Number 77 (Howell Park Golf Course)

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Date played: 7/4/2018

Howell Park Golf Course became the sixth track I’ve played in Monmouth County when a Twitter golf buddy (shout out to @njcroatian) invited me out for a round on Independence Day. Located just east of the Manasquan Reservoir, the course is wonderfully maintained and is part of the Monmouth County system, which at this point in my journey is arguably the best in the state in terms of access for quality.

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Quality dew tracks on the 1st

A parkland-style course that is known for keeping its rough up a bit, Howell Park rewards smart play that consists mostly of keeping the ball in front of you. The greens are some of the largest in public golf in New Jersey, averaging 34 paces in depth and some wider than they are deep. If you give yourself shots at the green and you putt well, this should be a course where you can score.

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The green at the par-3 4th

The only complaint from an architectural standpoint is that Howell Park sits on a very level tract of land, so it lacks the views that come with elevation. However, its flat nature also means that it is a very walkable course. At $62 to walk on weekends for non-residents/non-cardholders, there is certainly cheaper public golf in the state. Regardless, I consider it a top-notch course and absolutely worth a round (or three).

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How I played…

Hot and cold: Somehow, with penalty strokes on four different holes, I almost played down to my handicap.

Highlights: The singular highlight is easily the 18th. After watching my playing partner drain a 65-foot par save from the fringe, I followed up with a very lucky 54-footer for birdie. I think it rerouted twice on its way to the hole.

Lowlights: Penalty strokes; especially a ridiculous attempt on the 10th to “cut” one into the dog-leg that ended up OB on the driving range.

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Number 77 (Howell Park Golf Course)

Number 76 (Knoll Golf Club – East)

Date played: 5/28/2018

When a golf course uses the ‘CC’ abbreviation in its name, it’s clear that’s short for “Country Club”. When “GC” is used, there can be slight uncertainty as to whether it’s “Golf Course” or “Golf Club”. The 76th course on my journey seems to have a more complex issue with its name.

According to the website (knollgolfclub.com) the facility is named “Knoll Golf Club”, and there is an East Course and a West Course. That is of course, until you click on the East Course info link. Then, it’s “Knoll East Course”… but also “Knoll East Golf Club” approximately two words later. When you pull up to the clubhouse, the sign reads “Knoll Country Club East”. When you get your scorecard, it says “Knoll CC – East Course”. Others may call it “Knoll East Golf Course”, or simply “Knoll East”.

Now that we have that settled…

Knoll East – which is what I’m gonna go with for brevity’s sake – is the public half of the Knoll facility. Located in Parsippany – Troy Hills, the course is a shorter one, tipping out at just over 5,800 yards. What it lacks in distance though, it makes up for in personality.

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Bombs away on the 1st!

The clubhouse is the highest point on the property, which makes for great elevated tee shots on both the 1st and 10th holes. That also means challenging approaches on the 9th as well as the 18th, where the back-to-front sloped green can end a round on a three-putt low note.

The 5th is a demanding par 5 that requires playing to a distance off the tee and then navigating a chute on the approach shot(s). There are a couple fun short par-4s in the 7th and 11th, and the 12th is a straight-forward par 3 that might instill some doubt with thoughts like “don’t be left OR right”.

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The 12th is a scoring hole. Just don’t be left. Or right.

Whatever you decide to call it, Knoll East is nice stop for public golf in Morris County.

How I played…

While there were some birds in a nest on the exterior wall of the pro shop, unfortunately, there were no birdies on the card. That didn’t stop a good time though.

Highlights: Played +3 on an eight-hole stretch from 7 to 14.

Lowlights: You know that three-putt low note on 18 I mentioned? I write from experience. Also, the 5th hole ate me alive.

Number 76 (Knoll Golf Club – East)

Number 72 (Old Orchard Country Club)

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Date played: 2/21/2018

A Tillinghast design brought to life in 1929, Old Orchard Country Club takes its name from the apple orchard it was built on. Located in Monmouth County, the course prides itself on a sense of family and community. While there certainly weren’t many on the course on a cold February day, that’s certainly the feeling I got when listening to conversations at the pro shop.

The front and back nines of the course are split in two by Turtle Mill Brook, which widens to surround the island green of the signature par-5 7th hole. The overall layout can be thought of as a butterfly, with the body running along the brook through the 9th fairway, and each nine as its two wings.

The routing traces the outer edges of the wings and then back inward. The front nine takes you around the southern perimeter of the course and back to the clubhouse along the brook. The back nine then runs around the northern edge and back inward again, but not before making an interesting stop at 13.

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Scorecard artist’s rendition of 13…

On the scorecard layout depiction, even though it’s a par 4, the 13th hole looks as if it plays in three shots like a C-clamp. I’m not sure if tee boxes have been moved since that layout was drawn, but in reality, it’s a relatively easy (14th handicapped) two-shot hole where you can play a mid or long iron off the tee and be left with a scoring club into the green if you find the fairway. The brave can even try to carry the trees right and go for the green off the tee, something one of my playing partners for the day did with decent success.

