An introduction to New Jersey
New Jersey in northeastern U.S., is known as the Garden State, primarily due to its agricultural production. This is despite New Jersey being one of the smallest states in the country, the fourth smallest in case you were wondering.
That said, it is one of the most popular and sought after places to live. From a location perspective, it is close to some of the major cities including New York City, Philadelphia and Washington.
It has state border lines with Delaware, Pennsylvania and New York, albeit it doesn’t actually have a land border with Delaware.
Some of the major cities include Newark, next to New York City, Trenton and Atlantic City, which is in the bottom half of its coastline with the Atlantic Ocean. The state is full of historical landmarks and natural beauty, and this makes it so fashionable.
One of its main attractions is the Six Flags Great Adventure, a vast theme park with loads of rides for adults and kids alike. The 1,200-acre Liberty State Park is a popular tourist spot, as it has majestic views back across to the New York City skyline and the Statue of Liberty.
On the southern coastline, Atlantic City has a reputation which precedes it. But aside from the casinos and bars, it is genuinely a fascinating city. The Steel Pier is one of the main tourist spots as is the boardwalk.
New Jersey also has the claim to fame, that one of its golf courses is considered the best in the world.
See also: What are the best public golf courses in New Jersey?
The best golf courses in New Jersey
Bayonne Golf Club
There aren’t too many golf courses which have panoramic views across to the Manhattan skyline. Well Bayonne Golf Club is one of the few, and those more eagle eyed might even spot the Statue of Liberty.
Bayonne is located on a 150-acre plot next to the Hudson River, which was a former landfill site. It was actually the site where they deposited the silt and river dredge from the Hudson.
Then came Eric Bergstol, a New York developer and a man who has double figure golf course developments against his name. Along with his colleague and advisor Richard Hurley, over the course of a number of years they slowly but surely started to create the course.
Finally in 2006, the course opened to huge acclaim. It is inland links in style, and has taken much inspiration from the links courses in Scotland and Ireland. So much so, during the design process, Bergstol and Hurley made numerous trips across the Atlantic to be inspired.
Today the course feels like it has been there centuries, not decades. Long wispy rough absolutely demands precision shots off the tee. This is no easy feat with the prevailing sea breezes and some elevated tee boxes.
Even if you’re hitting the ball straight, your short game has to be spot on. The greens are lightening fast and there are many off slopes which will readily funnel away any overhit putts. This course is a beauty.
Pine Valley Golf Club
To many, this is the best golf course in the world. There is a constant battle between Pine Valley and Cypress Point in California’s Monterey Peninsula as to which gets that top spot.
Whichever you think is best is slightly irrelevant as let’s be honest, it’s completely subjective and both are out of this world.
The course was the brainchild of George Crump, a Philadelphia hotelier. In a very average plot of land about 15 miles south of Philly, Crump began developing the course in 1912, with the help of Harry Colt, one of the most celebrated golf course architects of the time.
Colt’s influence on the project is evident with Pine Valley, reminiscent of many of his greatest achievements on the Continent. These include the majestic Swinley Forest in Surrey, Utrecht de Pan in the Netherlands and Saint-Germain west of Paris.
Yet Pine Valley is arguably head and shoulders above these. It is also considered one of the hardest golf courses, intimidating from the tee and unless you are hitting straight and long, it could be an arduous day.
The routing is divine, with certainly 17 of the 18 holes superb. There is no repetition and the woodland which envelops the course keeps the noise and stress from the outside world well and truly hidden.
This really is golf in its purest form and any invite you get here, clearly the golfing gods are smiling in you.
Baltusrol Golf Club (Lower & Upper)
Jack Nicklaus counted Baltusrol as one of his favorite courses. Maybe due in some part to winning two U.S. Opens here. Yet if anyone can recognise a quality golf course, it’s going to be Jack.
Baltusrol is located in the neighborhood of Springfield, just 20 minutes from Newark and under a half hour from New York City. This exceptional site in the foothills of Baltusrol Mountain, was recently designated a National Historic Landmark. This is a special place.
There are two outstanding golf courses onsite, the Lower and the Upper, both designed by A.W. Tillinghast. Alongside Bethpage Black, these are surely the pinnacle of Tillinghast’s design career.
