New Jersey is one of the smallest states in the USA. It is also one of the country’s wealthiest and most populous. First claimed by the Dutch and then commandeered by the English, New Jersey, or The Garden State, lives up to its “Liberty and Prosperity” motto these days.
Golf has held a long time relationship with the state. The Essex County Country Club was inaugurated way back in 1887 but it took almost thirty years before a golf course was built for the members’ enjoyment. Golf in the Garden State dates back to the late 19th century and the New Jersey State Golf Association was founded in 1900 only nine years after Ireland formed the world’s oldest golf union.
Golden Age of golf design is found across the state. Courses fashioned by the likes of Donald Ross, Seth Raynor and the prolific “Tilly”, A.W. Tillinghast. But the jewel in New Jersey’s crown is the course that rates not only as the state’s number one, but also one of the best in the world. Let’s hear it for Pine Valley Golf Club.
This year the US Women’s Open marks golf’s stature in the Garden State by being hosted here.
I caddied at the Spring Lake Country Club, a course founded in 1892 in Monmouth County on New Jersey’s Atlantic shore. The Jersey Shore has been a summer vacation residence for almost 150 years. The beaches of the Shore attracted sunbathers, swimmers and fishermen from the areas around New York City, upstate NJ and Philadelphia. Monmouth County is home to many excellent private golf course for member play only. Monmouth County developed the finest golf portfolio for a county governmental entity in all of New Jersey.
I had the opportunity to play two of the best recently. Here’s my thoughts on the first.
The story of how Hominy Hill came into existence is a fascinating one.
Henry Mercer was a shipping magnate who founded the States Marine Corporation. His early life working for railroads made him and his company develop the shipping containers that we are all so familiar with.
Mercer enjoyed mixing golf and business. Mercer’s home summer club, Rumson Country Club, is located near to the Atlantic Ocean. Rumson had and still has a long established reputation for being rather close-minded when people of dissimilar backgrounds came there. Mercer, in his business, came in touch with Japanese and Greeks who like him were active in the shipping area.
Mercer would entertain his guests frequently at Rumson for golf and entertainment. The leadership of the Club made it a point to tell Mercer such invitations would need to be curtailed. Sensing an ultimatum was brewing, Mercer took a preemptive approach. His response was rather straightforward. He would entertain who he wished, when he wished and where he wished. If that meant leaving Rumson, so be it.
His love of golf was deeply embedded. Mercer was also a member of the Augusta National Golf Club. He owned land located in the nearby community of Colts Neck in which he raised prized Guernseys and Charolais cattle. Mercer engaged the services of architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr. who had offices not far from the site in Montclair, NJ.
Jones was at the height of his design career and he created for Mercer an 18-hole layout far beyond what Rumson offered. The course became the ultra-private haven for Mercer, his family and guests. For a number of years the closest the public had ever come to the property was seeing it from adjoining roads. It would not be a stretch of truth to say that more non-members played Pine Valley then played Hominy Hill during its private club status time frame.
Near the end of Mercer’s life a decision was made to sell Hominy Hill to the Monmouth County Parks Department with the caveat that the property would forever to be used as a golf facility open to the general public.
The Hominy Hill course encompasses the motif of a Jones design. Long tees with even larger bunkers with sprawling greens with a number of internal contours. The land is only slightly better than dead flat so mounding was created to give the course some added definition.
One of the dividends in Hominy Hill becoming public was the top tier nature of the turf. The course was far from your normal “muni” course because the pedigree of the layout meant on many days when Mercer owned the property staff outnumbered the total number of people playing.
The course has a few holes of note. The downhill slight dog-leg right 4th is a fine par-5. A pond awaits those going for the green in two if that bold play is pulled to the left. The dog-leg left par-4 8th is a fine hole. The green hugs the nearby out-of-bounds for the approach. Jones added two other risk/reward par-5’s at the 9th and 14th holes respectively.
The par-3, #11 is similar to what Jones created with the 12th hole at Spyglass Hill. The finish is a balancing act of a par-3, par-5 and par-4 closing.The architecture has its moments but it would be a stretch to define it as compelling.
Hominy Hill hosted big time events. It is one of only a few sites in America to have hosted both the men’s and women’s public links national championship for the USGA.
Ironically, what started as a piece of land, reserved for only the select few, has now become a wonderful haven for all types of golfers to enjoy.