Number 67 (Bel-Aire Golf Course – Executive)

Date played: 12/1/2017

Just coming off a miserable three-putt finish on the 9th of the Par 3 course, I immediately went into the pro shop to pay for a round on the Executive course. Much like the Par 3, the Bel-Aire Executive layout plays very short overall, at only 3,201 yards from the “back” tees. Like most executive courses, the lion’s share of holes is par 3, with six par-4 holes that bring par for the course to 60.

I’ve never started a round as well as I have on the Executive Course. A group had just walked off the first tee, and I was playing solo. They waved to acknowledge that I could play through once I finished the first. I quickly got up to the 1st tee box, hit a ¾ knockdown shot – to stay out of the wind – to a foot from the hole and tapped in for birdie.

The group let me tee up on the 2nd ahead of them, and I proceeded to hit the essentially the same shot, this time to four feet. I felt great about the shot, and unlike MANY times where I’ve missed a putt from that distance, I made it (even with the small audience behind me watching).

Two under through two. I felt absolutely invincible.

Of course, as it often goes in golf, my invincibility was fleeting, and apart from another (more straightforward) birdie on 10, I couldn’t produce any other bits of magic. I would play both nines in +4 each, but to give you a sense of how easy the course plays, my +8 for the round against the 55.9/84 rating/slope translates to a 16.3 adjusted differential.

Unlike the Par 3 course, the Executive seems much flatter overall, with the exception of an interesting routing choice that puts the 17th tee on top of the hill in the middle of the Par 3 course (a bit further back and higher than the 7th hole on the Par 3). Most holes are right in front of you, but the 9th is a slight dog-leg right and the 15th actually has a corner you have to negotiate.

The best hole in my opinion is the driveable par-4 7th, which has the most water you’ll contend with at Bel-Aire. It’s a clever setup because it’s bunkered in front, and for the average player that isn’t trying to drive the green, there are a couple fairway bunkers both left and right that could swallow timid, misplaced tee shots.

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There’s water to cover from the tee on the 7th. There’s plenty of room to land, but beginners should also be wary of the fairway bunkers.

As an average golfer, it’s difficult for me not to enjoy a course in retrospect when I’ve played it well. Most of the start of my golfing “career” was playing pitch-n-putt, par-3, and executive courses, so they’ll also always have a special place in my heart. However, I can objectively say that the Executive Course at Bel-Aire is definitely a wonderful place for beginners to ease their way into eventually playing regulation-length golf.

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Number 67 (Bel-Aire Golf Course – Executive)

Number 66 (Bel-Aire Golf Course – Par 3)

Date played: 12/1/2017

Looking back at pictures from the day, Bel-Aire is an incredibly well-maintained facility of short courses. Part of the Monmouth County Park system, Bel-Aire comprises both a Par 3 course and a Par 60 Executive course. Described on the park system website as “a wonderful place to learn the game of golf in a fun and relaxed setting,” I couldn’t agree with the description more.

Able to get out during the week on a late autumn day, I was looking to play as many courses as I could. I figured I could knock out the two courses at Bel-Aire as quickly as possible, and then see what other local Monmouth course would be available. Arriving to Bel-Aire with only two other cars in the parking lot, I liked my chances.

While a few were people were out on the Executive Course, I was able to immediately walk onto the Par 3. It’s difficult to describe – at least to non-golfers – the feeling of having a golf course to yourself. I suppose it needs to start with an appreciation of the outdoors. You can hear every sound for large portions of a mile, and on good weather days, the scenery is usually a picturesque escape from the regularly-scheduled programming you call life.

Over the last three years, I’ve taken to playing in colder weather, simply because it means there’s a greater chance that I might have tens to hundreds of acres of course to myself. Most times, I would take freezing temperatures and an open course over hot/muggy conditions when it’s crowded.

