Scottish immigrant, John A. Forster, arrived in the US literally down on his uppers, but he went from rags to riches, becoming the chairman of Crum & Forster Insurance Company. He purchased 50 acres of land in Monroe Township just before the First World War and built a dairy farm which he named Forsgate – an amalgam of his surname and his wife’s maiden name of Gatenby.
Forster was a keen golfer, so he continued to acquire new land adjoining the farm with the objective of creating a golf and country club. In the late 1920s he commissioned Charles Banks to fashion the golf course and Clifford Wendehack to design the clubhouse.
Charles Banks, an associate of C.B. Macdonald and Seth Raynor in the 1920s, was nicknamed “Steam Shovel” and the former school teacher turned architect had an affection for constructing replica holes with deep greenside bunkers. Sadly Banks died aged 49 in 1931, just before Forsgate was finished.
Highlight holes on the Banks course include the 216-yard Eden at the 3rd; the reverse Redan at the 217-yard 7th; the 163-yard Short at the 12th (with wonderful horseshoe-shaped interior contouring on the raised putting surface); and the 239-yard 17th with its fabulous Biarritz green. This group of par three holes is as good as you will find anywhere in New Jersey outwith Pine Valley.
This Golden Age design is complemented at a highly contrasting 36-hole facility by the Palmer course, which Hal Purdy set out as 9-hole track in 1961. The architect returned a decade later to add another nine then this 18-hole layout was named in honour of Arnold Palmer after he renovated the course in 1995.
I was told I would like the Charles Banks’ course at Forsgate. I knew that it was highly regarded due to its placement on Golfweek’s top 200 classic courses in the USA. I also knew that many considered it to be among Mr. Banks’ top three designs as well as it being his final course before he died at the age of 49, in 1931 which was the year that the course opened for play.
During his design career, Charles Banks worked alongside Charles Blair Macdonald and formed a partnership with Seth Raynor. When Mr. Raynor passed away at a young age, Mr. Banks took over his business. Mr. Banks is known as “steam shovel” Banks due to his usage of machinery to dig deep and wide bunkers, primarily greenside. I have played a couple of his designs which I enjoyed such as Hackensack, Essex County, and The Knoll West, before going to Forsgate. The current course consultant is Stephen Kay. I experienced his Links of North Dakota course earlier this year and came away most impressed. All of this led me to have high expectations before my first stroke.
My expectations were exceeded. I would easily place the Banks course at Forsgate in my “most underrated” category. Similar to the Course at Yale, I think this is a course that aspiring golf architects should visit. The routing is perfect for the land. The green complexes, but even more so the greens themselves, are fabulous. On all of the greens, except perhaps the reverse redan hole, there is at least one defined spine that must always be considered as they range from a foot high to over two feet. On greens where there are multiple spines there is a punchbowl effect that is created. Some of these depressions can go nearly front to back on a green while others occupy nearly 60% of the green.
M. James Ward has provided two excellent overviews of Forsgate so I will try not to be repetitive.
I do think the course would get more recognition if it were not in the golf-rich state of New Jersey where there are twenty very good courses, as well as being close to Philadelphia, Long Island and Westchester County with another 40 very good courses. I also think it gets knocked down a bit for four reasons – one is a lack of length for the better players since it maximizes out at 6904 yards (but a par 71), it does have several weaker holes, and as noted by Mr. Ward in his more recent review, several trees have been allowed to encroach in certain areas of the course, particularly on the par 5’s of holes eight and nine. I would cut the trees down and if fined, pay the fine and agree to plant trees elsewhere. The final reason is that the course loses some of its charm due to the housing off the first several holes as well as the electrical wires one can see, most noticeably at the reverse redan par 3.
The green complexes and surfaces are so compelling that it made me also wonder whether other players might find the tee shot to lack drama on the non-par 3’s because there is SO much drama at the greens. The excitement of playing here is not often on the tee but rather the excitement is trying to figure out both how to get one’s approach on the green and the correct landing spot.
