Saturday, August 14, 2010


Charles Banks was generally considered the less-talented member of the trio yet his distinctive style can hardly be called “lite”. He likely had little of his own ideas to input as he was a construction man and in fact once the oeuvre was created in the first five years of their work as a design team, little else was added by anyone. Banks cannot be faulted in any way for lack of creativity. Some of what he did was of course to finish off the work of Raynor when Seth passed on. Macdonald gets most of the credit for introducing the design principles first brought to America in most grand style at NGLA. Chicago Golf Club, Raynor fully gutted to create a “superior design” in Macdonald’s words and much of what we know is done in Raynor’s style at the courses Macdonald Raynor and Banks put their names on. Banks is honored at Forsgate and his design especially at the green complexes has been lovingly preserved and enhanced at Forsgate. The aficionado should seek it out as it is certainly contending for top 25 in golf-rich New Jersey.

Banks is a bit of a forgotten man at the triumvirate with much of his distinction being proffered by critics as more crude and of course more mechanical and angular. The Banks course at Forsgate in Monroe Twp., NJ, is a fine example of Banks work. It is immediate to exit 8A of the New Jersey Turnpike, exceptionally easy to find. I was first introduced to it years ago and indeed felt fortunate to be playing two Charles Banks in a seven day span. Later that week in Bermuda I had my sole play at the exquisite (N.L.E.) Castle Harbour. Sadly what exists now as Tucker’s Town is not a Banks course and has little of architectural interest or curiosity. Forsgate on the other hand keeps getting loving attention bringing it further forward as a particularly good example of Banks’ work.
Bold Greenside Bunkering

Eden (ish)

Reverse Redan (aka Nader)

A Bold Biarritz, 63 paces deep

Swale in perspective

Routing: Overall a simple affair with a bit of parallelism but extremely walkable without a glitch. The greens are immediate to tees and nine next to ten, rather good; quite efficient if not too dramatic.
Overall quality of individual holes: Par 3’s are exceptional with Biarritz, reverse Redan and Horseshoe (Short) all exceptional. Eden (not really an Eden, but none ever are) is also a fine hole. Par fours have some variety, mostly at greens with little heroics needed to negotiate their play. Par fives, lacking interesting fairway bunkering come down to the greens although the Plateau ninth has excellent rolls in the fairway. These aren’t up to the level of the other holes.
Cohesion of the course: Excellent with such a tight routing and consistent style, it is a pleasure to play and there is never a questioning moment.
Green Complexes: These generally fall into a couple of types – templates, rolling waves and the more simple affairs. Punchbowl is not quite, but the reverse Redan is spot on fallaway, the newly-revved-up Biarritz is astoundingly good (it always was notable,
Bunkering schema: A bit tame except certain spots most notably the Biarritz, recently renovated. Much of the fairway bunkering is un inspired but commensurate with aspirations.
Conditioning: Superior turf on greens, rest more than serviceable for an enjoyable round, a good balance actually.
Use of trees: Kept to the periphery, one struggles to find a criticizable tree.
Ideal: Rather better than average as water is not in play and rough is severe only when far off line.
Rest of Club: Pretty average but that’s far better than over-the-top -matches aspirations. Extremely comfortable.

A Challenge from 93 years ago

Why I am a golfer in 100 words or less

I am a golfer because it is a pastime for a lifetime, somewhere between religion and disease. It is a microcosm of life, continually challenging the body and psyche to different degrees in a satisfying, encouraging way yet never allowing a full measure of satisfaction nor dismay. Allowing us to frequently start anew it refreshes and seduces as no other. Leading us to believe that we are somehow in control, it constantly reminds us that we are not. It allows us our own measure and gives us great pride to merely be a part of it. We are one with her.

my take

Monday, August 09, 2010

State by State - New Jersey today

Americans are by and large fascinated if not obsessed with lists and of course "The Best". I've rated courses for years, contributed to lists and defined groups of my own, finding it hard to say that course A is better than B if they are of similar merit. Top 100 lists for the world and the US more or less come out reasonably correct in the wash if many people contribute to them and biases go mostly by the wayside. Individual lists are to be taken with a grain of salt, they always reflect positive and negative preferences of the compiler.

The lists that are the most suspect are state by state lists as they are compiled for the major US magazines. The biggest fault is that they are far too heavily weighted by where the voters are A) Told to go and B) Choose to go. Choice A because someone has pre-selected the choices and B because of three separate but not so distinct reasons. One is that newer courses get disproportionate visits by first or casual visitors to an area and then those with established histories of being great and/or preferred architects get disproportionate endorsement.

I would venture to say that regional magazines are not immune to this malady. The traveler wants fair and balanced information on which to make decisions, the private club golfer can get reciprocity from his home club and the public golfer plays in his price range. If one likes Jack Nicklaus designs, Tom Fazio, Jim Engh or some other designer whose teams work across the country, seeking out a known entity often fulfills one's needs. I hope that golfers try to branch out and try new architects work and expand their horizons. Every region has a home architect or two that might very well be worth seeking out.

caveat: be careful who compiles a "Best of" list - ones created by players themselves are notoriously stacked. One really has to be careful with a list such as Golf Digest's Places to Play - perhaps the least reliable guide one can choose for just this reason. The truly best places in any given area are hidden as low as ** ½ and on the other hand **** ½ courses can be just little more than extremely well-conditioned pasture pool palaces.

I'm going to ask my readers to help out on this one. E-mail me with your state's best courses. Reader comments have been turned off due to Asian spam latching onto my blogs comments section. Look for yours.

Here’s a state I really know well (reserved right to edit as I did this fast)

Golf Digest panelists
Pine Valley
Baltusrol Lower
Galloway National
Sommersett Hills
Ridge at Back Brook
Ridgewood (E&W)
Baltusrol Upper
Hidden Creek
Liberty National
Trump (Old)
Hamilton Farms
Atlantic City
Mountain Ridge
Pine Hill
Neshantic Valley
Shore Gate

This Humble Observer's View:
Pine Valley – arguable world #1

Plainfield – most unappreciated great course in America

Sommersett Hills – Tillie’s quirkiest
Ridgewood (Championship)- below R@BB??? In what universe?
Baltusrol Upper – far more interesting than more famous bottom half
Hollywood – among very best “flat” courses
Galloway National – uneven but solid, worst greenhead flies in USA
Atlantic City – nice interpretive restoration
Hidden Creek – really nice “member’s club” by MFA’s

(Now by alpha)
Alpine – deserves more respect
Baltusrol Lower - famous
Bayonne – engineering feat. So what?
Trump (Old) –Trump’s best, very good Fazio

Canoe Brook (N) – fits in about here
Metedeconk – 27 holes of “Hard”
Montclair – four (4!) “nines”
Mountain Ridge – has its fans, wild greens, overall uneven

Better than below +/- equal to some of last 5 above:
Canoe Brook (S)
Echo Lake
Manasquan River

Better than below:
Fiddler’s Elbow (Forest)
Royce Brook (both)
Sand Barrens – 27 solid holes at shore
Scotland Run - somewhat modest public, far better than Shore Gate

- All probably not in top 50 NJ (ALL top 25 GD)
Hamilton Farms – incredible mish-mash of design - very posh
Liberty National – nearly universally panned despite very posh
Neshantic Valley – nice neighborhood public Doak 3
Pine Hill – every Fazio cliché in the book Doak 4 at best
Ridge at Back Brook – very posh, Doak 4, but posh
Shore Gate – definition of hideous - not posh, don't get this one at all