Situated in the hilly, forested western slope of the Jersey Palisades, not far from the Hudson River, the course at Alpine Country Club lies within a 196-acre site that required a fair bit of rock blasting by architect A. W. Tillinghast in order to fashion the fairways back in the late 1920s.
Originally named “Aldecress” by the club’s founders, combining the names of three towns (Alpine, Cresskill and Demarest) surrounding the property, the course was one of the most difficult ever built by the esteemed architect, as later noted by Tilly in correspondence:
“Among the hundreds of golf courses that I have designed and constructed, Aldecress was by far the toughest to build that I have ever encountered. There was a deal of tree removal (big fellows), draining and above all, we were messing around in huge stone outcrop over the entire area.”
Because of the challenging conditions, it took two years to complete the course, routing the fairways through mature forest across severely sloping terrain. Many of the holes appear as relatively wide corridors through the trees but they play narrower due to the inclination of the land.
Alpine has undergone a few substantial alterations in recent times, under the guidance of architect Ron Forse, with much of this work involving the rebuilding of bunkers, restoring others that were lost over time and adding a number of new back tees.Notable holes include par threes at holes 5 and 8 on the outward half, along with three short par fours on the inward half, and both nines conclude with long, but reachable, downhill par fives which present reasonable birdie opportunities.
Architect A.W. Tillinghast freely admitted the construction of Alpine CC proved to be the most demanding of his storied career. Interestingly, Tillie lived a good portion of his life in nearby Harrington Park and therefore was able to monitor the progression of the work.
The layout is situated on the western slope of the famed Palisades. For those who venture to the area I heartedly recommend taking the scenic drive north of the George Washington Bridge all the way to the border of NJ and NY. The 500-foot high cliffs which tower over the Hudson River is often underappreciated and ignored by many tourists who come to the NYC area.
Back to the golf --
The course is situated on just under 200 acres. One of the real virtues is the movement of the land. Plenty of courses in Northern NJ are fairly flat with a bit of movement but nothing for what one encounters at Alpine. Being able to adjust constantly to how the ball lies is central to one's success when playing. There's nary a consistently flat lie when playing.
The opening hole rates with the best in the Garden State. The fairway tilts noticeable from right-to-left and a wetland penalty area is on the left side awaiting those who overplay their shots in that direction. An assortment of trees works down the right side and it behoves players to keep the ball on that side in order to receive a "turbo boost" from the shape of the land.
The opening green is a classic Tillinghast creation - full of internal riddles that perplex even the long-time member of the club. Like others at Alpine the target sits above the player. Complicating matters is the varying wind patterns -- either downwind or into a headwind adds its own impact for club selection. Failing to hit the green brings a number of other issues for players to overcome. Tillinghast excelled in making sure that missed approaches require the highest level of dexterity in the recovery area. While Alpine gives a bit of freedom off the tee shot -- the finicky nature from the approach through the holing of the putt clearly intensifies.
The 2nd hole, while attractive because of its closeness to the main clubhouse and a pond which protects the left side of the green, is out of character from the Tillinghast style. The hole was revamped years later and while it's anything but pedestrian the architectural wizardry of Tillinghast is sadly absent.
Matters change when reaching the electric par-4 3rd. The extension of the teeing area helped matters greatly and the movement of the fairway from left-to-right can be impactful for golfers who push a shot too far to the right. There is a pond in the far distance but it's more about the aesthetic than the strategic. The green sits above the fairway and the movements encountered are Tillinghast at his finest. Players must hit a high-quality approach otherwise the terror of the shifting internal contours will expose the weakest of putters in a New York minute. Finishing above the hole to a back or mid-placed pin placement will envelop a fear that will have one's knees shaking and hands trembling.
The par-4 4th works uphill and is a perfect counterpoint to the 3rd. The landing area is blind and the fairway tilts to the left. Shaping a tee shot accordingly is a must. The main issue -- one that you encounter at a number of other holes at Alpine is the encroachment of trees as canopies far too often intrude. Over the years the club has wisely cut down the invasive nature of the trees but the spokes of the limbs need to be removed a bit more to really add to the intrinsic beauty and strategic calculus when playing.
The green at the 4th would make Donald Ross envious. The target provides for a vicious false front that will take the half-hearted approach and suck it back off the surface. The green has its share of movements so being near with the approach is the only remedy against a probable three-putt for the shakiest of hands.
At Alpine you face only three par-3 holes and an equal number of par-5 holes. When you have a limited array of such type holes it's critical they each offer a substantial contribution. That's not the case here. The short 5th plays uphill and again proper club selection is needed. The green is one-dimensional in its appearance -- tilting severely from left-to-right. Tillinghast was a true connoisseur in his creation of short holes but the 5th could stand a real restoration that adds character and a bevy of far more appealing pin possibilities.
One of the things you may not notice when playing is that upon playing one's approach shot to the 3rd -- you then begin to climb upwards on the property. It's not overly severe but the impact of the "Alpine effect" is certainly happening. At the long par-4 6th the elevation impact is striking. The tee shot is not tested with via fairway bunkers -- the club only has a handful of them -- but the approach, like others encountered, is exceedingly difficult o gauge. Matters are further complicated by a two-tier green which thankfully was sensibly altered by Ron Forse given the modern green speeds used now as opposed to when Tillinghast was in his heyday. Pity the hapless player who hits a ball in the massive greenside bunker that extends from the green back into the fairway. The shot from it is often beyond the talent level of most players as both the length and elevation required to get to the green is simply ferocious.