The course moves up and down similar to what one will find at Somerset Hills. There is more substantial here movement at Forsgate Banks than at Plainfield. Several of the fairways also have rolls, tilts, and rises in them adding to the visual effect and defense of the course, although never reducing the playability of the course.
The bunkers are long and deep on the course when they are near the green. This is a typical characteristic of a course built by Mr. Banks who always was bold in his features whether with the deep, long, and sometimes wide bunkers and certainly the height of the spines on the greens. The fairway bunkers are not overly done in number, and vary between having a steeper/deeper face that will likely lead to a dropped shot if near the front, or are more typical in their depth. There are no irregular shaped bunkers here.
The course features an outstanding collection of par 3’s that both vary in length, green surrounds, and shape of the green. It is hard to pick a favorite.
Two of the par 5’s (8 and 9) are very good while the thirteenth is not as good but certainly can hold its own in terms of the quality of the green.
The par 4’s vary in terms of quality with the longer par 4’s being of a higher quality, particularly the fifth, tenth and the finishing hole with offers everything one would want in a golf hole.
The course begins with likely the third weakest hole on the course, a short par 4 that plays over some rolls in the fairway. While there are three fairway bunkers to consider off the tee, the fairway is wide. The green has a substantial tilt to the right along with two vertical spines resulting in a front right bowl occupying about 25% of the green. For pins located in the bowl the key is to nearly stop one’s putt at the beginning as there is a steeper rollout than it appears. The green has two deep bunkers that go the entirety of both sides of the fairway with the left bunker being nearly 15 feet below the green. This is a long green that is relatively thin at the front due to it being angled to the right.
The second is an average length par 4 that felt like it played like a dogleg right due to the scattered trees and early fairway bunker on the right. Yet it is the bunker on the left that likely catches more of the tee shots. The approach shot plays over a valley to a smaller green with a bunker right well short of the green and again deep bunkers on either side the length of the green. I particularly admired the small two-three feet high sharp false front. The green features another central spine and a lower area on the front right and a smallish plateau in the back left. It is not a difficult hole if one can avoid the left bunker off the tee.
The third is an amazing par 3 playing slightly uphill with the tee and green set well above a valley. The green looks tiny for the length of the hole (216 to 182 yards), both due to the length and placement of the green. The green is surrounded on three sides with bunkers with the front right bunker being as much as 12 feet deep leading to a blind recovery shot. This right side bunker also comes along half of the front right creating a narrow opening. However, the bunker to avoid is the one at the rear due to the sharp back to front slope of the green which is divided into two parts by a high central horizontal spine. I did not have to navigate the spine, yet my putt for par from about 8 feet away pin high to a back left pin location just missed going in, yet once it missed the cup it trickled down another 12 feet before mercifully stopping. It would be easy to putt off this green. In our foursome, the only one who made par was the one twenty five yards short of the green who still had to make a hard breaking putt from only 3 feet away.
Four plays as a short downhill par 4 with the tee box set off to the left to try to create the appearance of a dogleg left. This is likely the weakest hole on the course with the only real defense being the thick trees on the right and two mounds on the right that can be reached off the tree where the cart path goes through railroad ties. I was told this was a former rail line. Once again there are flanking bunkers at the green with the left side being the deeper one. The green tilts to the right and front with a false front. While this is an easy hole, if one misses the green then making a bogey is not a guarantee.
Five is one of the best holes on the course as a mid-length par 4 but playing uphill off the tee, then even more uphill for the approach shot. This is the punchbowl hole with higher ground on the left side before the green so any tee shot landing on the left side of the fairway will likely face a blind approach shot. Going down the right side the key is to avoid the bunker set inside the fairway and because it is placed against the next rise, becomes deep and steep. The punchbowl green slopes to the front with terrific mounding at the high points surrounding the green. The spine on this hole is in the shape of an arc going from mid center right to the center of the green and ending on the back right. While I loved the hole, there are four others on the front nine that are its equal.