Though it was a great walk in some uncomfortable new golf shoes, my game wasn’t quite there. Two doubles, two pars, and a bunch of bogeys meant I would finish the nine in +9. Notable holes are definitely the 169-yard 1st, which plays to a nicely sloped, slightly-elevated green, and the 158-yard 7th, which plays a touch downhill. All greens are small – probably no more than 10 to 15 paces at their widest – which adds some challenge to make up for the lack of yardage (1,142) overall.

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As always, the picture belies the elevation. Nevertheless, the 7th hole plays a bit downhill.

I was really impressed with the Par-3 course at Bel-Aire. For a December round, the course was in great condition, and the greens seemed to roll true and with decent speed. I would highly recommend the course to anyone in the area that’s just learning to play the game, and it’s even a great stop for a quick round if you’re headed into or out of the shore area.

Number 66 (Bel-Aire Golf Course – Par 3)

Number 57 (Neshanic Valley – Academy Course)

The Academy Course at Neshanic Valley is something of an unusual bird to me. As its name implies, it’s meant to be a learning facility, apart from the Meadow, Lake, and Ridge nines that offer championship golf. It plays at par 32 through its nine holes, with only par 3’s and 4’s on the card. From the longest tees, it’s just over 2,000 yards. Other than Galloping Hill’s Learning Center 9 – which I have not yet played at the time of writing – I haven’t seen or heard of any other courses like it.

In keeping with the spirit of the spontaneity of my 56th course, I also happened to make the Academy course the 57th on a whim. I was wrapping up my day at work, realized I would have time on that late-spring evening, and decided I would drive out there immediately after I had “clocked out”. It was the continuation of a great week for me, as I had just seen Iron Maiden in concert for the first time at the Prudential Center the night before.

Unlike my round at Town & Country Golf Links, where I was just hoping for decent golf and ended up playing some of my best golf, at the Academy Course I was hoping for some of my best golf… but only ended up playing decently. It was slightly breezy, but nothing unmanageable. I played poorly off the tee, only hitting one of five fairways and none of the par-3 greens. Still, I managed to make par on the 5th, 8th, and 9th and finished +7.

As with the championship layouts, the Academy Course is in impeccable condition. I have recently taken to walking courses more often; partly for cheaper greens fees and partly because I haven’t really been getting any other exercise. As short as the course is, I would strongly suggest walking it. From most of the Academy course, you have great views of some of the Meadow nine, and the course itself is beautiful. The walk down the hill on the 9th was particularly picturesque, with the sun setting in the distance to the left. Other notable features are the 2nd, which is a 166-yard par 3 that plays slightly over water, and the 8th which – at the back tees and depending on your strategy – has a tee shot that may need to be played through a window of natural overgrowth.

Overall, the Academy Course holds its own in adding value to the experience of golf that is on offer at Neshanic Valley. Yet another reason it remains, for the time being, my favorite public course in New Jersey.

Number 57 (Neshanic Valley – Academy Course)

Number 51 (Charleston Springs – North)

Located in western Monmouth County, Charleston Springs Golf Course is a beautiful, sprawling facility. Comprised of two 18-hole courses, a driving range, and 5-acre Short Game Area, it was definitely one of the nicer courses I had seen to date. The two courses available are the links-style North course and the parkland-style South. The North is where I took my first swings at Charleston Springs for Number 51 on my journey.

Apart from seeing all the public courses on offer in New Jersey, the other great thing about my quest is meeting other golfers along the way. My ideal company for a round of golf is people who have fun, maintain a positive attitude, keep an honest score, and have an aversion to the word ‘mulligan’. My company on the day was just that. After waiting out a frost delay in the pro shop, we headed out to the putting green before finally being called out to the course. (Though, we almost missed our group being called, thanks to a muffled, low-volume PA system.) From there, a short, winding drive through the woods led us to the first tee.

