The course at Arcola Country Club is largely the product of three English-born architects.
The first of these was Herbert Haydn Barker from Huddersfield who, whilst working as the professional at Garden City Golf Club, set out the club’s original 18-hole course shortly after it was founded in 1909.
The second designer, Willard G. Wilkinson from Wimbledon, an assistant to A. W. Tillinghast, remodelled the course in 1930 due to the expansion of the 11-mile Route 4 highway between the Hudson River Bridge and Paterson.
The third architect, Robert Trent Jones Snr, from Ince-in-Makerfield in Greater Manchester, remodelled this layout in the late 1950s when the routing of another road, the Garden State Parkway, almost caused the club to move elsewhere.
In the end, fourteen new holes were constructed, with only the 1st, 2nd (present 9th) and 9th (present 18th) remaining largely untouched. The 12th hole was used for practice and holes 5 to 8 were completely abandoned.
In more recent times, Florida-based designer Steve Smyers has been involved in a renovation project at the club.
Today, the course can be extended to more than 7,,300 yards from the back tees, playing to a par of 72, and it features back-to-back par fives at holes 8 and 9. The best birdie opportunities are on the two short par four holes, the 348-yard 3rd and the 346-yard 13th, which doglegs right around water from tee to green.
Three of the four par three holes have water in play to the front or side of the green and the round ends very strongly with a trip of testing par four holes.
This past summer I had the opportunity to return to the Morgan Hoffman golf event held at Arcola CC and I was glad to have had the time to more thoroughly assess the layout.
Arcola was transformed from a 6,800-yard good member's course to a strong contender for top 15-20 status in the Garden State. The upgrading is most impressive.
I am fully aware on how competitive the Jersey golf scene is but the effort by architect Steve Smyers and the day-to-day implementation by superintendent Paul Dotti and his team is especially done well.
What you have today is a 7,300+ yard course tailored to deal with the technological gains from clubs and balls. In addition, the razor-sharp detailing of the turf conditions and the involvement of native fescue grasses only adds to the aesthetics when playing.
Smyers has been most adept in raising the challenge level of courses in his design career. In NJ, he was on the front lines with the likes of the 36-holes at Royce Brook in Somerville and the wonderful, but now gone, Blue Heron Pines / East, in the immediate Atlantic City area.
In sum -- Arcola is littered with bunkers needing to be carefully avoided when playing. They are not ornamental but often quite strategic in their placement and overall depth.
The added length really impacted a few of the two-shot holes -- the 1st, 5th and 6th especially - come to mind. In the former presentation - the elevated tee pads at the 5th and 6th meant a short iron or even wedges for the stronger players. That's not the case now.
The noted par-3 11th was added too -- from 165 to 191 yards. Big time difference in clearing the frontal pond and then staying on the green which was expanded to include a myriad of internal vexing movements. You also face the rigorous long par-3 2nd very early in the round.
The final two holes were also bolstered -- going from 440 and 409 to 500 and 445 yards respectively. The 18th plays uphill with the approach so the added nearly 40 yards puts more pressure on getting the tee shot in play.
The par-5 12th was also strengthened -- previously a mediocre 587 yards with little to fear and now 619 yards with a plethora of bunkers to face.
What's interesting is a "19th hole" was added to the layout -- albeit its position is among the final holes played. The club opted to include an "extra" hole in the event the par-3 11th is rested. Dotti created the hole and it occupies the 16th hole slot. Unfortunately, while the added hole can be beneficial and adds a bit of versatility - the overall design style is not in alignment in what Smyers created. The added hole is no less in exquisite conditioning but it does not work in unison to the rest of the architecture.
One of the really memorable holes at Arcola is the uphill two-shot par-4 4th. The hole was lengthened slightly and the "choke point" you encounter as the fairway tapers inwards is very challenging. Then players have to face an uphill approach to a green where one cannot see the surface. The green is rather small and tilts noticeably. Anyone going long or too far right will likely have no less than a bogey placed on your card.
The greens at Arcola have also been expanded to capture lost areas that accrued over time. The speed can be quite daunting -- especially for those who miss on the short side or happen to hit a bit too far with their approach play.
In my original review -- I did make note of the solid job done in dealing with the drainage issues that impacted the lower corner of the property -- particularly the area near the green at the 12th and much of the 13th hole. Cannot salute this enough -- the remedial effort has clearly worked and the holes benefit from this immensely.
Separate and aside from the architecture -- the expanded practice area is also another plus.
When the U.S. Amateur comes in '22 -- the contestants playing 18 holes of onsite qualifying will find a much-improved design. In fact, the Amateur event will likely mean the first-time exposure for the club outside the immediate metro NY / NJ area.