Six is one of the easier holes on the course, a short par 4 playing straight. Longer hitters can likely drive the right portion of the green as the land slopes towards the green. The flanking fairway bunkers are set too short to be an issue. You cannot drive the green on the left side as a five feet high mound complex cuts across the fairway about fifteen yards to five yards from the green protecting about two thirds of the opening. This mound complex is preceded by a bunker. Another bunker goes down the left side of the green. The right side of the green has a bunker that wraps around to the back where it is at its deepest, likely as much as twelve feet below the surface. We had a right side pin position but since I hit my approach shot to the left side of the spine which creates a bowl on the right, I would have been better positioned for a birdie try.
Seven is the redan hole and in this case banked to the right with a very deep bunker protecting the front of the green. This is a longer par 3 but does play downhill. There is a deep bunker to the left side of the green as well that will likely result in a blind recovery shot. This bunker is tucked behind a mound that can kick a ball onto the green. Anything missed too short to the left of the green will leave a difficult putt if the pin is at the front of the green which is the most difficult pin position. This is the position we had. I was five feet off the green and hit my putt only the slightest too firm and ended up with a 25 feet putt to save par. The limiting factor to this hole are the electrical lines that seem to be above the green but are actually behind it.
After playing the long par five eighth hole, at 603 yards from the back tee, I expected it to be my favorite par 5 on the course, but after playing nine it became debatable. The tee shot is from the lowest point of the course down a fairway that strongly tilts to the left. There are undulations like waves as you play this hole always knowing you need to be right for a landing zone due to the roll to the left. There is an early fairway bunker on the left but one should play away from it. This is followed by a strangely placed fairway bunker that seems to be almost hidden on the right side and well off the fairway. My members told me this bunker was the first of a set of bunkers that crossed the fairway. It is a shame those are not there now as a good hole would become even better. The hole has a plateau green sitting well above you with flanking bunkers. The left side bunker sits as much as 18 feet below the green. The green has a very tall spine cutting from the middle front nearly all the way to the back. Any putt to a left pin that sits on the higher portion of the right side has no chance of stopping on the green unless one is putting away from the pin. It is a remarkable green.
Nine lacks nearly 80 yards of the length of the eighth but is its equal. The land seems to be even more banked to the left here, particularly in the first half of the hole which is defined by higher ground after the second shot. This bank brings the two bunkers on the left into play for the tee shot. This is another plateau green that is angled to the left with a long bunker down the right side and another deep bunker greenside right sitting perhaps 15 feet below the surface of the green. The spine on this green runs from left center to back left leaving only a smaller bowl down the left. There is a raised mound down the right side between the bunker and the green which enhances the visual appeal of the green complex. While the green is not as terrifying as the eight, the land for the fairway is more interesting than the eighths.
Ten is one of the best holes on the course and if not for the weak sixth, would be a very strong set of six consecutive holes. You play from a slightly elevated tee across an early valley back to higher ground. There is a much deeper valley that follows where longer hitters can likely drive it to the bottom leaving a short wedge into the elevated green. For average length players they have to avoid the flanking bunkers with the right fairway bunker built into the side of a hill. About 75 yards short of the green on the left are two bunkers followed by tall grass off the left side. My ball managed to find a gap in this tall grass and although I had a blind shot to the green, still nearly made a lucky par. The elevated green has a gradual slope in front of it so balls landing short will not go onto the green but should not back up. The bunker on the front right of the green is cut well below the green perhaps as much as twelve feet. The left side bunker is not quite as deep but since the green runs away from you it is likely the more difficult recovery shot. The spine on this hole runs in an arc from the front middle cutting into the middle then finishing middle right. But everything on this green is sloped back to front and slightly to the right. This is considered the hardest hole on the back nine, yet my three member hosts assured me the eighteenth is harder. I am inclined to agree with them.
The eleventh is a short par 4 with a similar green complex as the tenth although this time an additional hidden deep bunker is added behind the green. It is one of the two weaker holes on the back nine.
