Number 45 (Clearbrook Golf Course)

Set in an adult living community in Monroe, Clearbrook Golf Course is a 9-hole layout that offers some of the cheapest golf in the central New Jersey area. At just over 2,800 yards from the White tees, it’s also one of the shorter regulation-length courses I’ve played to date (something I enjoy).

The 1st hole is a very reachable par 5, so long as you can negotiate the slight dog-leg-left fairway from the tee. If you push or slice your tee shot – for right-handed golfers – there is a landing area to the right of the fairway if you don’t hit it too far. However, your second shot will potentially be obscured by trees, forcing you to hit across the fairway to get anywhere close for a third shot.

Needless to say, that’s how I started my round.

An unassuming par 3, the 2nd hole makes for excellent reprieve if you made a rough start. 133 yards on the card – 140 from the “tips” – playing slightly uphill, this hole is played with a scoring club from the tee for most average golfers. A well-struck and well-placed tee shot allowed me to make a two-putt par from 18 feet. Coming off the green, a short walk through the woods to the next tee box reveals that the course turns 180° to come back in the other direction, parallel to the 1st and 2nd holes.

The 3rd and 4th holes are a straightforward par 5 and par 4 respectively, while the 5th is a medium-length par 3. I hit a decent shot that went a bit long and left, and subsequently made a meal of my attempted chip back onto the green. Overthinking the slope of the green, I thought I should take my 60° wedge to loft it softly onto the putting surface. Loft it I did… but short of the green. I hit my next chip heavy, and two-putted from 33 feet. First double bogey of the round carded, and onto the well-designed sixth hole.

(Spoiler alert: it caught me out.)

The 6th has a pond directly between the fairway and the green – sat where the fairway would normally end – with a narrower fairway continuation to the side of the pond, shifted about 15-25 yards left. My phone had died, so without my GPS (#excuses) I relied on my playing partner that day to tell me that the pond was “probably about 270 or 275 yards out”.

It wasn’t.

Headed directly for the pond, I hit a straight drive which took one hop and went in. It was probably about 235-240 yards out. Thankfully, I hit my drop (3rd shot) onto the green and was able to two-putt for bogey. Knowing the yardages now, the hole makes for a great tee-box choice. Hitting short of the pond leaves your second shot directly in line of bunkers guarding the front of the green. Attempting to go left of the pond requires a very accurate drive, and anything left of that fairway section will potentially be obscured by a few trees.

I bogeyed the 7th and did the same on the 8th, which was a crime, because I putt off the green from 56 feet (14 feet beyond the hole). The green does have a slight ridge in it, so the putt did need to go up and over, but it was simply a terrible lag (something I definitely need to work on).

The 9th is a 154-yard par 3, guarded by a front-right bunker, with the pin – on that day – set in the front of the green just beyond it. I hit a good tee shot onto the green, left of the pin, and found myself with 16 feet for birdie. Breaking right-to-left – a putt I prefer over the sinister left-to-right opposite – I hit it on a good line, but lipped out. After not doing much good on the day, tapping in a one-footer for par was a pleasant way to end the round. Too many bogeys and one double meant I finished +8 through the nine holes.

Clearbrook bills itself as “one of only two courses in the U.S.” with a 9-hole layout that has different tee boxes that allow for “the experience of playing 18 holes”. The scorecard lists the tees I played from as a White/Blue combination. Normally, I would have expected that the Blue tees were simply longer for each hole, so that your “back 9” would just be tougher overall due to the added distance. I hadn’t noticed it during the round, but the White tees I played from are actually longer on the 3rd, 5th, and 9th holes. The 3rd hole even plays as a 332-yard par 4 from the Blues as opposed to a 483-yard par 5 from the Whites.

Having seen all nine holes of the layout, I’m happy to consider this course marked off the list as Number 45. I would even add that the course is good value for the money. Nine-hole rates are around $20 to walk. Knowing that the White/Blue combination might offer something different for 18 holes is a nice bonus, and a reason to go back.

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Number 45 (Clearbrook Golf Course)

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.

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)

A man named Kermit

On October 15, 2015, I was enjoying a round of golf at Hyatt Hills Golf Complex (Clark, NJ) with a friend from work. As we walked to our second shots on the par-4 15th hole, the pair behind us hit their tee shots. Typically, you’d expect players to wait until we’ve hit our second and we’re on our way to the green, but they were apparently in a hurry. They walked up and asked if they could join. We obliged.

The pair introduced themselves as Andrew and Kermit. Over the course of the closing four holes, we would learn that they work in Manhattan, and they were actually getting a round in before heading to work later that afternoon. I was immediately jealous. In addition to normal golf pleasantries, Kermit shared something that would set me on a journey.

“My wife and I figured out that there are 148 public courses in New Jersey,” he said, “and our goal is to play them all. No timeline.” Right then, I knew I too had a new goal in life. I had always enjoyed playing courses for the first time, but the prospect of playing over 100 of them was overwhelmingly exciting. Where should I start? How would I find all these courses?

This blog will chronicle my journey to play all public courses in New Jersey. It will also serve as a log of how I develop as a golfer. I can tell you that there will be plenty of statistics, the occasional strong opinion, and hopefully, some engaging stories.

I may even run into a man named Kermit again.

A man named Kermit