This year’s U.S. Amateur brings high-level golf back to the Ridgewood Country Club, a classic A.W. Tillinghast course in a busy New Jersey suburb 15 minutes outside of New York City.
Often overshadowed by Tillinghast’s other championship layouts in the area—Winged Foot, Bethpage, and Baltusrol—Ridgewood holds its own near the top of Tilly’s portfolio and has to be considered one of the two or three best 27-hole golf facilities in the world. It is the type of place that looks and plays like it could host the U.S. Open pretty much any day of the week. Members enjoy three truly equal nine-hole courses (East, Center, and West), all similar in difficulty and architectural interest. Routing these courses was no small feat, especially considering that each starts and ends at the iconic Clifford Wendehack-designed clubhouse. The middle holes of each nine negotiate a broad ridge that bisects the property.
Ridgewood’s current championship routing showcases 18 of the 27 holes and draws almost equally from each nine. The round begins with Nos. 1-7 of the East, proceeds with Nos. 2-6 of the Center, and concludes with Nos. 4-9 of the West. Yes, the Center gets slightly short shrift here, but it makes an impression by contributing the most famous hole on the property, “Five and Dime.” This week, it will be known as No. 12; most days, it’s 6 on the Center nine.
One of the strong points of Tillinghast’s craft was his ability to shift styles from course to course while offering a familiar feel. At Ridgewood, you will find not one but two of his trademark Great Hazard par 5s—Nos. 3 and 13 this week. This template design features a long carry over a gruesome hazard in the middle of the hole and puts pressure on the player to decide whether to go for it or lay up on their second shot.
What makes Ridgewood unique among the Tillinghast’s best courses is the flashy bunkering, with wispy fescue eyelashes and lots of narrow, almost pointed tongues and fingers. These serpentine hazards create interesting challenges, as the fingers can make for difficult lies and unusual stances. The bunkers vary greatly in shape and size. One of the wildest complexes is shared between two holes—Nos. 3 and 7 this week, both on the East—and others, like the bunkers on the Five and Dime hole, can be seen from halfway across the course. This visibility is the result of years of tree clearing, which, along with bringing back the flair of Tilly’s bunkers, was a focus of the recent restoration by Hanse Golf Course Design.
A bit about the restoration work at the Ridgewood Country Club by Hanse Golf Course Design
Hanse’s work didn’t stop with tree removal and bunker work. The architecturally savvy golfer will take note of the elegant grass lines at Ridgewood. With clean horizon lines, more width than ever, and no step-cut, the uncluttered look of Tillinghast’s features is on full display. The greens have all been expanded to their original shapes and sizes, and the fairways have been pushed out to the edges of the bunkers. Superintendent Todd Raisch and his staff have done an incredible job since the restoration work in 2015 introducing more fescue to the majestic property and continuing the selective tree removal process started by Hanse.
Photo: Andy Johnson
The Ridgewood Country Club, Tilly’s “local” club, has played host to many notable tournaments over the years. Now fully restored using photographs from the 1935 Ryder Cup, the vaunted Tillinghast layout will hold its fifth USGA event and welcome U.S. Amateur participants with its Golden Age charm.
Jaeger Kovich is a golf architect at Proper Golf and a shaper for Hanse Golf Course Design. Follow Jaeger on Instagram @propergolf or his website.