Generally when a club hires an architect to build a course where one already exists, the new architect blows up the old course in its entirety. When Seth Raynor looked at A.W. Tillinghast’s layout at Essex County, he found enough to like that he retained seven of Tilly’s holes. Raynor died before construction, but his plan was executed by Charles Banks. As a result ECCC is one of the few clubs that can boast of having holes created by two Golden Age architects.
The contrast between the Tillinghast and Banks holes is quite striking. Though Tilly’s holes have less severe greens, he did a fine job of letting the land dictate the design: the fifth and sixth, for example, have fallaway greens, making a running shot often preferable. Most of Banks’ holes allow options for approach shots as well, though not at many of the template holes: #11 (Eden), #12 (Maiden) and #14 (Alps) each require an aerial approach. Banks’ holes also feature the angular landforms he learned from Raynor and C.B. MacDonald, along with greens full of humps and ridges. The second nine—which is all Banks—is often called the best back nine in the state.
There are not a lot of doglegs, but the line of charm abounds, largely the result of strategically placed fairway bunkers. The fourth and tenth have the only drives where the player simply fires away with no thought as to the best location for the tee ball.
While Pine Valley is in a class by itself, ECCC is solidly in my second tier of New Jersey courses—alongside places such as Plainfield and Ridgewood.
Date: October 19, 2016