greens are its primary defense, but you do not want to place any bets here without control of your putting stroke. It is in very very good condition, and for sure, drains superbly…showing no after effects from the heavy rains of the previous couple of days.
Head pro is Steve Scott, who took Tiger Woods to 37 holes in the 1996 US Amateur at Pumpkin Ridge outside of Portland, OR. Great guy and superb player.
In summary, despite not having the additional benefits offered some 42 years ago by its former neighbor Chateau de Vie, this one is definitely worth visiting.
Canoe Brook-North October 4, 2015: After a 40 minutes drive south into New Jersey, arrived at Canoe Brook CC in Summit, NJ. Club was founded in 1901, it expanded from 9 to 18 holes shortly thereafter and then underwent a major revision in 1916 under the architectural direction of Walter Travis (noted architect and designer of Garden City GC—NY, Westchester CC—NY, and Ekwanok—VT). The second course (“South”) opened in 1924.
Around 1950, the Club completed a major land swap with Prudential Insurance that resulted in a relocation of 7 North Course holes, and the eventual building of the Short Hills Mall on the land that ended up in Prudential’s hands. The renovation was guided by Alfred Hull. In the 1960’s and early 1970’s, an major expansion of Route 24 resulted in a loss of land affecting both course and Robert Trent Jones was brought in to oversee the changes…and 20 years later his son Rees Jones oversaw a set of new changes.
It was included in Golf Digest’s 1967 “200 Toughest” and in the 91-100 bracket of the Digest’s 1969 “Best Tests” (both covering USA courses).
Quite a bit of turbulence over these 114 years, and the net effect was not very beneficial at least to my eye. Canoe Brook-North is now a long, tough 7115 yards with a number of good holes (especially holes 6, 12-17 which lie on more interesting land than the other 12 holes). It is a very good championship test, but feels a little like Winged Foot West without the brilliance of Tillinghast’s bunkering and greens, and lacks the charm and mystery necessary to make a fun course one might want to play every day. To be fair, its greens had been deep punched 3-4 days earlier (I do not recall be told that during my phone conversation with the pro shop…but then again, my memory doesn’t always work real well, and Pat would tell you I am not the world’s best listener), but frankly, I do not think my conclusion would change much.
Atlantic City CC October 5, 2015: The weather over the weekend forced a number of changes to a detailed 7 day, 11 course plan. Driving to NJ from MA on Saturday, I wondered how much of the trip would be lost because of the weather. Exhibiting some rarely seen patience, I was able to piece together a new itinerary (after a lot of cell phone calls from my car) that amazingly looked like I might be able to get in all 11. However, it now included a couple of extra N-S round trips through New Jersey adding some 400 miles to the plan.
I now had to go 110 miles south to Atlantic City, and my hotel reservation was 20 miles north in Parsippany…or so I thought. When I got to the hotel, I discovered my reservation was for different dates (early November). Hopefully, I will be able to get a refund from Hotles.com…we book a lot of rooms there. But driving south at 5:30pm on a Sunday was certainly going to be easier than leaving at 4:45am Monday morning!! And it gave me a chance to stay at The Donald’s (former) Taj Mahal casino/hotel…at a very cheap rate. So, to the south I headed.
The next morning, I headed over to Atlantic City CC. Went off at 7:30am. I had a game arranged with a member, but he was a no show…clearly too scared to have a head to head against me. No signs of him in the locker room…see picture below…his locker is the one on the left and it was closed.
Seriously, the club has an amazing history. It has hosted the 1901 US Am (won by Walter Travis), the 1948, 1965, and 1975 US Women’s Opens (won by Babe Zaharias, Crol Mann and Sandra Palmer respectively), as well as the 1967 Senior Woman’s Am and the 1997 Woman’s Mid-Am (won by Marge Mason and Carol Semple Thompson respectively…simply an amazing collection of USGA Champions.
Visitors to the club since its opening in 1897 included Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, Jackie Gleason, and my chicken opponent, Al Capone.
The golf course was originally designed by John Reid in the very late 19th century. More recently, Tom Doak was brought in for a highly successful restoration. However, the club appears to have fallen on hard times. Atlantic City’s casinos have lost market share to the numerous Native American casinos, and that has to have affected the club.
While the course was not in great condition, it was very very playable. The front nine is good with several very tough holes, but the back nine is superb, with five holes on or in the vicinity of the tidal marshes, including an excellent Cape Hole, and two outstanding par 3’s.
In summary, worth visiting if you are in Atlantic City…but not worth a separate trip.
