Number 72 (Old Orchard Country Club)

20180221_080524 - Copy

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.

Old Orchard 13 - scorecard
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.

Old Orchard 13 - rotated
… 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).

20180221_152516
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 68 (Spring Meadow Golf Course)

20171201_161145

Date played: 12/1/2017

Rounding out a short winter day of golf after taking in the 27 holes at Bel-Aire Golf Course, I decided to see if I could walk on somewhere and finish another 18. Lucky for me, this area of Monmouth County abounds with courses, and Spring Meadow was able to get me out right away.

Less than two miles from Bel-Aire, Spring Meadow Golf Course is a short 18-hole layout, playing just over 6,200 yards from the back tees. Having walked and carried at Bel-Aire in new (uncomfortable) golf shoes, my heels and Achilles tendons were shredded. Lucky for me, one of the guys I got paired up with let me offer him cash to split the cart fee he paid to ride along with him.

Noteworthy features of Spring Meadow include:

  • The routing. Holes 1 through 4 take you in a counter-clockwise circle back to the clubhouse. After teeing off at the 5th, the furthest point from home are the 10th through 14th holes before making your way back. Reminiscent of places like Beaver Brook where you don’t make the turn at the clubhouse.
  • Good greens. Even in the winter, they rolled really well. My playing partners for the day assured me that they were definitely faster in the summer months, which would be saying something.
  • The 15th. A short par 4 from elevated tees, this is just a fun hole with a classic “do I go for it” tee shot dilemma. I imagine that what happens on the first fourteen holes “drives” this decision for most people (see what I did there?).
20171201_152946
A look back from the 15th green out to the elevated tee boxes in the woods

While I had an odd, hot-cold putting round – an average 34 putts that included four 3-putts – I hit way more greens than I normally do, allowing me to shoot +10 (+6, +4) from the 5,769 yard white tees. It was great to shoot below my handicap, but much like at the Executive course at Bel-Aire, that is definitely to be expected when the slope/rating is 67.7/117. That +10 amounts to a 13.8 adjusted differential, but that is still great for me at this point.

Forty-five holes done, and with the sun starting to say its goodbyes for the day at just after 4:00 pm, another great day of winter golf was in the books. I thoroughly enjoyed my time at Spring Meadow, and would love to see it in other seasons.

Number 68 (Spring Meadow Golf Course)

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.

East Orange

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 64 (Crystal Springs Golf Club – Wild Turkey)

20171022_115438

Date played: 10/22/2017

The first Crystal Springs course off my list was half of a golfing-skiing adventure at the nine-hole Cascades layout, with the skiing taking place at Mountain Creek. My day at Wild Turkey was strictly a golfing affair.

An early tee time in late October in Sussex County meant we started our round in frigid temperatures and finished it in the 60s. Expecting Wild Turkey to be something of a tougher course, I told my golf buddy that we should just play “smart golf” on the day. It turned out to be one of those rare times when I had a plan and executed well.

I ended up shooting +12 (+6, +6) on the par 71, with nothing worse than my double-bogey on the par-5 17th, and that was primarily due to over-drawing my drive and not clearing the water/lateral hazard. Having hit only six fairways and six greens in regulation, the keys to my scoring well – for me – were definitely putting, putting, and putting.

Even though 33 putts is not a great number in the grand golf scheme of things, it is just below my average. That was remarkable for me, given that Wild Turkey has some relatively fast greens for a public course, and that I had putt as many as 41 times (!!!) just two rounds earlier at Beaver Brook CC.

Here are a few interesting notes on my putting for the round.

  • I was 15 for 15 from six feet and in. Admittedly, this was mostly tap-ins from 2.5 feet and in, but it included two six-footers, a five-footer, and a four-footer. Like most average golfers, I’m plagued by missed putts in this distance. On any other day, I could’ve been 11 or 12 for 15.
  • On the 3rd hole, I had 75 feet for my first putt, up and over a ridge. I would leave it a ridiculous 39 FEET short. Now faced with a breaking downhill putt, I putt past the hole and watched it break away to 10 feet for my third. I made the ten-footer for bogey.
  • From the 9th to the 14th, I made 46 feet of putts (5, 13, 12, 6, 4, and 6) to go +1 through those six holes. I struggle to make 46 feet of putts through most of my 18-hole rounds.
  • On the 10th hole – a beautiful downhill par 3 that has about a 30 foot drop – I hit the front right of the green, with the pin placed front left. Faced with a 55-foot putt, I COMPLETELY mishit it, ending well right of my intended line, and 13 feet away… only to drop that putt for par.
20171022_093914
The steeply downhill par 3 10th at Wild Turkey.

