Review for Crystal Springs (Ballyowen)

Reviewer Score:


Outside the most snobbish of purists, golf aficionados have calmed down when an American club describes itself as “links.” Although there is a knowing smirk, there is no need for an all-out eye-roll.

It would be unfair to punish poor Roger Rulewich for the branding decisions made by the Crystal Springs Resort, for which Ballyowen serves as the flagship course. His green design may be quite unlike the rolling topography of “true” links, but his plateaued approach is undoubtedly the most fun aspect of the round, rewarding those who value position over a simple GIR stat. More than half of the holes will make two-putts difficult for those land on the wrong level. Among the best are the closer, a par four with a green of three distinct landing zones, stacked snowman-style for 51-yards of fun (or heartache, depending on context). A true gem is No. 13, where players will hit a wedge or short iron uphill to a green where the front plateau is higher than the back, surely resulting in many an anxious hike to review one's birdie chances. It’s the kind of measured blind shot that makes uptight golfers mutter “bastard” under their breath, while inspiring us fun folk to lookforward to "next time" (we’ll do better, surely!). Rulewich’s commitment to the approach shot shows in the yardage; even after jumping to a lengthier set of tees for the back nine, the only thing keeping your correspondent from reaching in two (including the Par 5s) was the fescue, which did in fact live up to the links hype. The course is very playable for its yardage: Your scorecard will either fall apart or come alive on the greens.

It would be nice if those greens played as nicely as Rulewich laid them out.

Across the 18, every green issue imaginable showed its face (literally on one green, where hundreds of little ant faces poured forth from the fringe). Playing dramatic greens like these relies on the player’s ability to control their shot, and the greenskeeper’s ability to control their turf. Where one iron approach lands atop a plateau and ceases to move forward, the next green's surface ushers it aggressively off the putting surface. Although these factors could easily be exaggerated by a player having a bad short-game day (it has happened to us, believe it or not), it’s tougher to discount the unfortunate reality of countless ball dents and spike marks. For a discounted, municipal tee time? Sigh and move on. For the prices Ballyowen asks? Disappointing.

It is easy to overlook questionable “Links” branding when the course satisfies. It is tougher to overlook such branding when cash for potential green conditioning is instead going toward kitschy bagpipe players (and maintaining a glitzy clubhouse). Our experience did not come in the wake of any weather events, but Ballyowen's perennial ranking among New Jersey publics suggest that something was awry. If your experience at Ballyowen matches the hype, please redeem the course accordingly within these reviews!

Date: August 22, 2019

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