Twelve is the shortest par 3 on the course with the back tee being placed 165 yards away. You play across a valley with the green slightly below you. There are bunkers that essentially cover the front of the green going down the entirety of the left side. The right side bunker sits about nine feet below the surface. The green is defined by its bowl nicknamed the bathtub made by an upside horseshoe shaped spine of perhaps nearly three feet high. The falloff behind the green is quite steep and one’s ball can get all the way into tall fescue. The height of the fall-off reminded me of some of the falloffs at Lawsonia Links. I went for the right side flag and found the bunker but managed to save par. I think scores can range from 2 to 6 on this hole. This was my favorite par 3 on the course due to the visual and that spine.
Thirteen is the weakest par 5 on the course although it has an excellent green. The only fairway bunker is well up on the right. The land is rolling here ever going slightly uphill until one gets to the green. Longer hitters get an advantage by carrying the rise that sits about 250 yards from the tee. A valley follows it so longer hitters can get quite an advantage. There are two early flanking fairway bunkers basically before the start of the fairway that made no sense to me. Once again there are flanking greenside bunkers although not quite as deep as on other holes. The green has perhaps the most variation in contours with various lower points, swales, small mounds but overall with a back to front tilt. A vertical spine on the right creates a very small plateau on the front right which gets only slightly wider at the rear of the green. I had a 40 feet downhill putt from the back of the green to a front pin and hit the coin about halfway there of our opponents which both slowed my ball and sent it right into the cup. Sometimes, there is no rhyme or reason to golf.
Fourteen is a long par 4 and a strong hole due to the angle of the green and the depth of the greenside bunkers. A deep bunker on the right of the fairway has to be avoided as it is placed into a rise. The green is angled to the right with both flanking bunkers very deep. Once again the falloffs off the back can result in one’s ball rolling into tall fescue.
Fifteen is the shortest par 4 on the course with the back tees set at only 330 yards. This dogleg left features a chocolate drop bunker on the left about 100 yards from the elevated green. There is a large bunker short right of the green for the longer hitters but should not be in play for most players. The other greenside bunker is on the left wrapping itself around the entire back of the green. The spine on the green is like a semi-circle from the middle left to back middle of the green creating a higher landing zone.
Sixteen is a longer par 4 at nearly 450 yards from the back tee. This is a diagonal bunker coming into the fairway on the left side but again not really where it should be to effect play off the tee. There are flanking bunkers about 25 yards short of the green and then two bunkers to either side. The defining characteristic of this hole is the double plateau green which is excellent with its lower middle section. I almost thought this to be the Biarritz hole. I really liked this hole.
Seventeen is the famous Biarritz hole and it is a long one at 239 yards from the back tee and 201 yards from the member tee. The green is enormous, very long at nearly 75 yards, with bunkers running the length of the green on either side. The swale is one of the deepest I have played, similar to the one at Fox Chapel and is placed about a third of the way into the green. We were fortunate to have the pin placed in the swale although I missed a nine feet putt for birdie. A back pin location would be very difficult. It is a tremendous hole, but I still liked the seventh and twelfth slightly more. A good course must have excellent par 3’s and the Banks course certainly rivals the ones at Carmargo.
Eighteen is an outstanding finishing hole, long at 454 yards and playing uphill to add to its length. The land is rolling here with the green having a substantial rise in front of it. You play the tee shot over a valley where longer hitters have a chance to get to the bottom, but if they don’t they will have a downhill lie to an uphill green. The green is angled to the right and is large with flanking bunkers that are perhaps ten feet deep. It is steeply banked from back to front and to the left. This is rated only the third most difficult hole on the back nine, but I saw it as the most challenging.
The Banks course at Forsgate is a course that will be fun, interesting, and enjoyable every time one plays it. While it does have 5-6 “weaker” holes, this is balanced by 5-6 terrific holes while the remainder are very much above average due to the green complexes and a routing that takes the best advantage of the change in terrain. It is not often one can play a course with four very good par 3’s and greens such as these. It is inconsistent at times and therefore does not have, for example, an excellent back nine such as at Essex County or Kirtland in Ohio. But the green surfaces, depths and widths of the greenside bunkers are a match for any course.
