Number 69 (Galloping Hill Golf Course – The Learning Center Nine)

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Date played: 12/21/2017

Having finished a day of three courses (Bel-Aire Par 3, Bel-Aire Executive, and Spring Meadow) just a few weeks earlier, I had it in my mind again to get in as many courses as possible. Though cold, the December weather was great for golf and I knew there would be almost no one on the course (well, no one on any course really). I decided to head to the Union County area as there were a few courses in mind that are relatively close to one another. My first stop was The Learning Center Nine at Galloping Hill.

I got to play the regulation course at Galloping Hill earlier in the year, albeit with a busted wrist. It is reputed as one of the nicest courses in the area, with its well-maintained facilities and remodeled clubhouse overlooking the Garden State Parkway. I would say nothing to disagree with this notion. The course does well to maintain this reputation all year long, and it was looking no-less lovely when I showed up on this December morning.

Some may be able to remember that – prior to the renovations that included the building of the Learning Center – there was actually a pitch-n-putt course on that area of the property. The Learning Center Nine starts its routing near the clubhouse, runs along the left (south) side of the front nine of the regulation course, and finishes just alongside the new driving range where the actual Learning Center is.

Your round at the Learning Center Nine starts with a walk up to the top of what presumably is the actual Galloping Hill. The 1st hole plays into a miniature valley with your approach shot coming back uphill, while the 2nd is uphill the whole way, its green being just about the highest point on the property.

The 3rd hole is easily the most fun of the nine. Teeing off from the top of the hill, it’s a short par 4 that must be around a 40-foot drop to the green. Decent players probably won’t need driver for any of the nine holes, and unless you’re trying to putt for eagle, you certainly won’t need it here. If you’re going for the green though, just don’t lose it short right as there is a small pond about 50 yards out.

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The tee box on the 3rd. It’s all downhill from here.

After the 3rd, the Nine alternates between par 4 and par 3 holes. Holes of note are the par-4 6th, which is a hard dog-leg right teeing off from the woods, and the finishing par-3 9th, which needs a well-struck tee shot to clear water about 15 yards short of the green.

Much like the courses at Bel-Aire, the Learning Center Nine offers a great way to enter the game of golf or even a place to get in a practice round. At just over 2,300 yards from the back tees, it also plays just shy of 2,000 yards from the forward tees for youngsters who are just picking up the game and are looking for situational practice outside of the driving range. At $20 to walk, you can likely find cheaper places to play, but you get great value for the condition and challenge of the course.

With only one GIR to my name through the nine holes, I was lucky to get away with a 9-over 42. Regardless, it was the start of another all-golf day, and I was eager to continue to my next venue, the Plainfield West 9.

Number 69 (Galloping Hill Golf Course – The Learning Center Nine)

Number 68 (Spring Meadow Golf Course)

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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?).
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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 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 64 (Crystal Springs Golf Club – Wild Turkey)

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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.
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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 63 (Galloping Hill Golf Course)

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Date played: 8/6/2017

If you’re a golfer who’s trying to play all the public courses in NJ, what do you do when you’re still recovering from a hand/wrist injury, but someone invites you to play a course you haven’t played before?

You go and play (like an idiot) of course.

If I haven’t mentioned it before, Twitter has been fantastic for meeting other golfers and golf enthusiasts, especially those that are willing to share in my journey. I’ve had some great discussions about different public courses in the state, which includes people’s feelings on best/worst layouts, great places to eat, and what actually constitutes a golf course.

Regarding that last point, Galloping Hill is everything you would want in a course, so long as you enjoy variety. Very much like Beaver Brook, Galloping Hill has a bit of everything. As its name implies, you have a number of great holes that play both up- and downhill, some of which make for great views of most of the course. I’ve realized that elevation change is something that may not be absolutely necessary, but it is greatly appreciated when I’m considering course design.

I scored poorly overall (+21), but most of that was due to two quadruple-bogeys and one triple. I had been playing decently through 7 holes, but I finished the front nine with quadruple and triple, making the turn at +13. I actually played well on the back nine, with the quadruple on the 14th the only real blemish. I came home in +8, despite the quad.

While I only three-putt once (on the 1st hole), I couldn’t really get anything to drop. I made only 23 feet of putts for the whole round, with 2.5 feet being the longest putt I made all day. My putting has been something that has plagued me forever, with only the occasional great putting round, peppered in between rounds of all-too-frequent misses within 5 feet.

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A look back at 18 from the green.

The great part about putting at Galloping Hill is that there is ample challenge, both in the design/contouring of the greens and their speed. It is a course that is maintained exceptionally well overall, and the quality of the greens shows it.

