Bayonne Golf Club is the brainchild of Eric Bergstol, Founder of Empire Golf Management, who shaped Bayonne, using waste soil and rubble, from a flat industrial brown-field site to an undulating, rollercoaster, links-like course.
The result is dramatic and rather surreal as the course is located directly across the Hudson River from Wall Street where panoramic views of the Statue of Liberty and the Manhattan skyline create a quixotic backcloth. Bayonne is an authentic links layout and is truly reminiscent of British and Irish seaside courses with fairways tumbling through giant, man-made sand dunes and greens perched on raised plateaux. Even the seaside grasses look totally authentic.
“Dell”, “Wee Burn” and “Redan” are the names of the three opening holes with “Plateau” and “Highlands” coming into play at the turn. Surely this is not America?
November 5th 2008 – Richard Hurley commented as follows: “Bayonne will move up in the rankings to the Top 25 which it deserves. Bayonne is the best links course in the US and is the most dramatic manmade links course in the world.”
Bayonne is FUN! Having played it dozens of times, I highly recommend it to anyone for both fun golf and a really great experience if you come and go by boat. My only complaint is the incessant cheerleading among the staff and caddies of it being “the greatest links course in America” and so on: the course has little to do with links golf as one would know it in the traditional sense. Bump and run is not a factor; it’s all links-camouflaged target golf bar a few holes where you can actually run it up to the green. Having said that, it’s a very, very fun course to play.
Bayonne is a marvelous marriage of engineering and architectural imagination. This place feels like the American cousin of Yas Links. The “distraction” of the New York City skyline is easily bypassed by the captivating holes that present themselves to you. A number of the MacDonald template holes are on display, which are much more pleasing to look at compared to the surrounding large-scale machinery and industrial tanks. The bulky dunes to block out much of the outside world are clearly man-made, but the shaping has enough semblance of natural landscape that the course flows nicely on a compact piece of land.
On the day I played it in mid-October, it was heavily watered preventing any run on the fairways – which took away from the links feel to the course. I did discuss this observation with the head professional who informed me that it is a topic of conversation with the superintendent as the course is focused on being firm and fast.
I found the routing to have wonderful variety, in addition to the occasional change in elevation. The final 4 holes from the back tees were a tremendous test, especially as you navigate along the water’s edge.
For a golf course that is so man-made, the experience has a lot to celebrate in the golf rich state of New Jersey. The iconic American flag makes the hair on the back of your neck stand to attention, as does the magnitude of nearby Manhattan.
One of the real advantages architects had when golf grew rapidly during the classic period of golf course development in America in the 1920's was the availability of choice parcels for golf course usage. That was a period of time long before the explosion of suburban sprawl -- with residential and commercial development seeking outside areas beyond core downtown locations.
Golf course construction was also free of various environmental regulations -- the only real limits were the depth of one's wallet and imagination.
Fast forward to the 21st century and the manner by which courses come into being has changed dramatically and likely forever so. The litany of various rules, regulations and laws that must be followed can prove insurmountable to many. Add to that the desire to build golf in the most densely populated State in America -- New Jersey -- and the mission can prove daunting for nearly anyone.
Just don't tell that to Eric Bergstol.
Where others would never have dared -- Bergstol decided to move ahead with an ambitious plan to create a golf club in the community of Bayonne, New Jersey -- located immediately on the banks of the Hudson River with a birds-eye view of the Manhattan skyline of New York City.
Bayonne Golf Club (BGC) is located in Hudson County -- a jurisdiction that prior to the club's opening -- had no golf whatsoever within its boundaries. NJ's density equates to 1,200 people per square mile -- the most in America. Hudson County comprises 62 square miles with a population of -- 660,000 meaning there are nearly 11,000 people per square mile. That gives you at least a good idea on how compact and crowded the immediate area is.
The location for the golf course would be the former Bayonne Marine Terminal -- a dockside area meant for shipping and receiving of big time items - certainly not an upscale private golf club. When people talk about the effort employed by architect Tom Fazio in working with owner Steve Wynn in the development of Shadow Creek in the Las Vegas area -- that was child's play with what Bergstol had to overcome.
Taking advantage of dredging occuring with the Kill Van Kull -- the waterway separating Staten Island from New Jersey during the mid-90's Bergstol was able to provide a dumping area for that material. Best of all - he was initially paid to take the material in the early stages.
