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.”
I have had the privilege of playing Bayonne more than twenty times, beginning in the year that it opened (2006) through this year. I nearly considered joining having several friends who are members. All of these members are good players and generally hit it long off the tee. Typically they are as much as 80 yards and sometimes as much as 100 yards ahead of me depending on the hole. So I have had many opportunities to see how the course plays for an average length hitter and a longer player. The one quality that all of us have is an above-average short game, although two of them are slightly better putters than me. I mention all of this because longer players who spray the ball will not score well here. Average length players with an average short game will not score well here. Players need to be straight and an above average short game to shoot their index at Bayonne.
M. James Ward did a very nice job in his review regarding the overview/history of the golf club. I encourage people to read it prior to playing Bayonne. While I generally try to give an overview, there is no need to given what he has written.
I do not rate Bayonne as highly as some others do although I like it very much. For me, this is one of the two most contrived courses I have played in the USA with the Straits course at Whistling Straits being the other one. While I do not disqualify a course that was built on land previously unsuitable for a golf course, I do find there are a few too many quirks at Bayonne that detract from the overall character of most links-like golf courses. In some regards, I think it tries a bit too hard at times to be overly “tricky” or even overly difficult except for the very good/long player. In the summer they let the fescue grow very tall and the course can become overly penal within five yards of missing the fairway. But even with short fescue as “rough” the course requires hitting fairways and greens or double bogies will pile up.
However, while sometimes the course is puzzling and makes you scratch your head in either bafflement or despair, it typically brings a smile to your face….eventually. If you are having a bad day, make sure to stop for a drink at the halfway house or as you make your way to the fourteenth tee.
The four aspects I admire most about the course are: 1. The views of the Manhattan skyline, the harbor, and the Verrazano Bridge/town of Bayonne. 2. The routing which leads to a wonderful variety of holes with more difficult holes spaced between easier holes, until the final three difficult holes. 3. The change in terrain with nearly everything falling down or rising up to the location of the clubhouse. The change in terrain includes valleys, ridge lines, hills, dunes and hidden greens. 4. Fun greens that for the most part are sufficiently contoured with several false fronts. I cannot think of a green that is too flat nor can I think of a green that is overly done. There are swales, mounds, and plateaus to go along with slopes.
I also like that each hole is different. One never feels that they are playing the same hole a second time. The holes offer strategic options which I think is missing from a lot of the new courses built by minimalists. But on the negative side, several of these holes are overly complicated and penal, requiring too much guessing sometimes off the tee, or on an approach, and even on the green if one does not intimately know the course or have a very good caddie. A shot struck slightly off-line can result in a blind shot from a very bad lie. Too often at Bayonne the chance at recovery is taken away. It is a course meant for good players or those who do not care how they score.
From the Championship tees the course is 7120 yards, par 71, rated 74.9/145. From the Blue tees the yardage is 6712 rated 73.0/142. From the White tees it is 6303 yards, rated 71.1/133. There is a lesser set of tees as well as combination tees. When the wind is not high we have always played the “blue rocks.” When the wind is high, we will either play the blue/white combination or even move to the white tees. I find the ratings to be correct. This is a course that in the summer can play difficult due to the high fescue and in the spring and fall can get days of very strong wind.
1. Par 4 – 365/343. This hole plays from an elevated tee straight downhill to a generous fairway framed by higher hills on both sides. The right side is preferred for a potential view of the green which sits behind a hill on the left and a lower hill on the right. There is a narrow sight line into the green from the right side. If one goes left or even left center off the tee, they will have a blind shot into the green over the 15-20 feet high dune. There are two bunkers set into the hill on the right for the tee shot but I have yet to see anyone hit into there. More often I see people pull their tee shots into the hill and tall grass down the left side. While I generally hit driver or a three wood, I have seen longer hitters hit as little as a low-flighted 6-iron here due to the rollout down the fairway. The wind can sometimes be in your face and then even a driver may not go very far. The fairway tilts a bit to the left although the right side has more of a plateau feel. As mentioned the green is surrounded by higher hills on all sides except the right front. There is a false front to the green and almost two tiers with a front hollow. There is very little collar to the green so the rough appears almost immediately off the green. It is slick back to front. Yet for me the green complex can’t seem to make up its mind….it’s not a punchbowl and it’s not quite a dell. But what I dislike the most about the hole is a blind shot into a green on the starting hole, even if it is with a wedge or gap wedge. I wished this hole came later.