As I mentioned earlier, there are great views on the course, particularly on the 2nd near the green and coming off the 6th green when walking to the 7th tee. I’ve heard that slow rounds can be a problem at Galloping Hill, but I think our round moved along just fine.  If I had one complaint about the course, it would be that the layout only features three par-3s and two par-5s (though the 18th is a beautiful finishing hole). Other than that, it’s a course I believe earns its price point ($66 to walk for a weekend round).

As a facility overall, it also has a shorter 9-hole course, which I love as a feature for new golfers. I can’t wait to get back and give it a go!

Number 63 (Galloping Hill Golf Course)

Number 62 (Beaver Brook Country Club)

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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)

Numbers 59, 60, and 61 (Ramblewood Country Club – Red, White, and Blue)

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Date played: 7/1/2017

If Ramblewood Country Club has any claim to fame in the list of public courses in New Jersey, it’s that it’s one of Ron Jaworski’s properties. Jaworski owns seven golf properties in all, and Ramblewood is the newest of his properties, purchased in 2016. It would be my first of the five in NJ.

Ramblewood CC is a 27-hole layout, split into the Red, White, and Blue nines. It was a bit of a drive for me, so I always had it in the back of my mind to play all three nines in one trip. Making a Saturday morning tee time though, I was conscious of not leaving my wife burdened with the kids for too long. To give myself the best shot at a quick round, I booked a 6:00 am tee time.

 

White (Number 59)

Meeting a Twitter golf buddy for the round, we were able to get squared away with the starter and sent out immediately. I was able to hit the fairway on the first, but bladed my approach slightly to put me over the green. After chipping on through a tree, I three-putt from 31 feet for double-bogey. I made five straight bogeys from the 2nd to the 6th, before finally making par on all three holes into the turn to finish +7.

The White nine is generally unremarkable. It is mostly level, with some rolling features. All three nines of the property are set inside a community, so there are house-lined holes and a few tree-lined fairways. Apart from its average routing and features, it is a well-maintained golf course. Greens are kept in great shape, and they roll slightly faster than the average public course in NJ.

 

Blue (Number 60)

After finishing the White nine, we knew we were making good time, so we jumped onto the Blue immediately. I continued the par streak on the par-3 1st and par-4 2nd. On the par-5 3rd, I lost a ball in a lateral hazard after my 3-wood flailed out to the right, and was only able to make double-bogey after the drop. After bogeying the 4th, I hit four of five fairways from the 5th to home. However, poor ball striking meant I only carded par on 7 and 9. Bogeys on the rest of the holes meant I would finish the Blue in +6.

Coming off the 9th, the starter was swarmed with groups, everyone waiting to get out – night and day from the start of our morning. We looked down at the time, and it was only 8:35. There have been a number of superlatives on my journey so far, but 2 hours 35 minutes is far and away the fastest I’ve finished 18 holes of golf.

The Blue made for more interesting play than the White as it is much tighter, particularly on the 3rd, 4th, and 8th holes, and it’s in equally good condition.

 

Red (Number 61)

Amidst all the groups looking to get out, full credit goes to the starter who was able to get us on the 1st tee of the Red nine in just 30 minutes. Perhaps excited that I was going to be able to complete all three nines, I completely botched the first. A weak and lazy drive meant I would slice it into the lateral hazard. A drop and a couple attempts to get onto the green resulted in triple-bogey.

That pretty much set the tone for the rest of the nine, over the course of which I played mediocre golf at best. There wasn’t anything particularly challenging about the Red nine, but I couldn’t put anything together. The highlight was certainly my approach on the 8th, a relatively long par 4. After pulling my drive left, I had 184 yards uphill to the green. I also needed to draw around some overhanging branches, and it came off just right. With a bit of draw, I was able to avoid the bunker on the right, and land just off the green. I chipped my third shot to 3 feet.

The lowlight was missing the 3-footer for par.

I was able to par the 9th to close, which was nice. But, with the 2nd being the only other par on my card for the Red, I would finish +9. Starting at 9:05 and wrapping up at 11:11, the Red nine took nearly as long as the first 18 we played.

The Red nine is much like the White, and perhaps even a bit more open. Again, the overall condition was great. Being the weekend before Independence Day, all pins flew American flags, which – according to my playing partner – is something Jaworski does at all his courses around the holiday. My only complaint was the “replay rate” we got for the Red nine. The fees for the pre-booked White-Blue combination was $69 ($34.50 for each nine), but we paid $37 for the Red. Not the end of the world – and both rates included the cart – but I would expect a rate that would beat an online booking through the course website.

Overall, however, the price of golf at Ramblewood is commensurate with its quality relative to other public golf in NJ – just a touch above average. I look forward to playing the other Jaworski-owned properties.

Numbers 59, 60, and 61 (Ramblewood Country Club – Red, White, and Blue)

Number 58 (Cedar Creek Golf Course)

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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)

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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.

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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)