The next two holes that follow are a bit less in the design style of Tillinghast although they both have elements of interest. The par-5 7th disappoints because Tillie was a great creator of par-5 holes. The 7th lacks the character found at the 3rd at Ridgewood's East Course or the 8th at the Paramus-based club's West Course. The saving element comes at the green -- elevated above the approach area and artfully sloped from back-to-front. When the speeds reach beyond 11 on the Stimpmeter anything above the hole is the equivalent of walking a tight rope without the comfort of a protecting net to brace one's calamitous fall.
The par-3 8th has had its share of alterations and the present version is nothing more than a hodge-podge of elements that have only surfaced to muddy the waters. How so? There's an actual drainage hole placed within the confines of the green. If any hole really cried out for a transformation in being a Tillinghast par-3 of consequence the 8th at Alpine cries out for that adjustment.
The concluding hole on the outward side is a par-5 but because of club and ball technology actually plays as a par-4 for the highly skilled players able to launch the ball. The green is once again the primary defense. It's slope from left-to-right and there is another rise towards the front of the green which must be negotiated with the utmost care.
The inward half begins with the most bewildering of holes. The par-4 10th is less than 340 yards as the crow flies but the hole goes literally straight uphill for the full duration. It's out of character from all the other Tillinghast holes I've ever played and likely was done in order to quickly get to a portion of the property where the remainder of the holes on the back nine can take place. Years ago -- the hole was totally engulfed by trees on both sides and the only available play was an archer-like tee shot with no room to play an approach because of the encroachment of the canopies. That has since been changed thankfully. The green has also been changed a few times -- but has been returned to its former back-to-front slope. In architectural terms having a hole that takes on such a steep grade in such a direct manner leaves little avenue for those who can't carry the ball sufficiently in the air. Difficulty is front and center for double digit handicaps far much so than for those who are more accomplished.
The 11th is one of the best two-shot holes at Alpine. Here, once again, you have the salutary benefit in having trees eliminated, as the hole was another bowling alley hole for far too long. The hole turns right slightly and positioning off the tee is essential. The green is also one of the club's best -- featuring a hogback towards the front left center and sloping back-to-front in the rear. Leaving the hole with par is no small feat.
The back nine features three short par-4's and the 12th is the weakest of the trio. The hole climbs in elevation and turns left before reaching the green. It's nothing more than a short pitch to a green sloped heavily from left-to-right. The key is gauging the approach shot correctly because with the elevated target the wherewithal to gauge the shot correctly is no small feat. What would make the hole more attractive? Playing it a par-3 would be more challenging -- and add to the roster of quality holes at Alpine.
The 13th is a fine counterpoint to the long 6th -- this time playing in the opposite direction. The short par-4 14th is a fine replica hole Tillinghast has done elsewhere with the 1st at Bedford Springs in PA. The fairway provides for two levels with the green perched on a tiny plateau with steep fall-offs. At 311 yards it appears on the surface to be a simple hole. Guess again. Players have to decide which level work best for them and the approach is a daunting one with a major fall-off for any approach that comes even a millimeter short.
Alpine's final four holes are a mixed bag. The par-4 15th is helped with a vexing green that moves left-to-right on a diagonal. The par-3 16th is an attractive hole but hardly meriting anything more than honorable mention and certainly not at the highest of levels Tillinghast has created elsewhere. The short par-4 17th is a temptation. Climbing uphill to the highest point on the property, players have to decide how aggressive to be off the tee as the fairway tapers in considerably at the 220 -yard mark on the 317-yard hole. The green follows the Alpine pattern in being elevated and is the smallest target one plays during the round. The green is also devilish with plenty of vexing movements and heaven help any player who finds their ball above the pin.
The concluding hole is most attractive -- starting from an elevated tee and working downhill to the green. The fairway does tilt left-to-right but there's more than enough room for strong players to play aggressively. The putting surface does have movement but is less severe than several played earlier in the round.
Alpine is a testing Tillinghast layout at times, but it's not among the upper echelon that the famed architect created. There are a few holes which could easily be improved upon and the weight of such effort would need to be on the par-3 and par-5 side. The core of the course revolves around a number of the putting surfaces and the variety of two-shot holes one plays. The Alpine of today is far better than the layout I first played over 40 years ago but the wherewithal to elevate the course even further is about carrying out a commitment which other NJ courses are now doing. See the work done recently at Somerset Hills and Ridgewood, the work being done at Shackamaxon now and the ongoing effort being carried out at both courses at Baltusrol today. All of the aforementioned are Tillinghast designs. A strategic plan of the first order could very well propel Alpine into prime contention to be among the top 25 in the State.
M. James Ward
Great course. Trees everywhere... must hit ball straight. 1st hole... trees on the right .. green raised 20 feet. 2nd - Dog leg right - second shot over water. 3rd hole... 1st shot- must hit over water... hit drive with left fade - fast green. 4th - par 5 - first shot up hill. 5th hole - par 3 .. hitting uphill to green .. 30 feet up… small green. 6th - 2nd shot uphill. 7th long par 5... out of bounds on the right. 8th hole - par three... false front… fairway & green slops left to right. 9th - par 5 ... get your birdie.
10th hole - narrow par 4 - hitting uphill for 1st and 2nd shot -- great hole. 11th - narrow .. dog leg right... trees on both side .. great view off tee. 12th - short par 4 .. get birdie. 13th - long par 4 - be happy with par. 14th - 2 tier fairway ... uphill ... get you bird -- good looking hole. 15th - second shot hit over water .. bunker in front of green. 16th - 200 yard par three. 17th - short par 4 - get your birdie. 18th- long par 5 -- wide - great view for 2nd shot.
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