The knowledgeable golf course architecture aficionado will instantly recognize that they are playing a Donald Ross when they step up to the first tee; after all, the designer often connected the fairways of his No. 1 and No. 10 tees to create a recognizable “fork.” What may be surprising to players is that when they arrive at the No. 1 green is that another putting surface is nearly attached to this one. That’s not actually the No. 10 green, but rather that of the par three No. 11.
Quirks like these — both the expected and the unexpected — are what make it a treasure among Ross enthusiasts. The club’s status among that audience has grown dramatically in recent years, as Ron Forse led a major restoration of the Donald Ross features during 2008.
That includes a collection of more than 90 bunkers. Among these are several classic Ross cross bunkers, as well as numerous greens that are completely surrounded by sand hazards. Ponds and other water hazards also play more of a role here than at other Ross designs, but these are all authentic from the original design and not leftovers from Robert Trent Jones’s work during the ‘70s.
The impact of the renowned architect Donald Ross is not as prolific in the Garden State as in other northeastern States such as New York and Massachusetts, to name just two. Ross was involved with several notable ones such as Plainfield, Mountain Ridge, Knickerbocker, the three nines at Montclair, the Bay Course at Seaview and Echo Lake -- all clear standouts. One often undervalued is Crestmont.
When heading to Crestmont you enter the town of West Orange -- home to no less than 108 holes with 36 each at Essex County CC and Montclair Golf Club along with 18 at Rock Spring and, of course, the 18 at Crestmont. For a community of just over 12 square miles that brings the total number of holes to 108.
One of the central strengths of Crestmont is the terrain. Beautifully rolling with a quality maintenance program that fosters native grasses in contrast to the closely cropped fairways and putting surfaces.
When you arrive at the elevated 1st tee and gaze upon the course before you it's truly gets the golf blood flowing.
Credit the club in bringing on board architect Ron Forse in updating the Ross fingerprints into a much more dynamic presentation.
The character of the course stems from a very good routing -- going to all corners of the property in concert with a hole diversity that's clearly good.
The main deficiency stems from not having at least 1-2 long par-4 holes and candidly reducing two of the par-5s would make good sense. This is especially so at the 1st and either the 9th or 18th holes. If anything, the par-5s are good but reducing to par-4s two of them would bolster the overall demands the course provide.
The quartet of par-3 holes is first rate and it's critical when playing the 11th that you keep your ball below the hole at all times. When the green is at full speed it can be nightmarish when one's approach to the green is out of position.
The overall consistency of Ross layouts in the Garden State and elsewhere is truly remarkable. Those fortunate to be in the West Orange area and can gain access to Crestmont will enjoy the time spent there.
M. James Ward