I normally play from the white tees, or whatever would be considered their equivalent. On most of the New Jersey courses I’ve played thus far, there normally is an actual white tee box. When there’s not, anything between 5,800 to 6,300 yards will do. As a mid-handicapper, I’m not out to play from the back tees and have a bad time. I like the idea of having a consistent tee box choice, and having that tee box vary from course to course, each with its own variety of lengths, layouts, and challenges.

At Charleston Springs, we played from the ‘one-up’ tees, which was a method of choosing tee boxes that I hadn’t heard before. For those – like me – who didn’t know, this is a reference from the back tees; i.e. playing the next tee box up/forward from the back. I would’ve chosen the ‘two-ups’ – which were actually the 5,758-yard white tees – but I was outvoted, and happy to oblige.

Playing in the morning after a frost delay in early November, it was a windy and cold start. Nevertheless, I made a decent start through the first five holes, playing them in +3. The layout for the opening five is actually something I don’t think I’ve seen before, with the 1st and 2nd taking you away from the clubhouse, slowly turning tighter in a counter-clockwise spiral, culminating in the lakeside par-3 fifth, which also heads away from home.

As well as I had scored, I had been hitting poor shots from the fairway – both fat and thin – most of the round to that point. After bogeying the 6th, I lost a ball off the tee on 7 and had trouble getting out of a bunker on 8. I took double-bogey on both, but made par on 9 to make the turn at +8.

As the day started to warm, so did my game. After bogeying the 10th, I carded my first (and only) birdie on 11, and that began a 4-hole GIR streak. A shank off the tee and some poor iron play brought me back to earth with double-bogey on both 15 and 16. The penultimate hole is a semi-long, but wide open par 3 (at least from the ‘one-ups’). Headed back towards the woods that lead to the clubhouse, the closing hole is a departure from the design of the rest of the North course. Done in parkland style, the 18th has an incredibly tight tee shot around a large tree hanging over the right side of the fairway, and woods all along the left. I closed bogey/par, coming in at +6 for a round of +14.

While the facility is so much more than what I got to experience, I can say that the North Course at Charleston Springs is among the finer public golf you’ll see in New Jersey. Plenty of challenges, multiple tee-shot decisions, beautiful layout and flow, all on very well maintained grounds make this a public course worth checking out. I had heard this course referred to as ‘better than Neshanic Valley’, a course I hold in high esteem, both in beauty and experience. I don’t know if I would put Charleston Springs North quite there, but I can certainly see it being up for debate.

Number 51 (Charleston Springs – North)

Number 50 (Flanders Valley Blue)

Coming off the White after recovering my lost phone, I began the Blue (Number 50) at Flanders Valley with a quick change of shirt and hat, which I luckily had in my car. Thankfully, in addition to soaking my clothes and drowning my phone, the rain had also washed away any would-be golfers for the rest of the afternoon. My Good Samaritan playing partner and I were able to play on unimpeded. Some lighter rain would continue, but fortunately I was also able to grab my umbrella from my car.

We played out to the end of the peacock’s tail and back. I was able to hit five fairways and five GIR on the Blue, but my putting left much to be desired. I missed two 3-footers, and hit a poor lag on another to wind up with three 3-putts in nine holes. The highlight on the blue was the 6th hole, where – hitting both the fairway and green in regulation – I was able to card my second birdie of the day from five feet.

My new golf buddy was just along for the ride at this point, and after the 7th hole he took the cart back in as daylight was just about gone. I played out the 8th in twilight and finished the 9th in darkness. It cost me a ball on my approach, because while I struck it well, I had no idea how far it went. I dropped a ball, hit just short of the green, chipped on, and was able to two-putt for double-bogey to end my epic 36-hole adventure. Bogey golf on the White and +6 on the Blue meant I would finish +15 through 18 holes.

Last one off the course, and fifty courses completed on my journey.