One of the real joys when at Arcola is having a clear day and from the veranda you can see the entire Manhattan skyline in the distance. Quite a scene for sure.
If you have not been to Arcola in recent years a return is needed. And for those who have never been you're in for a real treat.
A Garden State gem.
M. James Ward
Minimalist course that has a “big boy” feel while staying under the radar... a true Jersey gem in a golf rich state. Incredible shot variety and lightning fast greens.
Perched high up in a glorious setting, the vista from the Arcola clubhouse offers arguably the most spectacular view of the Manhattan skyline. On a clear day, there is nowhere you’d rather be than sitting on the balcony taking it all in.
The two nines at Arcola have quiet a different feel from each other, and this is primarily due to the routing. The front nine feels more compact due to the back and forth nature of the holes up and down a steep hill. By themselves, there is no shortage of impressive architecture to admire and you’d be hard pushed to find a stronger opening stretch presented on some attractive terrain. With the tree clearance, the views are delightful, and the golf is very tough, especially climbing back uphill. The greens have a reputation for lighting speed, and the day I played the course, they were the fastest I’d played all year. What’s more notable is the sheer size and expanse of the putting surfaces. It’s a credit to the green-keeping staff to maintain the massive areas to such high standards.
Stand out holes for me on the front are the 3rd and 4th holes which play back up hill and seriously test your feel for distance. They might be “short” on paper, but club selection is of utmost criticality to avoid being humiliated. The bunkers frame the shots on the opening holes so well and you can’t wait to take the club back. Upon climbing the mighty par 5 9th hole back up to the summit with its tantalizing green location with shaven banks, you immediately get the sense that the inwards nine will be a different experience.
Holes 10-14 hug the property’s boundary line and constantly have you turning in a different direction. This stretch takes up a lot of space and offers you views across the entire course. I enjoyed the elevated tee shot on number 10 and was pleased to see some enjoyable variety with the par 3 11th hole playing over a large body of water. This was a terrific example of how deceptive the tee shot can be into what feels like a tiny shallow green, but as you approach it you see the many contours and levels with dozens of pin positions.
I enjoyed the club selection options that the course gives you on the back nine off the tee. Even on a very windy day, hitting driver is not always the wise decision especially with bodies of water to navigate and hidden creeks that mess with your mind. The back nine has many dog-legs and certainly more strategic decisions than the front, primarily due to the routing that the architect employed – which I preferred.
Despite the blustery conditions, my mind was fully engaged with the challenge that Arcola presents.
From an architecture perspective, the Superintendent has the lead role with how every change is designed and executed. In places around the course certain bunkers have been re-located and changed numerous times (e.g. the par 4 18th) and you’d wonder the potential that could be released if Gil or Tom stepped in to assist.
The fast greens and steep terrain will swallow you up if you’re not hitting it well, but it is a truly wonderful club that has a lot to be proud of.
The history of Arcola is certainly an interesting one. But, the recent improvements to the course are not only noticeable but also significant from a design standpoint. When Paramus golf is mentioned it's usually the name of neighbor Ridgewood CC that gets the fanfare. Arcola is not in the same league with Ridgewood but the recent upgrades by architect Steve Smyers and the clear improvements from a course presentation standpoint have really helped bring to life a number of items -- most notably long term drainage issues that impacted a few holes near the rear of the property abutting the Garden State Parkway.
Arcola starts with a quality long par-4 and the much hiller portion of the property helps the opening series of holes immensely. The uphill par-4 4th is very good and the downhill par-4 5th is far from easy as the tee shot is tested. The dog-leg right 6th is also a quality two-shot hole at just over 400 yards.
Native grasses have been permitted to grow and the resulting contrast between the finely manicured turf and the adjacent "wild" areas makes for a very pleasing contrast.
The inward half of holes is the better of the two sides. The downhill dog-leg left par-4 10th is both a scenic wonder with the NYC skyline in the distance and the rigors the hole provides. The short par-3 11th at 164 yards is a quality contrast with a hungry frontal pond that awaits the poorly played shot. The next few holes keep the momentum going with a quality par-5 and an even better short par-4 at the 13th.
The concluding two holes force players to bear down. The 17th is well defended off the tee and is well done. The closer is even better -- listed at 409 yards and playing slightly uphill to a well contoured green.
Arcola provides a very fair challenge. To be clear, the architectural elements are good -- just not exceptional. But, the key that has helped the club is the wherewithal to better present what it does have. In that manner -- Arcola clearly has bolstered itself.
by M. James Ward