Number 54 (Hanover Golf Club)

The northernmost public golf course in Burlington County, Hanover Golf Club was the 54th stop on my journey. Hanover holds itself out as “one of New Jersey’s finest daily fee courses”. I thought this was an interesting way to advertise itself as open to the public, presumably as opposed to a required annual membership fee.

A windy February day, with breezes blowing between 10 and 20 mph, I probably needed to bring my best golf to score well, and I came up short. Tee boxes seemed to be limited for the winter, with some holes only playing from Forward boxes. I took the liberty of teeing off as close to the White tee boxes as possible on a number of holes, especially on the back nine.

The first hole was played from 339-yard Forward/Red box, and I striped a 3-wood to leave an approach of 117 yards. Seemed like a fantastic start. Unfortunately, I overshot the green with a 9-iron, landing just at the back of the green, but bouncing off the firm ground. A poor chip left me with 27 feet, and I two-putt for bogey. The 2nd and 3rd were a par 4 and 5 respectively, both right in front of you. The fairways aren’t wide, but they certainly aren’t narrow either. Errant tee shots on both, and fat third shot on the par 5 meant I would card bogey for both. Then came the fourth hole.

The fourth is on the card as 128 yards from the White tees, playing as the third-easiest hole. That day, however, it only played about 95 yards from the Forward box. Though short, it’s a well-designed, downhill par 3. There’s a tree hanging over the left and some water to be avoided short and right of the green. I missed the green, got back on, and then inexcusably three-putted from 10 feet. I missed a two-footer. (There, I said it. Happy?)

I made the turn in better form, going +2 through the next five holes. The highlight of those five holes was making the par-5 8th green in two. The lowlight was three-putting for par (this time, from 45 feet).

Coming in, the wheels were coming off my game. An interesting stretch of five straight par 4 holes, 10-14 should be ones to score on. The 11th is an uphill, but drivable hole, playing at 276 yards from the White tees. I managed to pull it left under a small tree in some deep junk, take four more strokes to get on the green, and two-putt for 7. The 12th takes you all the way back down the hill. The White tees were well up, so I opted to play from the 399-yard blues.  Hitting the green in regulation, I three-putt for bogey. Finally, on the 14th, I managed to make my first par of the back nine.

The 15th, 16th, and 17th, are pars 3, 4, and 3 respectively. The only notable part of this stretch is that there is a massive difference between the Blue and White tee boxes on the 15th, with the Whites playing at 116 yards to the Blue’s 185.

Then, there’s the 18th

Playing at par 5, it can arguably be a par 6 for the average golfer. While the scorecard says 614 yards, the website advertises its “monster” finishing hole as 621 yards from the tips. The White tees are marked at 496, but I decided to finish from the Blue tees at 583 yards. Although it’s straight, it’s a beautiful hole. Downhill for most of the way, you’re probably level with the green at about 200-225 yards. The bottom of the fairway is a pond running perpendicular to the hole sitting across the entire width. The last 100-125 yards or so play back uphill. I hit a very good drive to the left side, but shanked my second shot. I managed to hit my third shot well, across the pond and 40 yards short of the hole. My approach from here left me at 13 feet below the hole, which was a gift, as it slopes severely from back to front. Unfortunately, my par putt lipped out, and I had to settle for a bogey finish to end the day at +18.

It’s difficult to judge the condition of a course during a winter round. I’ve since seen pictures of the course both on Hanover’s website and elsewhere. It seems to be kept in great shape during peak season, and if prices are comparable to my winter round ($34 with cart), it’s certainly worth a visit. If for nothing else, just to play the “monster”.

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Number 54 (Hanover Golf Club)

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.

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)

Golf: How far have you driven?

A number of things have happened since my last post:

  • I have played four more courses for the first time, bringing my total to 38 (20.5%).
  • The weather in New Jersey has gotten significantly warmer.
  • I have moved home base for my golfing operations… which is to say I’ve moved altogether.

Looking back on this quest and reflecting on my recent move, I realized this is the fourth location from which I’ve ventured to new golf courses. Raised in Bergen County, I moved to Middlesex County with my wife-to-be in 2006, then to Somerset County in 2009, and we now call Mercer County home. With all of the moves and different home bases in mind, and knowing that I still had a long way to go in terms of New Jersey courses left to play, I wanted to get a sense of how far I’ve already gone. How far have I actually driven to play these courses?

Gathering the data told me some noteworthy things about my golf timeline.

  • While I first picked up a set of golf clubs sometime in the late 1990s, I didn’t play a regulation-length course in New Jersey until 8/13/2005.
  • Between 2005 and 2010, I only played seven different NJ courses. That’s an average of about 259 days between each new course.
  • After a hiatus from 2010 to 2013, I’ve played 31 additional courses. That’s an average of about 36 days between each new course.
  • I found out about my golf quest on 10/15/2015. Since then, I have played 11 new courses, an average of about 18 days between each new course.
  • To date, the furthest I’ve driven to a golf course (one-way) is 63.3 miles.

Taking a look at each course already checked off my list and factoring in when I first played them and where I had lived at the time, I was able to calculate that I have driven a total of 1,942.4 miles (round trip). To put that in context, here are the distances to different golf landmarks across the country from my current location in NJ:

How far have you driven?

Golf: How far have you driven?

In Medias Res

The Latin phrase in medias res means “in/into the middle/midst of things”. That is how my story begins for you. When used as a literary technique, it’s sometimes meant to be in the middle of some critical plot action, like a battle in war. While I can’t say my story promises such action, you join it in the middle nonetheless.

In my first entry, I mentioned that I was excited about the idea of playing over 100 different golf courses in New Jersey. What I didn’t mention is that it’s also exciting because it means I will travel to areas of the state that I may not have otherwise visited, or even planned to visit. As a lifelong New Jersey resident, this was an endearing prospect. Prior to taking on this journey, the only time I got to new areas of the state in the last four years was on “nap drives”, trying to get my reluctant-to-nap daughters to fall asleep in the car. I used a lot of these drives to find new golf courses and wondered if I’d ever play them. Now I had a reason to.

One of the interesting things about this goal of playing all public courses in a state is that, by pure chance, I happened to be born in a state where this is actually probable, or at least achievable in a lifetime (while raising a family and working a full-time job). When I first considered it, I thought that – apart from other geographically small states like Rhode Island, Connecticut, or Delaware – there must not be many states where someone could take this on. States like California and Texas make the task unlikely with their geographic size and abundance of golf courses, but what about Alaska? It turns out Alaska only has eight regulation-length, 18-hole courses. That makes the 49th state possible, so what about the 50th state? Hawaii is probably likely as well, seeing as it’s only a few small islands. And if Alaska only has a few courses because of the cold climate, what about states that are mostly desert, like Nevada, Arizona, or New Mexico? I suppose as long as you’re willing to make the drives all over those larger states, they would make for accomplishable goals as well.

With the knowledge that “The Goldilocks Zone” for entirely playable states was larger than I initially thought, I focused again on my home state. New Jersey has 21 counties and – by my count – 350 golf courses, 185 of which are public. Coming by these numbers was more difficult than I thought it would be, and I’ve learned that between some courses closing and others being difficult to find, the number is definitely subject to change.

So, how far “in the middle of things” are we exactly? As of the time of writing, I have played 34 of the 185 public courses in New Jersey. That means we’re roughly 18% of the way through my journey. It also means that Kermit was off by a few courses (37, to be precise).

In Medias Res

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