2. Par 4 – 424/386. A very interesting hole comes next as you play downhill across a valley of rugged terrain to the fairway. At the left side where the fairway begins sits a deep, wide, tall bunker. Down the left side of the fairway is a deep ravine with tall bushes/grass. In other words, go left and there is a high probability of losing one’s ball or having an unplayable lie. However, play too conservatively and miss the fairway to the right and you can end up on the side of the hill in tall grass separating the second from the eighth hole. If one ends up on this hill, the better play is to lay up short of the ravine/water. The fairway is fairly wide but tilts left towards the green as this is a very sharp dogleg left. The green sits well above you on the other side of a forced carry over the ravine/water resulting in an approach shot where you are not likely to see the bottom of the flag. If the pin is in the middle of the green, you might see only the top of the flag. Depending on the line you take off the tee, you could have as much as 180 yards to as little as 100 yards into the green, although due to the uphill it requires an extra club. There is a central bunker fronting the green set into the side of the steep hill. The green has a high point in its middle with swales on either side and is steeply banked back to front. Go slightly over the green and you will have a fast chip. The two swales offer the easier pin positions. This is a fun hole with decisions to be made. I have seen near eagles here as well as people picking up their ball without completing the hole. Overall I like the hole but it is a bit of “all-or-nothing” off of the tee.
3. Par 3 – 184/170. This hole plays downhill as a “semi-redan.” If the pin is in the front of the green then one can play short of the green and bounce it on. There is high ground to the right of the green and one has the possibility of hitting this and bringing their ball back onto the green. However, as tempting as that appears, more often I have seen balls get stuck in the rough on the right then leaving a very speedy chip back onto the green. Off to the left of the green is a bunker at the middle. The ground falls away to the left into the ravine/water that you had to cross over on the second. Go left of this bunker and it is a certain lost ball. The green is narrower at its front with the wider second half sitting lower than the front half by almost two feet. It feels as if there is a second plateau on the right side of the back part of the green. If there is a front pin and you end up on the back half you will have a likely three or even four putt due to the slope of that ridge on the green and the turn back towards the ravine. I have seen near aces here as well as people picking up their ball and climbing the hill to the next hole. I do not like the hole because there is no real possibility of recovery if one hits left.
4. Par 5 – 560/534. If one is having a bad start, they might be tempted to walk through the grass and trees down the hill back onto Lefante Way and enter the Royal Wine Corporation and then return to play the fourth. The fourth begins with a long carry of about 220-190 yards to the start of the fairway which begins narrow before it widens. The tall hills to the right side can obscure where you ball lands in the fairway. Landing on the side of the hill in the tall grass likely results in a lay-up shot due to the mini “hells-half-acre” rough bunkering of about 60 yards. Down the right side of the fairway is tall grass and brush. It is an intimidating tee shot. Bigger hitters will have to ensure their tee shot does not creep into the fairway bunkers. These bunkers are slightly above you leaving a semi-blind shot for one’s second. Generally you are told to aim for a church’s steeple in the background. The green is definitely hidden from all players for their second shot. If one is 40 yards back of the bunkers the second shot over them is to a narrow fairway. To the left continues the brush and tall grass. To the right continues the high hill with tall grass. You must hit the fairway. Fronting the green are three bunkers, one of which is very long. These bunkers sit below a slightly raised shallow green with a smaller hill surrounding the left and back. Go long or left and you will immediately be in tall grass. The safer play to this green is from the right side as the shallowness of the green makes it unreceptive to shots that are not hit high and soft. The green has multiple swales and humps in it with the friendliest positions being front left and front right. Otherwise, you have to consider spines and little shelves. Getting a par here is a bonus. What I do not like about the hole is that longer hitters and better players really have no option to reach the green in two due to the location of the “hells-half-acre.” I also do not like that there are limited options for recovery near the green.