How much material? Roughly 7 million cubic yards. Total costs to complete the project -- $135 million. Ten years to complete the course -- another two for the finalization of the clubhouse.
That material became the foundation in which BGC was built. The engineering aspects were extremely complicated and fraught with a whole series of minefields -- any one of which could have derailed the project. Bergstol's persistence paid off. In 2006 -- the 135 acres of land -- opened for play.
Bergstol is a golf traditionalist with a great love for links golf. BGC is a faux links but the mounding and crafting actually take you quickly away from the harbor area of Bayonne. When entering the grounds it provides a surreal moment - akin to the movie moment in "Wizard of Oz" when the film goes from the black and white of Kansas to the full color world of Munchkinland.
For those fixated on playing golf on totally natural sites -- BGC is clearly outside that box. The course was literally created out of nothing -- C requires a suspension in terms of those going there. When you drive to the site you are passing through an extremely densely populated area -- old style residences with a smattering of commercial and industrial usages. Clearly, BGC does not have the scintillating intersection of land and water such as Cypress Point or Royal County Down.
But, once you get inside the property you're whisked away. The mounding on the periphery of the property border has been created to shut you off from the outside and focus your attention on what's within the landscape. Given the shortage of land a few compromises were carried out. There is no typical practice range area. Instead golfers take a short ride and head to the waterfront where there's a tee area allowing players to hit floater golf balls into the adjoining waterway lined to prevent balls from floating away. No doubt it's not the best of situations -- but it does provide a stretching of the muscles before commencing play.
The outward nine is quite tight in terms of the overall acreage available. The 1st is good opener - challenging when played in a westerly wind -- featuring a blind approach if your tee ball finishes on the left side. The hole is called "Dell" after the par-3 5th at Lahinch -- however, it's a stretch in terms of similarity. The 2nd is where Bayonne flashes some real gusto. The dog-leg left requires usually less than driver and the approach must be hit with finesse and exact yardage to a green that's well-protected.
At the long par-5 4th you enter a very narrow portion of the property. There's room in the drive zone but let's just say you can't just wind up and let one go with impunity. Bergstol created his own version of Pine Valley's Hell's Half Acre with a massive sand-filled area that separates the first and second halves of the fairway. Long hitters can reach this area and it's best to avoid it. The green sits below the fairway and is vigorously defended by sand. There's a slot of fairway to the far right but pushing the envelope on this hole can inflict some heavy duty hurt on one's scorecard.
Holes 5-7 are all in the same area and all are quite good -- albeit, as I mentioned before, in a tight corner of the property.
The lone major disturbing feartures of the front nine is the lengthy walk from the 7th green to the 8th tee. The par-5 hole is superbly done -- the drive zone moves right and for the strongest of players there's a possibility in getting home in two shots when wind conditions are favorable. The key? Being able to carry wetlands that block one's direct path to the large putting surface. Truly a well done hole.
The closing hole on the front comes back the other way and you see the stunning clubhouse high up on the hill in the background. The 9th is just over 400 yards and provides a bit of a Cape Hole. The golfer has to determine how much of the slight dog-leg right one wishes to handle.
The inward half of holes is where BGC excels mightily. The 10th begins the journey as a long par-4 -- dog-legging to the right and calling upon two well-played shots. Normally, played into the prevailing wind the 10th will only yield to the finest of plays.
The 11th is a stout par-3 particularly when the pin is placed to the far right and thereby requiring a laser-like approach to succeed. The 12th goes in another direction -- downhill and back into the prevailing breeze.
The 13th is the sole par-5 on the final nine and while listed at 536 yards the hole does play shorter when the prevailing wind is assisting. The 14th is the last of the par-3 holes and it's a dandy -- plunging downhill to a green with fall-offs on each side.
The final quartet of holes are all par-4's -- each different than the other. The 15th is the shortest of the bunch -- playing uphill with bunkers guarding against the over-aggressive play. The framing of the clubhouse in the immediate background is equally impressive.
The 16th plays downhill and turns ever so slightly to the right -- the fairway cutting off just past the drive zone. The green is well-positioned and set back with drop-offs to either side. When you stand on the tee The Freedom Tower is in the distant view -- just a thrilling spot -- the player knows full well top tier execution is the only recourse.
