Number 82 (Cape May National Golf Club)

Date played: 12/26/2018

Number 81 on my journey took me to about 10 miles from the northern border of the state. For Number 82, I decided to go in the opposite direction. On the day after Christmas, I would head to the southernmost course in New Jersey: Cape May National Golf Club.

“The Natural”, as it’s colloquially known, would be my first course in Cape May County. Situated at sea level and right down the centerline of the Cape May peninsula, the course is also home to a nature preserve and bird sanctuary that splits the front and back nines. While the course in its current form was designed in 1991, the club boasts history going back to the late 1800s when it was known as Cape May Country Club.

An 8:02 tee time on one of the shortest days of the year meant I would have to leave well before dawn to make the two-plus-hour trek to get to Exit 0 on the Garden State Parkway. Stopping only to get a few photos of the rising sun, I arrived at the course early. I knew immediately that there would be a frost delay, something almost inevitable for a December morning in New Jersey. After about 45 minutes, I was able to get on my way.

Sunrise over the Parkway

The first three holes play southwardly down the east side of the nature preserve before turning back north along the Parkway on the dog-leg-left fourth. It’s clear immediately that the sea-level layout will be flat throughout, but mounding is used to add character to holes, like at the par-3 sixth.

The mounded green at the sixth

The green at the sixth is slightly raised, running off at the front left which increases the danger of short shots caroming backwards and rolling into the water. Along the right and around the back of the green, there is mounding that may provide challenging stances when trying to scramble for par.

The scorecard boasts a quote (from The Jersey Golfer) that the course has “three of the top ranked holes in New Jersey”. That’s quite a claim, and as of the time of writing, I can’t find any record of these rankings. I will say though, that on the back nine, numbers 11 and 18 are highlights on the course.

The landing area for the tee shot at 11 is larger than it seems from the tee

All around, I was thoroughly impressed with the condition of the course in December. While considerably further south than most courses I play, I still didn’t expect everything to be in the shape it was for the winter. I’ve seen many public courses that don’t look as well maintained in their prime season.

Being in such a remote corner of the state, it’s hard to recommend as a “must play”. Having said that, there are plenty of things to do in Cape May in warmer weather. So, if you’re looking for a beach weekend that includes some golf, then Cape May National is definitely worth a visit.

Number 82 (Cape May National Golf Club)

Number 81 (Berkshire Valley Golf Course)

Date played: 11/25/2018

Saddled between Routes 15 and 23, the 81st course on my journey is technically a county-less one. Berkshire Valley resides in Oak Ridge, NJ, an “unincorporated community” (gotta love that designation) between West Milford in Passaic County and Jefferson Township in Morris County. As far as the golfing community is concerned though, it is part of the Morris County Park Commission, and it was the last one I needed to play to complete the county altogether.

Designed by Roger Rulewich – whose work can also be found in the Crystal Springs Resort courses in Sussex County – Berkshire Valley is a picturesque ridge-and-basin layout beside Green Pond Mountain. It starts on the ridge with five holes playing in one direction along the side of the mountain before returning in the other direction with some eye-catching undulation on holes 6, 7, and 8.

Back across the ridge on the par-3 6th

After that, it’s down to the basin on 9. Where it felt tight on the ridge, the course exhales here for the first time with a wide-open fairway. The lower side of the course continues and features some great holes where water is in play, either to carry or to mind as a hazard to one side. The basin rolls delightfully around these bodies of water in links-style, where you’ll contend with native grasses more than trees.

A look out at some of the back nine in the basin

The morning I played, all players were sent out on 9 – to play 9 through 18 twice – as the first five holes were closed due to snow that still needed to melt. It would’ve been disappointing to have to come back to the course to complete it, but by the time we wrapped up on 18, enough snow had melted that they allowed us to play the front after all.

Shadows across the beastly 2nd

Berkshire Valley is truly a hidden gem. It’s the one course I’ve played so far where enough people haven’t heard of it, and it is an absolute recommendation in my book. The views from the ridge are striking and make for great pictures, not to mention the challenge you’ll face in that first third of the course. Its width in the basin makes it quite replayable, offering multiple angles on a number of holes.

If you haven’t seen it, it is an absolute must play. Give the unincorporated community of Oak Ridge a visit and discover a public treasure in Berkshire Valley.

Number 81 (Berkshire Valley Golf Course)