5. Par 3 – 146/140. The green sits above you and is small. The green seems to be flat but actually has a lot of borrow in it. There is a front sod bunker that is can result in landing near the front where getting out becomes the goal. There are fall-offs to either side and a small area of short grass behind the green which is the rare hole on the course offering a chance of recovery.
6. Par 4 – 346/331. From an elevated tee this hole offers no view of the green which sits below in a sort of hollow/valley. The better line into the green is down the left as far as one can go to have a view of the green. Stay right and you will not see the green. If one flares their tee shot to the right they will end up likely on the side of a hill in tall grass with no view of the green. Go left off the tee and they are on a higher hill in tall grass. There is also a collection of sand/waste area off to the right of the fairway spilling down the hill. The green sits below you fronted by sand. It is oval and sloped back to front. It is one of the easier greens to read for line, but not for pace. The hole is not a risk-reward par 4 despite its length. While one can get onto the left side of the green by landing just to the left of it, it is nearly impossible to get close off the tee and quite frankly, is not worth the risk for the reward.
7. Par 4 – 433/415. This hole plays back uphill. Usually the wind is in one’s face. There are large dunes on the right and a bunker on the left before the dunes begin. Playing into the green the dunes on both sides continue but there is a valley front right before the green creating a sizeable false front on the right. Down the left side is a collection of bunkers but I have never seen anyone in them off the tee due to the prevailing wind. The green is very undulating, likely the most undulating on the course and is fairly wide and very deep. A single bunker sits to the left. Unlike other holes, the grass off the green does not start for 5-10 yards offering a chance to chip it close, although given the green contours it will take an excellent chip. This is a good par 4.
8. Par 5 – 579/565. You walk around the third hole and the fourth tee to reach the eighth tee which plays downhill across a rugged valley to the right of the second fairway. Much like the second fairway, the eighth also has higher ground to its right and tall grass awaits those who end up here. Down the left side in the tall grass are placed scattered bunkers. The fairway then narrows and continues only down the right side but at the ending of the left side of the fairway is a large bunker about 280 yards out. I have seen longer hitters reach this bunker which is somewhat meaningless to them because they are unlikely to go for the green in two anyway. As mentioned, the fairway narrows to a sliver as it drops down to the green which sits well off to the left after a long section of marsh/water. The fairway tilts to the left. Go too far left and your ball can get to a marshy area that continues to the front of the green. Typically every player has to go over a section of this marsh as a forced carry into a green that is fronted by three bunkers with two at the rear left and one behind. The green is heavily sloped back to front with various vertical spines and swales. If one goes too far with their approach shot down the right side they will have a blind shot due to a raised knob that has a bunker set into it. Visually this is a very interesting hole, but much like the fourth, there typically is no reason for the longer/better players to try for this green in two as the narrow opening when the fairway runs out on the left is very difficult to hit off of the tee. The wind is often working right to left blowing one’s shot farther away from the green. Overall, I like the hole and think that the designers did the best routing they could do with the land. Yet it is somewhat another “all-or-nothing” hole both with the tee shot, the second shot, approach shot, and the putt. Par is an excellent score on this hole. There are excellent views of the bay and the skyline as you play down this hole.
9. Par 4 – 402/390. You play across a valley and aim for a section of the clubhouse for your line to this diagonal fairway on this dogleg right. The fairway sits on a plateau. Go right and you spill down the hill to the right of the eighth fairway. You can tumble all the way to the bottom leaving a blind recovery shot simply back to the fairway. There are two bunkers built on the right side of the fairway placed into the hill which the better/longer players use as their line from the tee. The fairway does widen at the landing area but a ball settling on the left side will likely have a blind approach shot to the green as this hole is a slight dogleg right. There is a small waste area about 30 yards short of the green. The green has several tiers to it and is undulated with four bunkers placed off to the right. I like this hole for the drama of the tee shot and the view of the clubhouse.