The long par-4 17th plays in an opposite direction -- with the hole turning left all the way and an island of sand extending all the way down that side. The key is knowing how much of an appetite for risk the player wishes to encounter. The green is shaped around a solitary greenside bunker -- well-positioned to catch the meekly hit approach when the pin is in the back left corner.
The finale plays uphill and although it often plays downwind during the playing season -- the key is getting the tee shot in the proper position for the approach. The fairway does bottleneck so the strongest of players have to decide wisely. The approach is all uphill to a green with an array of internal contours.
Overall, BGC is grand test succumbing only to a series of well played shots strung together.
The impressive 33,000 square-foot clubhouse is situated 93 feet above New York harbor and the views, as expected, are an added bonus when the golf concludes. Flying proudly above the clubhouse is one of the largest American flags in the region. The flagpole extends 150 feet above the ground with dimensions of 40 by 70 feet. If you're in lower Manhattan you can see the flag blowing in the nearby distance.
The main issue is can Bayonne play consistently firm and fast -- befitting a links -- even a faux links. Green speeds are also an issue given the heavy amount of slope and internal contours. If pushed too fast then the variety of pin location is sacrificed -- if kept too slow then the nature of the challenge becomes far less so.
Traditionalists may scoff at BGC because as I mentioned at the outset the "natural" element is just not present. One has to suspend such a narrow take on architectural design and see the sheer imagination and persistence shown here. The success of BGC goers beyond just the truly spectacular story tied to its actual creation. The course is clearly tight on the acreage side of things but the routing has been efficiently carried out and when you depart the 18th you'll be looking for another opportunity to test yourself. The ultimate sign on whether a course has true staying power.
By M. James Ward – photos courtesy of Bayonne Golf Club
Bayonne is a superb links layout in the shadows of Wall Street. The port sits in the river and creates views more of a Ship Yard. But it is a wonderful layout. Tee to green it is flawless. A great mix of elevation changes and dynamic holes. The rub is the greens. When you are on the 6th hole and your caddy says I don't think you can leave this putt near the hole, and this is the 3rd time you have heard this . . . . really! The greens have entirely too much hill and Valley. They keep the green speed down specifically because of this. If the greens were leveled out a bit this would be spectacular. Best analogy is Castle St Andrews upon opening. Superb clubhouse and very welcoming club. If you get the chance , play it. Walking only caddy required.
How often does your caddie tell you to aim your shot at the Empire State Building? At Bayonne, it happened to me—as I addressed my second shot at the sixteenth. The course’s stunning location is only part of the story. Bayonne’s clubhouse sits 93 feet above New York Harbor and is surrounded by huge man-made dunes. The property is the indirect result of the deepening of the Kill van Kull, the strait between Staten Island and the New Jersey mainland. The dredging companies needed a way to dispose of the material and golf course developer Eric Bergstol decided to help out. As a result, for the next year 250 dump trucks per day deposited their loads on Bergstol’s property where he massaged it into Bayonne Golf Club. While a century ago, it was not unusual for amateurs (think Crump, Fownes, Wilson, Leeds, etc.) to design golf courses, the practice has fallen out of favor. Bergstol’s fine work continues that tradition. He’s built lovely green complexes and allowed a variety of approaches, including the ground game, on half of them. He has also included plenty of variety in length. On the par 3s, for example, I hit wedge, 7 iron, 5 iron and fairway wood.
While my favorite holes were 8, 9, and 13 (the latter featuring a delightful Maiden green), the rest were less memorable. Bayonne’s Redan version is a poor emulation of North Berwick’s and its Dell hole lacks the aiming stone of Lahinch’s original. And the links sensation is marred by the fact that the course does not play firm and fast--at least it didn’t in September 2016, when it had been watered heavily. The routing could be more intuitive. It requires 3 walks of over 100 yards to the subsequent tee.
These are minor quibbles, however, and should not prevent those fortunate enough to play here from enjoying a splendid round of golf.
Unbelievable golf course in a stunning location overlooking the New York Harbour. 1st class golf course and the incredible service that you would expect at an exclusive private members club in the USA. If you are lucky enough to play here then make the most of it - membership is not a cheap option!
Only a matter of time before this is top 100 in the USA.