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… 13th hole in reality

As I’ve mentioned before, part of the fun of this journey is meeting other golfers around the state. At Old Orchard, I joined a threesome of regulars who were great company, one of whom had what was easily the most interesting bag of clubs I had ever seen. There were nine fairway woods! That included an 11w, 13w, 15w, and a 50-degree “scoring wedge” (but definitely a wood).

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Best. Bag. Ever.

The story goes that he had a bad bout of the shanks during a golf trip down in Myrtle Beach. He noticed the fairway woods for sale in the pro shop, and the rest is history. Well, at least local golf history among Old Orchard regulars, and in the playing of the 72nd public course on my quest.

How I played…

Pretty ******* terribly. It had been my first round in a month, and while I hit eight fairways, I really didn’t do anything else well. Having hit four GIR, I was 0 for 14 scrambling. Other than good company, it was a round to forget.

Number 72 (Old Orchard Country Club)

Number 67 (Bel-Aire Golf Course – Executive)

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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.

Number 67 (Bel-Aire Golf Course – Executive)

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

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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 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 41 (East Orange Golf Course)

Date played: 6/29/2016

Marking the first course I’ve played in Essex County, the East Orange Golf Course is a bit of golf juxtaposition. Set in the affluent neighborhood of Short Hills, it’s gained a reputation as a course that has fallen apart. I know people who, knowing almost nothing about the course, refuse to play it because its “reputation” precedes it. Getting out of my car in the parking lot, I was greeted by a gentleman who seemed to be stopping there on his way to work. He was surprised that the course was open, and then went on to tell me about how he used to hold outings at the course, “but then it went to hell.”

His words, not mine.

Having said that, when you arrive at the course, there is a sense of revitalization about the place. A construction trailer serves as a makeshift current clubhouse, while across the gravel and mud parking lot you could see them building what will be the future one. Behind the construction trailer is the putting green, with the first tee box just beyond it. On the course, there seemed to be a good mix of old course regulars, casual golfers, and first-timers.

If you had any biases against the course before playing it, I must say, they’re almost justified on the first hole when you notice the power lines that run the length of the fairway, with the second hole to the left. It’s not something you expect to ever see on a golf course, but it looks as out of place as you’d imagine it to be.

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However, once you get beyond that, the course is absolutely worth playing. While the fairways could use some TLC, the greens are kept in good shape. The layout is short – only 5,700 yards from the back tees – but there are a couple tight fairways and some nice dog-legs that can make you work. I actually opted to play from the back tees, which I never do, and had myself another Jekyll-and-Hyde round. I played the front nine in +3, but played the back in +11. Overall, I didn’t match my best score over par for a new course, but I was pretty happy with +14.

Number 41 (East Orange Golf Course)

Number 65 (Tamarack Golf Course – East)

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Date played: 11/24/2017

Having played the West course at Tamarack in March 2016, I was glad to come back 20 months later to finish the facility by playing the East course. The further along I get in my journey, the further I have to drive to play new courses, since I prioritized getting to as many local courses as possible. Because of that, I now have it in mind to play all layouts at a particular facility in a single visit, whenever possible. My trips to Flanders Valley and Ramblewood CC are great examples. Luckily, Tamarack is relatively local, so going back for a second trip wasn’t difficult.

Of the two layouts, the East is the shorter, but locally known as the more challenging. Holes on the East generally play tighter than the West, and there is much more water to contend with. I didn’t play that well, and that was mostly due to bad decisions and poor putting. The greens had recently been aerated, so they were pretty sandy and not yet healed. But, that didn’t excuse some of the putting misses I had. I also had a number of wayward tee shots and poor club choices that didn’t help.

The course had consolidated all of its tee boxes to the front, with a couple holes playing even shorter than the most forward tees. That meant my +18 round (+7, +11) left much to be desired. As I mentioned in my recap of my round at Wild Turkey, it was unusual for me to be 15 for 15 on putts from six feet and in. At Tamarack East, I putt 38 times, and that included misses from two, three, and four feet.

Playing in late autumn, there were a ton of leaves to deal with when attempting to find your ball. While I didn’t lose any in the leaves, I lost four balls with wayward shots on the 3rd, 14th, and the 18th (two balls).

I was also challenged by the many dog-legs on this fairly short course, which included the 1st, 2nd, 7th, and 10th, which is a cleverly designed left-to-right hole with water right. The last of the dog-legs is the par-5 18th. A very fun finishing hole, big hitters can easily make this green in two. Much like the rest of the course, you have to be accurate off the tee to put you in position to do so.

If I had one complaint about the East course at Tamarack it would be the general lack of elevation change. It’s not entirely level, but the changes are very subtle. The highest point on the course with a view is the 14th tee. It made for great pictures on the day, so I leave you with this one, looking out onto the 14th. You can also see the green of the returning 16th in the foreground right, and though not seen in the shot, the NJ Turnpike is just beyond those trees to the left of the 14th fairway.

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14th tee boxes and the 16th green at Tamarack East
Number 65 (Tamarack Golf Course – East)