10. Par 4 – 471/440. Over time, this hole has become the most difficult for me as I no longer have the length to get to the opening in the dogleg to have a view of the green. High dunes are down the right side and the wind generally pushes a ball towards those dunes where some of the tallest grass on the course awaits. Generally if you go in the grass here you will not find your ball, but you will likely find a ball, possibly two. The fairway is sloped left to right with ridges so you are likely to have an uneven lie. There is plenty of room on the fairway to the left but if you do not hit far enough you will have a long blind shot. If you hit it right even if on the fairway you will have a blind approach shot. Generally if one is short off the tee or too far left it is best to lay up at the gap between the dunes leaving a wedge into the green to try to save par. For the longer hitters they generally can see the green and play a shot to take advantage of the contours to bring a ball closer to the pin location on the largest green on the course. There are no bunkers on this holeI like the hole as it reminds me of some of the great holes in the dunes on courses in the British Isles.
11. Par 3 - 236/210. This is a difficult par 3. The right half of the hole is blocked by a high series of dunes. There is a series of three bunkers placed down the right side, about four feet above the hole. The green has a bit of a bowl to it although the right side sits a bit higher.
12. Par 4 – 442/417. You climb up the hill to an elevated tee with the view of the harbor, the Verrazano bridge and the town of Bayonne. This hole seems to a section of its fairway with the thirteenth. It is the widest fairway. You can get a lot of roll-out on a well hit ball. Hit down the right and you will be in brush and tall grass likely down the side of the hill with either a lost ball or a pitch back to the fairway. The opening to the green seems to narrow as the land falls down and then rises back to the green. This area has a large collection of cross-bunkers, seven in all, followed by short grass fronting the green. Off to the right of the green are six bunkers while the left side has a fall-off to short grass. I like this hole both for the views and the shot into the green.
13. Par 5 – 563/544. This hole plays sharply uphill with a forced carry over a valley and rugged land before the fairway begins. There are four bunkers set into the side of the hill that must be carried to reach the fairway. About 25 yards after the beginning of the fairway is a spine that if you carry it you can pick up a bit of extra yardage as well as a flatter lie. To the right and left is tall grass atop dunes. The higher dunes continues down both sides as the fairway twists and turns resulting in narrow and wider spots. The fairway also rolls a bit. The green is large with a spine running right down the middle as well as a false front. There are no bunkers after those initial bunkers before the fairway. The wind is often at one’s back here and longer hitters can reach this green often despite the uphill and the length. The beautiful part of this hole is also the view of the largest flag on the East Coast. I like the hole because it has options and a very interesting green.
14. Par 3 – 222/202. This hole plays as much as two clubs less due to being downhill. But the club selection is very dependent on the wind direction and speed. You tee off next to the large putting green fronting the clubhouse to a green that has no bunkers but has steep fall-offs to all sides that repel anything hit short. The plateaued green has several undulations and it is the rare ball that gets close on the tee shot.
15. Par 4 – 316/293. Probably the most fun hole on the golf course before the terror of the final three holes. The hole plays uphill for the tee shot as well as the approach shot. Again, I am not certain this is a good risk-reward driveable par 4 for the longer players due to the severe false front to the green. In addition, the fairway is cut in half due to a large waste area built into the hill on the right side. One cannot land short of this green as they will end up as much as fifty yards away. The green is built into the side of the hill behind it and is severely sloped back to front.
16. Par 4 – 486/453. Easily the most memorable hole on the golf course as you play from an elevated tee looking downhill with the harbor and the New York skyline in the distance. Down the right side of the fairway are dunes with a trio of bunkers. If you land right of these dunes you will tumble down the other side and likely not find your ball. The best case from there is a long blind shot over similar dunes to a hidden green placed at the farthest point into the harbor on a peninsula. The left side of the fairway has two bunkers. On a windless day the longer hitters can reach the bunkers on the right. The green sits within a channel where only the left side of the fairway has a view of it. The only potential miss of the green that does not result in either a lost ball or a nearly impossible chip is to land short of the green. There is a bunker short left placed almost in the brush as well as a small bunker on the left. While the green is large, it never appears to be large until you are on it. It has various shelves, swales and tilts to it. A par here is always a good score. It is almost as if a bogey here feels like a par such is the challenge of this hole. The first time I played this hole I said, “wow,” and every time I play this hole I say the same thing.
