Number 70 (Plainfield West 9)

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Date played: 12/21/2017

I arrived at Plainfield West 9 from the Galloping Hill Learning Center Nine just after noon. Still cold in the middle of the day – which is no surprise on the winter solstice in New Jersey – I headed into the pro shop to see if I could get on the course. The woman behind the counter was kind enough to let me know that I could save a few bucks if I waited until 12:50, and I obliged.

I didn’t mind waiting, as it gave me a chance to warm up for a bit and charge my phone. While inside, I learned that the “West 9” actually offers a membership that includes the ability to occasionally play the distinguished neighboring Plainfield Country Club. I also heard accounts of how the West 9 course served as something of a practice facility for professionals in the week leading up to The Barclays in 2015, with the players setting up ad hoc holes, teeing off from one hole and playing to another, just to lengthen the course.

Inspired by the stories of recent history, it was time for me to get to the first tee. The West 9 starts off with two long par-4 holes, the 1st being a slight dog-leg left, and the 2nd a slight dog-leg right. Caution is warranted on the 1st tee in that, if you’re trying to shape your ball right-to-left to accommodate the dog-leg, anything pull-hooked will end up OB on Woodland Avenue. The 2nd is more forgiving, with only a few trees lining either side of the fairway.

The 3rd hole is the first of three par-3s on the course. Teeing off just beside the club house, it’s the shortest of the par-3s, but it plays a considerable amount uphill, with the green sloping back to front. Anyone moving the ball left-to-right would have to be cautious of the bunker that is front-right, as well as the drop-off to the cart path all along and around the right side of the green mound.

At only 241 yards from the “back” tees, the 4th is a short par-4 and the second-easiest hole of the nine. Its only protection is a bunker front right, but it is deep and does have a lip that rises above green-level which could provide some challenge.

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Looking back on the 4th from the green. Though it looks small and unimposing from this angle, the greenside bunker is actually relatively deep.

The 5th is a mid-distance par-3, and it has trouble – AKA backyards – to the right. Club selection and shot choice will be keys to playing this hole well. Turning around and heading back the other way, the 6th hole is probably the most interesting of the par-4s, playing blind over a ridge that runs across the fairway at about 200-250 yards from the tees.

If you miss the 6th fairway right, you’ll have to contend with a lone tree that sits atop the ridge. If you miss the fairway left, the left rough slopes right to left and bad bounces could put you at the bottom of this hill, leaving you with a partially blind second shot.

From the 6th green you need to walk back uphill to play the longest of the par-3s, the downhill 7th. While on the card at 189 yards, the drop probably has it playing around 175, with pretty forgiving surroundings. There is a bunker left and short, but you have to miss the green by 10-15 yards to find yourself there.

Coming home, the 8th and 9th are both short par-4s, but the greens on these two holes are like night and day. The 8th green is small, but offers little in the way of contour, whereas the 9th is larger, but easily the toughest green on the course. It sits on a mound, and slopes left to right, dropping off severely as it approaches the right-side fringe.

I played Plainfield West 9 in +6, bogeying everything except the three greens I hit in regulation (4, 8, and 9). Go figure.

Playing the course not only meant the second of my three courses of the day was complete, but also that all seven Middlesex County public courses were checked off the list, joining Hudson, Hunterdon, and Somerset as completed counties on my journey.

A great place to learn the game, I would recommend the Plainfield West 9 to beginners and golf regulars alike. Apart from the holes on the perimeter, the course plays very open with little trouble with which to contend. Its greens are reputed as some of the best in the area, and they were in very good condition even in December. The walking rates are great and there are good deals on afternoon tee times through GolfNow.

This is a perfect course that fits the spirit of the USGA’s “PLAY9” campaign, and if it isn’t already occupied every spring, summer, and fall with people getting in nine holes before or after work, it absolutely should be.

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Number 70 (Plainfield West 9)

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 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)

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)

Number 56 (Town & Country Golf Links)

My stop for the 56th course on my journey was incredibly spontaneous and a lot of fun. I had just spent a week with my dad in North Carolina, where we got to enjoy a practice round as well as the exciting finish of the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship at Eagle Point Golf Club. I also got to play golf with my dad, which was amazing given it was his first time on a regulation-length course. Even though I played miserably (from the senior tees, no less) I got to witness my dad’s first legitimate bogey, which is a moment I’ll never forget.

I started my drive back to New Jersey late on Sunday, and stayed the night in Virginia. I resumed my drive on Monday morning, and under strict orders from my wife not to return home without Krispy Kreme donuts, I stopped in Maryland to get a dozen. As I continued my drive at around noon, I thought I could definitely get a round of golf – and another NJ public golf course – in before getting home. I would be in New Jersey around 2:00 pm, and with a four or 4.5-hour round, I would be home in the early evening.

I started calling a few places while I was in Delaware. I maintain a list of all NJ courses on my phone, so I just had to find contact information and see what would make the most sense. Coming back into the state over the Delaware Memorial Bridge, I was trying to find places that wouldn’t be too far off the NJ Turnpike. Salem or Gloucester County courses would be best. After a few calls I discovered that Holly Hills (Alloway) was no longer operational, and that Town & Country Golf Links in Woodstown had a 2:20 tee time available.

After playing awfully in North Carolina, I arrived at Town & Country  (my first Salem County course) with the desire to play some decent golf. It was pretty windy, so I committed to playing smooth, low drives. From the first ball, I just felt like I could hit anything. It was an incredible change from the prior week. I went out in 39 (+4) and came back in at 41 (+5), and that included a triple-bogey with a lost ball, which was caused by a departure from the game plan of smooth, low drives. That +9 round matched some of my best golf ever, and it felt like redemption for all the bad golf I had been playing, including my round at Lakewood CC.

It’s hard to be critical of a course when you’ve played well there, at least for me. Noteworthy features are the peninsula/island green on the par-3 13th, and a nice change from mostly links-style to some parkland-style chutes on holes 15 through 17. If I had any complaints, it would be that there aren’t any real elevation changes, but that is just characteristic of the low-lying, level farmland of the area overall. Architecturally, it seems they did try to compensate for this with a raised tee box here and there, like on the par-3 7th, or the raised green on the par-3 16th, but it is level for the most part.

Apart from the even-planed nature of the layout, it is beautifully maintained and has some very friendly service. It’s quite a hike from my Mercer County home, but it ranks highly for me among the public courses I’ve played so far. I would gladly recommend Town & Country Golf Links to anyone in the area, or even if you’re just passing through, trying to get a round in as you head back north.

Number 56 (Town & Country Golf Links)