Montclair CC October 5, 2015:
Drove north about 115 miles to West Orange, NJ to play Montclair. Montclair, founded in 1893, has 36 holes, three nines designed by Donald Ross in 1920 (#1, 2, and 3) and one nine designed by Charles Banks in 1928 (#4). Just as Seth Raynor was “passed the baton” by C. B. Macdonald, after Raynor’s death at the age of 51, Banks assumed the baton, and carried on with the same basic architectural philosophy. Montclair has not appeared on any of the Top 100 list that I follow. It did host the 1985 UA Am, won by Sam Rudolf (no relation…and neither are our golf games related).
The property is extremely hilly…given I was planning on playing 36 or more, I took a cart. Would be a very tough walk. I went off first on the Banks Nine (#4) and enjoyed it a lot. Then played #2 (# 2 and #4 are the two nines used in the 1985 US Am). Being a Ross design it certainly felt different that the Banks…the lack of geometrical lines was very obvious, but of course the greens were diabolical. Must admit to liking the Raynor nine the best. Then again, Raynor is my favorite architect…just love to compare the various treatments of the template holes in my mind, and to imagine the thought process he went through to fit them in.
Played the three nines (#2-#3-#4) in 40-39-41…pretty good for playing this place for the first time without a caddy. Interesting that the 41 was on the Raynor Nine. Net net, good golf course but not great…land too hilly to really make a great course.
Tuesday night stayed at the home of my friend who is involved with Paramount. Was wonderful to meet Melissa and Steve’s beautiful daughters, and to have one night without checking into a hotel!!
Morris County GC, October 6, 2015: Up early and was off on a relatively short 20 mile drive to Morris County…knowing absolutely nothing about the course except for a short comment from Steve the evening before and that it hosted the 1898 US amateur (yup…1898!!). The course was founded in 1894 and by the end of that year had a membership roll listing almost 400 members. It was at the time the only club in the country organized and managed by women (take that Martha Burk!). For years, it was run by the wives of the members of Baltusrol, and in 1916 reorganized and became totally unaffiliated. At that time, the golf course (which started with 9 holes) was redesigned and renovated by Seth Raynor, whose fingerprints are happily all over the grounds.
Morris County have never been on a World or USA Top 100...something I do not understand.
As soon as I saw the first fairway, I knew I would love the place and I did. That fairway and many others reminded me of the land at Minneapolis GC and White Bear Yacht Club in MN...rolling with huge mounds and nary a flat lie anyplace, wonderfully rolly-polly and humpty-dumpty. The first green, which slopes sharply from right to left was also a wonderful wake up call. BTW, on #1, I faced blind shots on both my drive and approach…loved it…as the Scots say “ a shot is only blind once.” The first six holes are relatively short and I was even par through 6, but then the real golf course started and I cooled down. Best template hole in my mind is the Eden 17th…186 yards and slightly downhill to sharply sloped green…but the most dastardly green is certainly #18….right in front of the clubhouse so everyone can see you three or four putt.
Ended the round without a thee putt on 18, which allowed me to have a 79…which felt real good given the number of blind shots here. Have to come back and play this one again next year…it is a true Hidden Gem. May only be 6522 yards, but that is 6522 yards of pure fun!
Somerset Hills CC, October 6, 2015: Pat and I had the privilege of playing SHCC four
years ago, and we both loved it. Well, it is now much better! But first some background
information. SHCC was organized in 1899 and was then located along the Raritan River.
In 1918 the club moved to its present location and retained A. W. Tillinghast to design
and build the new course…and he built perhaps his finest, and certainly his most unusual
course. Tillie was not known for building template holes, but here one finds a Principal’s
Nose as well as a Biarritz…both on the same hole (#13 “Corner”) as well as a Redan (#2),
that is not just a Redan, but one of the best anywhere (see picture below taken from #8
and showing the slope on the Redan green from a distance). And the greens here are as
fine a set of Tillie greens anywhere.
Since our last visit, hundreds and hundreds of trees have been removed, thereby opening
up brilliant vistas, especially on the front, and further improving the quality of the turf.
Best holes in my mind are 2, 3, 5, 7-9. 11, 13, 15, and 17. But there is not a weak hole in
the 18. Some players strongly prefer the back to the front, and they are very different, but
I love both. Only 6746 yards from the tips, it is no pushover. It hit it well and ended the
day with an 85. Playing with Steve (who has played it many times) and his friend Dave
SHCC has been a regular on the World and USA Top 100 lists, peaking at 64 in 1991 in
the GM Worldwide list and 38 on the GM USA 100 published last month. My strong
sense is that it will continue to rise in the rankings in future years.
As good as the course is, the club is even better. The words “quiet” and “understated “ do
not begin to describe the atmosphere. In summary, if you get the chance to play it, do so!
Hard to beat Morris County and Somerset Hills on the same day. But had to then drive about 75 miles south to be ready to play Medford Village the next morning.