17. Par 4 – 491/450. Truth be told I have never seen anyone play from the back tee here. It is almost an insane thing to do. From the back tee the fairway looks 300 yards away although it is only 250 to reach it. From either tee the fairway looks like a ribbon with a stone wall down the right side and the Hudson River and a long waste area down the left. The waste area continues to the green and sits below the fairway and green. This sharp dogleg left has bunkers built into the higher dunes on the left in addition to that long waste area (sand and brush). The green is also long, but narrow with a final small bunker left middle. There is a horizontal spine in this green with a tilt to the left. For long hitters, this is a difficult, but reasonable hole. For shorter hitters, this hole is very difficult as even from the white tees it is 435 yards.
18. Par 4 – 454/429. After checking to see if you still have a pulse or enough balls after the previous two holes, the finishing hole offers little respite. This hole plays longer than the yardage as it is uphill. It is a dogleg left with no view of the green due to the high dunes on the left side. While the fairway is generous, it runs away to the right leaving a longer shot into the two-tiered green. Fortunately is only a single bunker on the hole on the right side of the green which I have yet to see anyone in it. For those lacking length, the fairway narrows about 100 yards out so you either have to lay back from the hole 160 yards or be able to pitch it short. What propels one on this hole is the view of the flagpole, the eight story lighthouse (yes, you should walk up there for one of the better views you will see of New York City’s harbor and skyline), and eventually the location of the green. It is a tough, but fair finishing hole echoing some of the great uphill holes set in the dunes in the British Isles.
Bayonne is a course for good players. You also have to be in reasonably good shape to walk it given the many rises and falls of the lands as well as a couple of long walks to the next tee.
If you like a course that requires decision-making, focus and execution, this is a great course. If you like a course that offers recovery options near the green, this course is not likely for you given how quick the transition from green to brush/tall grass occurs. The lack of good recovery options near the green, the penal nature of the course if one strays from the fairway, and the many blind shots are the reasons this course is not in the top 100 of the USA, unless one went back to Golf Digest’s earliest criteria of difficulty.
The greens are very good, as stated, with a lot of contours but never overly silly. There are some deep swales and hollows but with a decent caddie they can be navigated.
Although very contrived, I do not know of any other course besides Eastward Ho in the USA that replicates the great seaside courses in the British Isles with dunes such as this. Bayonne very much achieves the objective of the owner and one should definitely try to play it. It is a visual delight both on the course and the amazing views. It is an architectural marvel. I very much like the golf course.
I have been fortunate to play Bayonne on a number of occasions. The drive to the course does not give you any indication of the grandness of Bayonne as you navigate a heavily pot holed road through an industrial area before reaching the main entrance. As you make your way up the winding road you start to see the scale of the site with its huge clubhouse and US flag that looks about the size of a football pitch! The course is a marvel….a links style course overlooking The Hudson with the Statue of Liberty in the distance. Each hole has been carefully thought out and has a mixture of risk and reward, elevation changes a plenty, cracking green complexes and a nice variety of yardage which tests every club in your bag. The dunes are huge but it does not feel overly unnatural and these dunes gives the holes some separation from each other. There are a number of good holes but the 8th and 16 standout for me. The 8th a par 5 with water in play for the approach shot gives the player a number of options providing they find the fairway from the tee. Hole 16 is a long par 4 that plays directly out towards The Hudson is a beauty! The elevated tee shot to a generous fairway leaves a long to mid iron to this green set out on the edge of the river. One of the main things you take away from Bayonne is that the course is a lot of fun and the owner should be applauded for the vision of building a course of this magnitude on a such a difficult site. Played 2018.
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.