Number 44 (Skyway Golf Course at Lincoln Park West)

Opened in June 2015, Skyway Golf Course in Jersey City is easily the youngest course I’ve played, and with its youth comes beauty. Having the distinction of being the only public golf course in Hudson County – a small county of almost entirely urban geography – Skyway is breathtaking.

I mentioned how East Orange Golf Course’s downtrodden reputation is juxtaposed against its affluent background, but Skyway is juxtaposition in its purest form. Newborn lush fairways and greens set against aging man-made materials: concrete, asphalt, and steel. The drive up to the diminutive parking lot is on an absolutely beaten and forgotten road, littered with potholes and lined with truck yards and industry to the right. It is the last road you’d imagine leading to a clubhouse. But once you’ve entered and walked onto the course, it is another world.

Being on the course feels like being inside a sci-fi dome. With countless dunes and rolling fairways, almost the entire nine-hole layout is elevated from the topography of the surrounding area. From the tee box on the third hole or from the 5th green, that road to the clubhouse seems like a dried-up asphalt river at the bottom of a valley off in the distance. You have incredible views in multiple directions, with the Manhattan skyline to one side, the remaining marshlands on the inlet from the Hackensack River on the other, and the Pulaski Skyway – for which the course is named – joining the two.

Considering golf an 18-hole event, I was sort of resigned to the fact that I would only be playing nine holes. As I described, all of that resignation went out the window once I was on the course. I could have played three holes and been grateful to have been there.

Whether it was inspiration from the splendor of the course, or if it was just that I was “on”, I enjoyed a great round of nine holes. I carded nothing higher than bogey, and finished +5 on the day. It was hard-earned by scrambling most of the round. I only hit three of the nine greens in regulation, but my short game carried me. On the 5th, I hit a soft-landing sand wedge from 40 yards that ran eight feet to the pin and lipped out after going 450 degrees around the cup and stopping just an inch outside. On the 7th, I hit the pin once again and lipped 180 degrees around it, stopping at 2.5 feet. I finished with only 9.2 feet of putts made.

Having been in Jersey City for work for the day, there was definitely the excitement of playing a round of golf after a day at the office. But being on the first tee at Skyway was something beyond that. I experienced a deep appreciation for everything they accomplished in designing and building the course, and I felt like I was truly somewhere special, which is what golf courses should feel like.

The word “infant” comes from the Latin for “unable to speak” or “speechless”. If you are a golfer within 30 miles of Jersey City on the New Jersey side, you must play this infant course. Unable to speak for itself, it may just leave you speechless.

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Number 44 (Skyway Golf Course at Lincoln Park West)

Number 43 (Rancocas Golf Club)

Named for a Native American Reservation (now Rancocas State Park) that was not far from the course, Rancocas Golf Club was my first Burlington County course. Skeptical about how much light would be available to start play, I booked a 5:00 am tee time nonetheless. I arrived at the course in almost pitch black, and while I was the first to get out, it certainly wasn’t at 5:00.

Although there were no blow-up holes, I struggled to make par on the front nine, and didn’t do so until the par 3 seventh. After putting my tee shot out of bounds on the 9th, I recovered to card bogey and make the turn at +8.

I thought being first out onto the course would mean I could get in a fast round, but returning to the clubhouse and the 10th tee, I noticed groups had been sent out onto the back nine. Thankfully, after taking a quick look to the left, I noticed no one seemed to be on the rest of the course, so I was able to play through on the 12th. With the exception of a par on 15, I played 12 through 17 in all bogeys. The 17th was an awful tee shot into a short par 3 green. I struck it fat from 136 yards, and was still left with about 70 yards. The maintenance crew was on the green and allowed us to play the hole while they broke from work.

They gave us interesting information in that they hadn’t cut the greens for two days, due to heavy rains. Up to that point – and even on the practice green – I was wondering why they were rolling so slowly. However, the crew let us know that they just mowed the 18th green, and that we should see the difference.

The 18th is a dog-leg left with the second shot into an uphill green. The fairway just before the green is still guarded on the left side by a few trees, and I had drawn my tee shot far enough left that I was blocked. With 138 yards left, I had to decide to go around right, or cut a shot to the left. I decided the draw would be too difficult from that distance, and played the shot to the left.