Again, if my putting wasn’t what it was, my +12 could’ve easily been +16 to +18. I’ve had plenty of those rounds this season. I was happy to add another great first-time score to my journey around the New Jersey publics, especially on a course as stunning as Wild Turkey.

Number 64 (Crystal Springs Golf Club – Wild Turkey)

Number 62 (Beaver Brook Country Club)

20170728_153632 - Copy

Date played: 7/28/2017

Have you ever booked a tee time, and then realize that you had other commitments on the same day? Ever still try to make both happen? My story of the 62nd course on my quest went something like that.

Located in Annandale, NJ, Beaver Brook Country Club is a beautiful 18-hole layout that almost has a bit of everything. You could argue that it could use more water to contend with (if you’re a sadist), or perhaps some more forced carries (definitely sadist).

But, there ARE a couple forced carries, as well as a creek to deal with on a number of holes. There are a few good dog-legs, a drivable par 4, and a par 5 you can get to in two (if you’re a long hitter). There’s a par 3 where you can tuck the ball in REALLY close (more on that in a bit). There are narrow fairways, changes in elevation, and some approach shot-making decisions into well-placed pins on contoured greens. On top of all that, there is great service and the place is maintained wonderfully.

One of my closest friends let me know that he had won a certificate for a free foursome at Beaver Brook after winning a contest at an outing there last year. A free round for a new course on my journey was like a godsend. The tee time he booked was 2:18 pm. As I mentioned earlier, I had an obligation I forgot about, and that was at 6:30 pm. Only realizing this the day before the tee time, I needed a plan.

The issue was primarily the course being over an hour’s drive from home. Unsure of pace of play, I figured I would need to shoot for finishing about nine holes from the tee time and then heading out for my commitment. That meant I would just have to show up early and play nine beforehand. I would leave work early after a half-day, and finish the back nine just as we’d be called to the 1st tee by the starter.

Not quite.

It turns out that Beaver Brook doesn’t offer a nine-hole rate. I would guess that may be in part due to its interesting routing. The ninth hole actually finishes in a stretch across the clubhouse road and you don’t “make the turn” until the 13th green.

After talking to the staff in the pro shop and the starter a few times (shout out to Pam and Ed), they agreed to get me out for the going rate ($45 w/ cart). Figuring that it was a long way from home and – if I didn’t finish on that day – I’d have to come back anyway, this was as good as I could do. Alas, my free round became a normal round.

The starter (Ed) took me out to the 15th. I was able to play back to the clubhouse with no issue, and almost no wait. Only discovering at that point that the 10th tee was nowhere in sight, I decided to jump onto the par-3 14th, with the approaching foursome’s permission of course.

Having played 14-18, I figured a 2:18 tee time would be good enough to play the first 13 holes and get me home on time. After waiting for the rest of my group to show, we would be on our way at around 2:30. (Tardiness is next to godliness, am I right?)

Whether it was the anxiety of not getting out on time or the fact that I was playing with an injured hand/wrist, a great round eventually went bad. I played my first ten holes (15 to 18, then 14, then 1-5, if you lost track) in +5, which included missing an ace on the par-3 4th by an inch. I then played the remaining eight holes in +10, which included three straight double-bogeys (8th to the 10th) and four straight three-putts (8th to the 11th).

I took a lot away from my round at Beaver Brook CC. Averaging about six GIR per round, I hit 10 that day. I had the great memory of an almost-ace. I discovered that I have a strong opinion that finishing a layout with two par 5s is an AMAZING design choice. Finishing Beaver Brook meant that I had now played all three courses in Hunterdon County. I also realized that my wrist was seriously injured, and that playing before it healed was probably a dumb idea.

