Essex Fells Country Club has quite the pedigree of famous names associated with it, and it requires some degree of digging through books to figure out which is true and which is not. One fundamental truth: Seth Raynor is most responsible for the club as it currently stands, as he had been hired to lead an enormous redesign, including a rerouting of the course that existed previously.
And who designed the original? Well, it wasn’t early standout architect Alex Findlay; Findlay had designed the club’s original nine, but that was located on an entirely different piece of property. No one knows who designed the 18 that Raynor renovated, and perhaps that’s for the best.
Another tizzy comes up when trying to determine who built Raynor’s design, after the architect died soon after. Some claim James Braid, which would be a shocking development, as Braid’s fear of boats meant he never visited the United States; although he mailed recommendations to New York's Saint Andrews, actual construction would have required him on the ground here. And it is certain that Essex Fells denied A.W. Tillinghast’s bid for being too expensive...bringing an icon like Braid from abroad would have broken the bank!
The neighborhood in which Essex Fells CC exists is a competitive one. Literally down the street in West Orange is Crestmont -- a quality Donald Ross design Located nearby is the 36-hole complex at Montclair which is being updated now and the stout 18 at Essex County CC which, in my humble opinion, rates a top ten position in the Garden State,
In recent times, local architect Rees Jones provided a bit of an updating to the layout. Most prominently, a functional practice area was created adding a good bit of bandwidth for the club.
The property is aided by a high point where rounds commence and where the stylish clubhouse sits.
Players can get off to a good start as the opening hole is a fairly simple
par-5. The same can be said for the short par-4 2nd and par-3 3rd. Matters intensify with the stellar uphill par-4 4th. Here the tee shot needs to find the fairway because the elevated approach to the green can be truly vexing in terms of club selection.
The remaining holes on the outward half are not especially noteworthy -- save for the uphill par-4 9th.
The inward half is a tad stronger than the front side, but its weakness is a back-and-forth routing of holes.
Unfortunately, the existing finish is simply mundane. The penultimate hole and closer are functional but not especially scintillating. What would ratchet matters up considerably is re-routing the present 17th and 18th and have them become the 16th and 17th. That would mean having the superb existing 16th move into the closing hole position therefore bringing the round to a truly worthy conclusion.
Essex Fells is certainly worth a play, but the neighborhood contains some top tier competition.