Incredibly lucky, I intended to fly it between two trees, but actually cut around the left-most tree. The shot landed in the rough, just shy on the left side of the green. Sure enough, I thought I hit the chip too fat to reach the pin, but it was just as the grounds crew said; it rolled three times as fast as any other green I played that day and stopped two feet beyond the hole. I would make par, and then make my way back to see if I could play 10 and 11.

As busy as it was getting, I was fortunate to run into a group that was gracious enough to let me join. My drive found the fairway, so I waited to allow others to find their tee shots. In waiting, I noticed the 150-yard stake and was attempting to give an estimated yardage to my new playing partners. Walking around, I then spotted a sprinkler head marked “149”… about six yards in front of the 150 stake. It’s not the worst mislabeled yardage I’ve seen, but it’s always a shame when you’re not getting numbers you can trust.

Hitting the 10th green in regulation, I two-putt for par. A really poor tee shot on the par 3 eleventh meant I got the chance to hit a pitch back onto the green, only to nearly miss entirely and barely move it. I got on with my 3rd, missed a short putt, and finished up with a double bogey. A shame to finish that way, but that concluded my out-of-order back nine at +7, for a total of +15.

Overall, Rancocas is a lovely course. However, the only notable blemish would be the power lines on the 8th hole. After seeing my first golf course power lines at East Orange GC, I would say these are actually worse, as they are high-tension power lines – 13 of them that I can count from a picture – that run across the fairway. That means the flight of your drive has a pretty good chance of clipping one of them (and mine did).

Apart from that, again, Rancocas GC is a course definitely worth playing.

Number 43 (Rancocas Golf Club)

Number 42 (The Architects Golf Club)

Consistently rated one of the top public courses in New Jersey, The Architects is named for the fact that its layout pays tribute to holes designed by famous golf course architects. Each tee box sign shows the architect’s name and the courses designed by that architect that inspired the particular hole. Even without considering the excellent execution, the idea alone makes for a wonderful experience.

My round started with the ghost of Old Tom Morris bleeding me for every stroke he could possibly take. A well struck drive left me in position to reach the green in two on the par 5 first, but a perfectly placed pot bunker swallowed my well struck second shot. Overnight rain left the sand compacted, but it was simply a bad decision that prevented me from getting out towards the pin. The front wall of the bunker is probably about 2.5 feet tall, and although I almost cleared it, the ball sat right back down where it started. I turned to the right, hit out, bladed my 4th shot over the green, hit my 5th short in the rough, and after finally making it on in 6, I three-putted from 45 feet.

That made 9 for the 1st. Wonderful.

I played well after that, with a series of pars and a bogey on the 6th, but made 9 again after placing my tee shot out of bounds and taking an unplayable on my 4th shot. Thankfully, that was the end of the implosion holes. I finished the remaining 11 holes in +7 for a +17 round (+12, +5).

There’s nothing more I can say about the course that I’m sure hasn’t been said already. When you play a nice public course, you get level tee boxes, beautiful fairways, and well-manicured greens that roll true. The Architects is no exception. In terms of my journey, it is the third course I’ve played in Warren County, and it also has an interesting place in my chronicles thus far as the westernmost public course I’ve played in New Jersey to date (albeit probably by a fraction of a minute of longitude).

Number 42 (The Architects Golf Club)

Number 40 (Black Bear)

Another course on the expensive side, but well worth it, is Black Bear in Franklin (Sussex County). What my 39th course (River Vale CC) might have previewed in elevation changes and blind shots, Black Bear offers in spades. Set essentially into the side of the mountain, Black Bear is as challenging as it is attractive.

I spent most of the summers of my teen years in Sussex County, so I vaguely remember when the course was built. I was not yet playing golf at the time, but I remember thinking that it was one of the few courses I had even seen (or given notice to) and it had magically just appeared on a familiar route, seemingly out of nowhere. Route 23 was long stretches of nothingness for parts, and small bastions of civilization at others. When anything was being developed, it was easy to notice. The course is tucked away but when it was finished, the sign at the road announced its existence and you could just about see it in the background.