The heritage of Baltusrol dates back to 1895, but it wasn’t until 1922 when the courses first opened.
The Upper Course is actually routed into the base of the mountain, so exposed to the shifting terrain. This creates a diversity in the holes you play and is truly fascinating. Like its sibling, the Upper Course has over the years been the host venue to various major tournaments.
Yet many regard the Lower Course as the foremost of the two, albeit just. It has hosted numerous U.S. Opens and PGA Championships. The are large undulating fairways and challenging greens, which even the best of putters will struggle to read.
The Lower Course recently benefited from a restoration led by the hugely admired Gil Hanse, with the goal of reestablishing much of Tillinghast’s original design. Many will hope the Upper also gets the same tender-loving care, and at the time of writing, it is slated this will happen.
This really is Golden Age architecture at its finest and is without a doubt one of the finest 36-hole golf facilities in the States.
Somerset Hills Country Club
The history of Somerset Hills dates right back to 1899, when the club was first established by New Yorkers looking to escape the city. Hence the ‘country’ in the name.
The club is a good 40 minute drive from Newark, just to the west of Bernardsville and has been in this location since 1918.
The whole experience at Somerset Hills is understated and not in the least bit ostentatious. For a golf course which is readily considered one of the best in the world, it keeps its head down.
So much so, you could even argue it is a hidden gem. Due to its length, around 6,900 yards from the tips, it hasn’t been selected to host any major tournaments. Therefore this lack of exposure keeps it flying somewhat under the radar.
But for those in the know, Somerset Hills is a classic example of Golden Age golf course architecture. It is yet another creation by none other than A.W. Tillinghast, who was clearly at the peak of his discipline at the time.
As for the course, the routing is delightful and features woods, ponds, valleys and a quarry. The green complexes are simply divine, and without doubt one of the highlights.
The Ridge at Back Brook
The story of how The Ridge at Back Brook actually came into existence is quite something.
The owner Joel Moore had been a member at a couple of different local country clubs. But spurred on by both a growing dissatisfaction at his current club and a desire to build his own golf-only, private golf club, he set about trying to find the right spot of land.
After endless site visits and his optimism waning, Moore eventually came across the site which was the one. Elevation changes, streams, rock outcroppings and mature trees, this was it.
Next step was to call upon one of the greatest golf course architects of the time, Tom Fazio. Fazio and his team were blown away by the natural beauty of the site and after a couple of years’ work, the course opened in 2002.
From the minute you step foot in the 300-acre property, you become part of the ‘Ridge Experience’! The rolling terrain offers some outstanding views and vistas and also allowed Fazio to be immensely creative with the routing.
The course jumps from one direction to another and makes great use of the elevation changes. Aside from The Ridge being a top-class golf course, you can also be assured of the highest level of manicure.
Hidden Creek Golf Club
As the name suggests, Hidden Creek Golf Club is hidden away in a dense and vast 750-acre woodland. It is one of those courses where you couldn’t be further away from urban life and the associated stresses. Instead there is a deafening silence which reigns supreme.
The club is a half hour’s drive inland from Atlantic City and opened for play in 2002. The reputable Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw were brought in to transform this serene site into a world-class golf course. And deliver they did.
In part due to the mixtures of pines, maples and oaks, but also due to the sandy terrain, the layout is reminiscent of some of the finest Surrey heathland courses. But Hidden Creek more than holds its own.
There is always a simplicity in Coore and Crenshaw designs, especially with their minimalist approach to imprinting the routing in the landscape. The strategy and challenge is about shot placement, finding the right angles and having an on-point short game, which Hidden Creek displays in abundance.
Don’t be surprised to see this course continue to climb higher in many ‘best of’ lists.
Essex County Country Club
And so on to the sixth oldest country club in the U.S. and the oldest in New Jersey, Essex County Country Club (ECCC for short!). ECCC dates right back to 1887 and was originally established as a hunt club.
The club moved to its current site in 1917 and called upon the young architect A.W.Tillinghast. This was one of his first projects, and yet earned such rave reviews, it propelled him onto other more celebrated commissions.
Just eleven years after the course had opened, it was redesigned by Seth Raynor and Charles Banks. As part of this redesign, only 7 of Tillinghast’s original design was kept, although by all accounts, these were the 7 best.
