Although the Ballyowen course is typically held as the best of the four at the Crystal Springs Resort in northern New Jersey, the designer of the Wild Turkey route doesn’t feel too bitter. After all, it was probably his stellar work in creating Ballyowen that got Roger Rulewich the job on Wild Turkey!
The course — the last 18-hole route constructed for the resort — serves somewhat as a hybrid between two of the courses that already existed. Those who have played Ballyowen will find some similarities in a part of the property known as “the Hollow,” a rolling piece of treeless area that houses holes nos. 3 as well as 12 through 17.
The other holes play on land that bear resemblance to the resort’s namesake course, a more “heroic” approach that plays over and around a series of water-filled quarries. The signature hole at Wild Turkey, like that at Crystal Springs, is a par three that calls for a tee shot over a quarry pond, which sits well below the green. Accordingly, with the dramatic terrain on this portion of the course, few of the holes offer opportunities for run-up approaches, requiring accurate carries from the fairway.
Wild Turkey is aptly named because the course provides a wide array of interesting holes. Designed by Roger Rulewich, a long time number two man under the late Robert Trent Jones, Sr., -- Wild Turkey is part of the massive 90-hole that is Crystal Springs. Rulewich understood that creating a layout with sufficient width would be a must given the wide range of handicap levels that would be playing golf at the resort. The scale of the property is truly enormous. The 1st hole starts from an elevated tee and the vistas provided really get the golf blood flowing.
Many of the features at Wild Turkey are quite large -- the greens generally are massive with bunkers showing a similar disposition. Wild Turkey is not hemmed in by housing and the intersection of golf and Mother Nature is clearly on display. Rulewich used a well-conceived routing to include the super dangerous par-3 7th hole which demands nothing less than a superbly hit approach over a pond that if ever drained could easily open a driving range with balls to spare. After that hole Rulewich goes in the opposite direction with two quality holes -- the long par-5 8th and the well done mid-length par-4 at the 9th.
There's considerable ground movement at Wild Turkey but matters would be even more compelling if the turf were kept closer to a firm and fast setting. The holes on the flatter land are sufficient but never get the golf juices flowing as those holes which are on the more rolling land. Interestingly, the ending hole parallels the opener but heads uphill all the way. Generally, uphill holes that go straight up can be dull but that's not the case here. The approach is well done with a green that accepts only the best of plays.
Wild Turkey served as a fine follow-up to what Rulewich created with the resort's flagship course -- Ballyowen. To his credit, Rulewich has created a design that has enough quality holes to more than compensate for those that are less so.
by M. James Ward