My round at Black Bear started the way no other round in my life had. Bogey on 3 and birdie on 6 meant I was even through six holes. I bogeyed the 7th but parred 8 and 9 to make the turn at +1. I hit 6 fairways and 6 GIR. To put that in perspective, to date for the year, I am averaging 5.17 FIR and 5.56 GIR per round. I didn’t know what I was doing right, and I desperately wanted it to continue coming home.

Alas, I let it get inside my head.

I started the back nine bogey-bogey, and then it unraveled (relatively, of course). I hit the 12th green in regulation from a difficult lie, but I was 36 feet out. I then proceeded to 4-putt. A birdie opportunity turned into double bogey. Something of a running theme for me, my lag putt left much to be desired, as well as another 9 feet before I could hole out. I got careless with a 2-footer coming back, and that is the story of my 4-putt.

I made it through the closing 6 holes in +6, with one highlight and one lowlight. I took triple bogey on 17 after putting my approach into the woods behind the green. That’s the lowlight. My highlight, however, was driving the green on 15. I not only drove the green; I hit what must have been the top of the pin. I initially thought it hit the flag and dropped straight down. However, after taking the carts up to the green, I noticed the ball actually ended up about 3 feet over the green on an awkward downslope. Luckily, I chipped to one foot and carded my second birdie of the round.

And so it was a tale of two nines. After going out in +1, I came back in at +10 to tie my best first-time-on-a-new-course score of +11, set a month earlier at River Vale CC. In a two-round fight, I got the best of the bear at first, but then The Bear got the best of me.

Number 40 (Black Bear)

Number 39 (River Vale CC)

Playing River Vale CC was an interesting milestone for me because, while I spent my formative years and most of my life in Bergen County, this was the first time I had played a regulation golf course in Bergen County. The ride up to the course was almost entirely Garden State Parkway, and it brought back many memories of being in the area years ago.

Pulling up to the course was quintessential Bergen County to me. It’s difficult to describe, but there’s something about the parking lot and the sign for the course that seem to be reminiscent of all sorts of different establishments you might see in most areas of the county.

On the course, the greens rolled very nicely and the day was gorgeous. I hit 9/14 fairways, which is unusually high for me. I only hit four GIR, but I was able to chip in for birdie on the 13th. Apart from two 3-putts, I had a decent putting round, sinking 67.5 feet in 31 putts (though, 22 feet of that was a long par save on 15). All of that allowed me to finished at +11, which was by far the lowest I’ve scored in a first-time round at a new course.

The course is relatively costly, but well worth it. There are beautiful elevation changes to contend with, a few blind tee shots, and some interesting approaches to fair greens.

Number 39 (River Vale CC)

Number 38 (Pinch Brook) (… and numbers 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, and 44)

I told you that you’d be joining me in the middle of my story, and it has progressed without my updating you. So, I figured I’d at least catch you up to the present. Since my last post, I’ve played six new NJ public courses (new to me, that is). Those courses are:

Pinch Brook

The 38th course mentioned in my last post was Pinch Brook Golf Club (Florham Park, Morris County). The signature hole at Pinch Brook is the 16th, which is a medium-length par 3 from a slightly elevated tee. The hole plays over water and is a tough shot if you don’t hit your wedge or iron squarely. I hit six greens in regulation that day, and luckily this was one of them.

While the 16th may be the signature hole, I’d say the signature feature is actually the body of water between the 5th and 6th holes. The starter was kind enough to give us a quick overview of the course at the start of our round, and he mentioned that the water is actually in the shape of the state of New Jersey! Personally, it reminded me of my mission and I almost treated it as kismet for the day.

Unfortunately, kismet only took me so far, and I wasn’t able to really get anything going. I was grateful to be grouped with a couple who play the course often, but I failed to take advantage of their local knowledge. I fared poorly throughout the round, and finished up at +19. I’m finding that to be just about average for when I play a course for the first time, but with nine par 3s and par being 65, I left a bit disappointed in myself. Averaging 1.1 holes at triple bogey (or worse) per round for the year, I carded three this round.

Pinch Brook was the fifth course I’ve played in Morris County. Overall, the course is beautiful. It’s incredibly well maintained for an executive course, but the greens fees reflect that, costing as much as most regulation public courses in New Jersey. Price aside, it’s absolutely worth a look if you haven’t played it.

Number 38 (Pinch Brook) (… and numbers 39, 40, 41, 42, 43, and 44)