The routing takes advantage of the hilly terrain with a fine mixture of long and short holes. The front-nine offers most scoring opportunities and the back-nine is sensational. The 11th is a superb par-3 over a valley with an ‘Eden’ green. The 12th is uphill across a valley with a challenging double-plateaued green. And the quality continues until you hit the 18th, which is one of the hardest finishing holes around.
But all the while this is another classic example of Golden Age architecture, yet with a sprinkling of Gil Hanse thrown in, who primarily improved the green complexes. Without doubt one of the best golf courses in New Jersey.
Plainfield Country Club
Yet another country club which harks back to the late nineteenth century, the club was established in 1890.
However, it wasn’t until 1922, that the golf course you can enjoy today was opened. This is a timeless Donald Ross classic and without doubt one of his finest works in the US, which is saying a lot.
This recognition is shared by all the major golf publications, with Golf Digest and Golfweek magazine both consistently ranking Plainfield as one of the best golf courses in the U.S.
The layout works its way through the gently flowing hills and there are many ridges which flow through the site. From the tee you will be tested, with accuracy essential to avoid the thick rough. This isn’t the longest of courses, with Plainfield proving you don’t simply need length to provide a decent challenge.
Even once you’ve hit the right part of the fairway, you’ll be confronted with false-fronted and raised greens. And that’s assuming you miss one of the many protecting bunkers.
In 2000, Gil Hanse was brought in to restore the course and give it a well needed upgrade. This project lasted about a decade and today, after the removal of hundreds of trees, fairways being repositioned, bunkers restored and greens improved, Plainfield rightfully sits as one of the top golf courses in New Jersey and the U.S.
Ridgewood Country Club (East & West)
Just over a half hour’s drive from central Newark, is yet another A.W. Tillinghast creation, all 27 holes to be precise.
In the early years, Ridgewood jumped around from one location to another, primarily staying in the Ridgewood neighborhood. It wasn’t until 1927 the incumbent site was settled upon and in 1929 Tillinghast’s 27 holes opened for play.
So highly revered was the work, within just six years it was the host venue to one of, if not the greatest golf tournament, the Ryder Cup. Walter Hagen’s men defeated Great Britain 9 to 3, starting an era of American domination of the event.
The three loops of nine are the East, Center and West, with the East and West combination making the championship layout.
The site is a carpet of green with majestic oaks and maples dotted along fairways and guarding the entrance to many greens. So much so their canopies often come into play requiring guile and cunning with your approach play.
The course isn’t overly long, but the relatively small greens, most of which are either raised or wickedly defended by strategically placed bunkers make shooting par a challenge.
The course continues to be selected to host major tournaments including the PGA Tour’s The Barclays and subsequently The Northern Trust.
Galloway National Golf Club
In this 200-acre plot overlooking Reeds Bay and just 20 minutes from Atlantic City, is the superb Galloway National. This is a glorious course with conditioning to match.
The great Tom Fazio was called upon to draw up the routing for Galloway National and as he’s done on so many other occasions, he’s excelled himself. How Galloway National doesn’t receive greater acclaim one can only wonder.
But here in this heavily wooded plot are fairways which meander gracefully over gentle undulations endemic to the site. From the tee, the fairways aren’t too penal. But precision in the approach play is vital as these are unforgiving greens.
You also have to score well from the off, with the front-nine slightly shorter. That said, without stating the obvious the challenge will soften depending upon which tees you are playing from. The course measures approximately 6,500 yards from the members tees, whilst playing from the back markers it stretches to over 7,100 yards!
The elegant location, outstanding views and top shelf conditioning make Galloway National a dead cert choice for one of the best golf courses in New Jersey. There are many who would argue this is one of Fazio’s top 3 designs. What we can all agree upon is this is a special course.
What is the best golf course in New Jersey?
The best golf course in New Jersey is the George Crump and Harry Colt designed Pine Valley Golf Club. It is widely regarded as the best golf course in the world. Pine Valley is located a half hour’s drive south of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
How many golf courses are there in New Jersey?
In the state of New Jersey, there are 220 golf courses including a mixture of private and public courses. Despite being one of the smallest states in the country, it has, however some of the finest golf courses, including Pine Valley Golf Club, widely considered the best golf course in the world.