A meticulously detailed review but I was surprised that a higher grade was not awarded. Based on what he wrote, this reviewer should have graded the Banks course at Forsgate one ball higher!
My most recent visit to Forsgate happened during the annual Writer's Cup event this summer and while the overall layout remains a joy to behold there is a major concern that needs attention.
Overzealous tree plantings from years ago have now become a clear issue. More specifically, the species of pine trees has now become an irritant when playing. These pine trees have spread their canopies and worse yet -- the branches have not been trimmed at the extreme lowest levels thereby causing players whose ball gets stuck beneath them to take an unplayable lie in many instances.
The issue of trees is not related simply to Forsgate but to a number of courses throughout the USA. However, in the northeast the issue still resonates with proponents of both removal and in retaining their presence.
The canvass for the Banks Course would be considerably enhanced with the pines being removed. The property contains eye-catching vistas with fairways moving in all sort of directions. The pines obscure these views and detract from the standout architecture which Banks provided.
Removing the trees is no small issue since local laws may impact the speed and process to be followed. But a clear trimming of pesky branches that extend to just a few feet above ground need to be expedited.
The Banks Course is rightly cited for the delicious internal contours of the putting surfaces and the range of holes is quite engaging. A comprehensive plan that deals with the invasive and non-indigenous pines is certainly in order now.
On a secondary level -- the Banks Course is blessed with superior greens but a few of them could be expanded to fit the original character of the layout.
The issue of the size of the greens is not on the same level as the impact caused by the pines but for the full grandeur of the Banks Course to reach its maximum potential these specific areas of emphasis are flashpoints for concern.
For those who have not been to the Banks Course I still wholeheartedly recommend playing the course if the opportunity arises. The layout was the last 18-hole design by Banks and the sum total of the holes and the overall flow of the routing and strategic elements encountered still has plenty of gusto.
However, golf courses are living entities and proactive decisions are crucial because they can set in motion an even greater overall product for golfers to enjoy in the years ahead.
We shall see.
M. James Ward
Which greens specifically do you think need to be expanded?
I believe the 5th has been expanded in recent time so that's a good thing. The surface is a real treat. In regards to other holes -- possibly the 1st and 2nd. The 3rd and 4th are fine. It's possible the Knoll hole at the 6th could be expanded to the far left area thereby "hiding" the pin even more so.
The Redan 7th might also be a candidate -- especially on the far right side.
The back-to-back par-5 holes at the 8th and 9th appear just fine.
On the inward side -- the 10th and 11th could be increased -- albeit slightly. The 12th is fine. The par-5 13th -- which should be converted into a long par-4 could be increased.
The par-4 14th could be carried out as the green is rather small for the length of the existing approach. The short par-4 15th is fine. In regards to the final trio -- the 16th might also be a candidate. The 17th was expanded and is one of the best versions of a Biarritz one can play -- hats off to architect Stephen Kay and owner Chris Schiavone for moving this ahead.
The 18th might have some room expansion to the far right but the hole as played now works.
The key for the Banks Course is getting ride of the hideous pine trees that have proliferated. The quality of the routing and the overall visual dimension would be enhanced mega times with them removed.
Hope this info proves helpful --
Forsgate the Banks course is part of 36 holes here. I have been fortunate to play here often as numerous friends were members. The outstanding characteristic of this course is it's outstanding green complexes. Some of the very best I have ever played. Conditioning is always good and it is a joy to play. It's better than the rating here.