But most of all, I found another public course that I would highly recommend to anyone.

Number 62 (Beaver Brook Country Club)

Number 58 (Cedar Creek Golf Course)

20170617_082107 - Copy

Date played: 6/17/2017

Thirteen.

I’d love to tell you that ‘13’ was the number of pars I made during my round at Cedar Creek Golf Course, or even the number of fairways or greens that I hit in regulation; maybe even the number of Pro V1’s I found. Unfortunately, ‘13’ was my score on the 18th hole. I’ll get there in a bit.

Cedar Creek became the 58th public course I’d played in New Jersey when a golf buddy at work let me know he found a coupon for discounted greens fees. Always one for new courses and discounts, I was definitely game. The course would also be my second in Ocean County, after Lakewood Country Club.

Coincidentally, the drive up to the clubhouse at Cedar Creek is interestingly similar to that of Lakewood CC. Both are set behind recreational parks, with the clubhouse roads lined with baseball fields. Unlike Lakewood though, Cedar Creek holds itself out as a municipal course.

The round started in a bit of light rain and damp conditions, but absolutely playable. There was nothing much to complain about in my front nine. I only hit two fairways, but managed to play to +7 at the turn, and that included a triple-bogey on the par-4 6th. While I started the back nine with another triple-bogey on the 10th, I played 11 through 15 in +3, which meant I was +6 through six on the back. Not ideal, but I wasn’t complaining either.

The 16th plays downhill, and a really well-struck drive left me only 20 yards from the green. I was only able to get my approach to 15 feet, but it was certainly a makeable birdie. Leaving the putt about a foot short, I walked up to tap it in as my playing partner was squaring up over his putt.

I missed.

I missed the one-footer. I didn’t just lip out or burn the edge. I completely ******* missed about a cup right. My buddy’s head, focused on his putt, just slowly turned up towards me, acknowledging the horror he too had just witnessed. After successfully knocking in the second one-footer, I just said, “yep, that’s bogey”.

I would bogey the par-3 17th, which means I’m sitting at 82 with one hole to go. Despite a couple triple-bogeys and a miserable three-putt on 16, I saw a respectable score in my future

… and then we go to the 18th.

There’s always a disturbing finality on the 18th tee box. You realize that your round has come to an end. If you’re having the round of your life, you’re probably just focused on “bringing it home”. If you’ve played poorly, it dawns on you that this is your last chance at a decent memory from the round.

Here’s how my 18th at Cedar Creek went:

  • 1st shot: OB right
  • Tee up again…
  • 3rd: OB left
  • Tee up again…
  • 5th: Stays in play, ends up in the right rough
  • 6th: Lost/unplayable to the right
  • Drop
  • 8th: Ends up about 15-20 yards right of the green
  • 9th: Doesn’t quite make it to the green
  • 10th: Still not there…
  • 11th: We’re finally on
  • 12th: From six feet, the putt takes a tour around the back of the cup, makes a U-turn and spits back out at me, to about an inch
  • 13th: I drilled the one-inch putt

The ‘13’ would leave me at +23 for the day. That would be right up there with my worst score for the year, a +24 at Lakewood CC. Ocean County seems to have it in for me.

Despite the horrendous finish, I enjoyed the round at Cedar Creek. At $40 for a weekend round with a cart, it is certainly affordable golf. The condition is not great, but it’s not terrible either. There are a few burnt-out greens, but a majority of them roll well. There is a nice change of elevation throughout the course, especially on the back nine. The 11th is a nice long par-3 that plays uphill, and 12, 13, and 14 alternate going up and down this hill as well. The 15th is a real climb from about 130 yards in, and the 16th – as mentioned – plays well downhill.

Oh, and the 18th is downhill as well. Just don’t make ’13’ there.

Number 58 (Cedar Creek Golf Course)

Number 57 (Neshanic Valley – Academy Course)

20170608_183646 - Copy

Date played: 6/8/2017

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.

20170608_184928 - Copy
The par-3 2nd… what water?

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)