Number 50 (Flanders Valley Blue)

Number 49 (Flanders Valley White)

I parted ways with my normal playing partner who packed it in after the Gold & Red, walked onto the White (Number 49) with two other golfers, and I was on my way. Excited about 36 holes in a day, I took my phone out to snap a picture on the 1st fairway.

Whatever I had going for me on the Red, I couldn’t keep going on the White. Nothing was terrible, but errant tee shots had me working for bogeys, and I made double on the 1st and 4th. Bogeys followed on the 5th, 6th, and 7th. Having made par on the 2nd and I was hoping to at least finish the nine in “bogey golf”, so I needed at least one more.

The weather worsened and the sky absolutely opened up. Luckily, we were just coming of the 7th green, and there was a rain shelter before the 8th tee. As it poured all around us, I went to my bag to find my phone out to check the weather and tweet about my adventure.

No phone.

The main pocket zipper on my golf bag was open, and the phone was nowhere to be found. Between bouts of cursing myself out for being an absent-minded idiot, I tried to think of where it could be on the course while we waited for the rain to subside. Other than taking a picture on the 1st, I couldn’t think of any place else it could be.

Determined to finish the round, we saw an opening in the weather and decided to continue play. I would worry about the phone later. I would par the 8th and bogey the 9th. Bogey golf achieved. The White was finished in +9.

Running back into the clubhouse, I told the staff my missing phone plight and they let me take a cart out. One of my new playing partners even offered to help look, which I thought was incredible. With some good fortune, we were able to find it about 40 yards short of the 1st green, where I had pulled my approach shot. It was drenched and out of battery. Once again, I would need to worry about my phone later.

The Blue was calling me.

Number 49 (Flanders Valley White)

Numbers 47 and 48 (Flanders Valley Gold and Flanders Valley Red)

My day at Flanders Valley was only the second time on my journey that I had played 36 holes in a day. Playing the Gold & Red with a good friend of mine, I had something of a tale-of-two-nines round.

The Gold (Number 47) is the hilliest of the nines, and playing it feels like you’re traversing the side of a mountain. Fairways are relatively narrow for the most part, and there is a decent amount of elevation change within holes, with a few semi-blind shots.

I had a miserable start to the day on the Gold. The first hole is a beautiful, uphill-all-the-way-to-the-green par 5. My drive and lay-up weren’t terrible, but from 102 yards, my third shot managed to come up short of the green by committing the amateur mistake of failing to account for the elevation. An awful chip placed me 28 feet beyond the hole – and above it – which I rolled down the hill, 26 feet PAST the hole.  I was able to lag this one a bit closer (2 feet) and holed out at double bogey.

Some more of the lowlights from the Gold were 4-putting the 2nd, losing a ball on both the 5th and 7th, and putting a total of 21 times, for a score of 49 (+13). Scared to death of the greens, I was now worried that I could possibly shoot over 100, something I hadn’t done in two years.

On the other side of the course premises, and something of the Gold’s opposite, The Red (Number 48) is the flattest of the nines. I wouldn’t describe it as a links layout, but its lack of elevation change and relative openness (at least for the first three holes) are definitely a stark contrast to what was experienced on the Gold. I played well here.

Coming off two pars on the Gold 8th and 9th, I was able to salvage an 18-hole score, continuing at even par by going bogey-birdie-par through the first three on the Red. A string of bogeys with a par on the par-5 6th meant I finished the Red in +5, for an 18-hole score of +18.

If you play Flanders Valley, I highly recommend playing the Gold & Red combination first. The contrast between the two nines makes for a nice experience. You essentially have to play two different types of golf to score well overall.

Playing in late October before Daylight Saving Time had ended meant there was still a decent amount of light left. I decided that I should try to get all four nines in by continuing onto the Blue & White. The weather looked questionable, but it was a long drive home, and I was already at the course. To seal the deal, they offered a great replay rate, and so I couldn’t refuse.

Numbers 47 and 48 (Flanders Valley Gold and Flanders Valley Red)