Forsgate is a below the radar course in the style of Macdonald-Raynor with really good prototype holes. This shouldn’t be surprising since the course was designed by one of their protégés, Charles Banks. The par three holes really shine at Forsgate. The most outstanding hole on the course is the 17th, a prototype Biarritz hole with a massive swale through the middle of the green. The 3rd is a demanding Eden style hole that plays from an elevated tee over a large gully to a big, tough, elevated green. The Redan 7th is no pushover and the 12th has a large putting surface with large raised contours in the middle in the shape of a giant horseshoe, ensuring that balls on the putting surface don’t guarantee a par. My favorite hole is the “Long” hole, one of the best renditions I have ever played, it is a difficult par five at 600 yards, which typically plays into the wind with a fairway that slopes down a hill from right to left the entire way and to a green that is elevated with sharp falloffs. There are a couple holes that are good but not great, such as the first, fourth, and sixteenth that keep the course from being rated higher. In a state chocked full of abundant choices for the golfer, the Banks course at Forsgate sometimes gets overlooked, but it is a classic course that I highly recommend.
In today's "connected" world it's hard to imagine any "sleeper" courses escaping view. Especially when such courses are in an immediate core area where other courses of distinction exist.
Such is the case with a particular facility located halfway between the large cities of New York and Philadelphia.
Although not far away in terms of actual mileage from either of the aforementioned metro areas -- Forsgate Country Club in Jamesburg, New Jersey is a top tier quality facility that is known to locals but rarely is mentioned by those living outside a 100-mile radius. It is particularly shocking that many self-proclaimed golf cognoscenti often gloss over the qualities found at Forsgate.
In 1931 -- at the height of The Great Depression -- Forsgate Country Club opened. The vision of a successful Scottish immigrant who brought his vision to life in the farmlands of rural central New Jersey.
The brainchild was John Forster -- co-founder of the Crum & Forster insurance company. As someone who spent a good deal of time in Manhattan, Forster wanted to create a paradise away from the constant drumbeat of The Big Apple. Purchased in 1913 -- his getaway included 50 acres of land -- an outpost to rejuvenate the mind and body. Within a short time -- additional land was purchased and the decision to include a golf club was born.
The name Forsgate is actually a combination of the first few letters of Forster's last name and that of his wife's family name Gatenby. Forster's dream included creating a most active and highly successful farm. One that developed a considerable reputation over the years in producing a range of crops and various successful food items -- promoting the healthy elements of pasteurized milk and its by product high quality ice cream. For many people throughout the immediate region the food production side of things resonated most clearly.
Forster's love for the golf he knew in Scotland became driving force for him -- in creating a golf club equal to that of any other in New Jersey.
Despite the deepening impact of The Great Depression Forster moved ahead. He hired the noted clubhouse designer -- Clifford C. Wendehack -- to design the colonial clubhouse. Wendehack was the man responsible for such renown structures at Winged Foot in New York, along with The Ridgewood Country, Mountain Ridge and North Jersey in the Garden State along with alterations and additions he added at Baltusrol Golf Club.
The man chosen for the golf side was no less rich in his own pedigree. Charles H. Banks was a schoolteacher in Connecticut assigned to liaison with the golf architect hired at the school to improve the golf course on campus. That architect was Seth Raynor, considered one of the best in his field at the time, and when he completed the project he asked Banks to join his firm.
Raynor learned his skills as a course designer from American golf pioneer Charles Blair Macdonald. It was Macdonald -- the "founding father" of American golf -- who spearheaded the creation of iconic venues such as The National Golf Links of America and the Chicago Golf Club.
By the time he was contacted by Forster, Charles Banks was in his late 40’s and had his own firm. His designs in New Jersey alone include Rock Spring Club, Essex County Country Club, Hackensack Golf Club and Knoll West. Although many tout his design at Whippoorwill Club in Armonk, NY to be his finest -- his work at Forsgate has rightly earned more awareness as more have become exposed to its recent course restorations and renovations.
Nicknamed “Steam Shovel” for his favorite piece of golf course design equipment, Charles Banks built large, steep dramatic green-side bunkers -- providing unmistakable risk/reward options for most approach shots with a wide range of pin-placement options from accessible to devilish. This was complimented by large greens, many with pronounced shelves, mounds and bowls.
Forsgate was to be the last golf course Charles Banks designed in the United States, he died just before Forsgate was completed in 1931, at the age of 49.
When you arrive at Forsgate the beauty of the colonial clubhouse seizes your attention immediately. The 1st and 2nd holes allows the muscles to unwind and while the fairways at both are sufficiently wide -- you come to realize that being in the right position is central to scoring well.
The bunkers at Forsgate clearly catch your attention - primarily for the player to avoid them. They are set extremely deep and low and any ball entering will require the surest of strokes to escape. The greensites at Forsgate are also especially noteworthy because of their immense size and innumerable contours.
This becomes especially apparent when you arrive at the par-3 3rd. At 215 yards -- the tee shot on this Eden-like hole is played to an elusive elevated target split by a center spine dividing the left and right hand sides of the putting surface. When the pin is placed on the far right the wherewithal to hit a high fade with sufficient carry and height is an absolute essentiality.
Banks also created a fun short hole on the outward side -- the 6th is nicknamed "The Knoll" and while only 350 yards in length the hole can prove exasperating when the pin is set hard left with a high knoll protecting that entire side.
The second par-3 on the front is of equal quality to that of the 3rd. This reverse Redan is sculptured superbly. Players hit from an elevated tee pad to a green that has a high left side which runs diagonally to the right and slightly downhill. Protecting nearly the entire right side is a massive bunker that beckons players in the same seductive manner as the alluring sirens that lured sailors to their eternal rest.. While many rightly feast the original Redan at North Berwick's 15th hole and the replicas at the 4th at The National Golf Links of America and the 2nd at Somerset Hills in Bernardsville, NJ -- the 7th at Forsgate is no less sterling in its overall strategic qualities.
Once you conclude play at the 7th Banks brilliantly concludes the front side with two splendid par-5 holes -- both vastly different from one another in design and challenge. The long par-5 8th plays just over 600 yards and is usually into the prevailing south / southwest wind during the playing season. The hole continues to climb uphill and the fairway tilts ever so to the left -- hooking a ball off the tee can mean a most trying circumstances to secure a par. The green is also magnificently done -- elevated and sloped from right-to-left with a menacing left side bunker waiting for the hapless play.
The concluding par-5 9th plays 529 yards as the stated distance but here again you face an uphill tee shot to a blind rise. Stronger players can propel their tee shots to get within range in going for the green in two blows. But do reap such a bonanza -- the shots must be played with the surest of executions. The green, like the others, is well guarded on the left side and even played with a wedge approach must be thoughtfully executed.
The inward nine at Forsgate begins with what is one of the best holes on the course. The 416-yard par-4 10th starts from an elevated. Two bunkers on the left squeeze the fairway from that side at nearly 290 yards. The terrain is akin to a rollercoaster -- heaving about like a troubled stormy ocean. The green is elevated above the fairway with a large bunker on the right side that must be carried should the pin be placed on that side.
The par-3 12th is dubbed "Horseshoe" -- literally an upside down "C" rings the green. Pin placements can be placed in numerous spots -- either inside the Horseshoe or to the outer perimeter areas. At 163 yards -- many who play it the first time are thinking a quick and easy birdie awaits -- the reality is that bogeys or more are more readily attained if even the slightest of careless plays occurs.
The 13th is a functional par-5 but not compelling design wise. The long par-4 14th at 438 yards is a capable hole but when played with a helping wind -- which is typical during the playing season -- is not especially demanding. The short par-4 15th provides a good opportunity to make birdie before the concluding fine troika of holes to complete the round.
The par-4 16th at 445 yards provides a generous landing area but it is the approach shot that is tested well. The green is shaped like the letter "L" and has three distinct areas. Be mindful of the pin location because failure to gauge the appropriate length to the desired landing area can mean taxing putts of all types. When the pin is placed in the deepest part of the green -- the narrow pinch from both right and left sides makes for sweaty palms for the unsure golfer. A grand hole for sure but with two equally outstanding ones to follow.
The long par-3 17th at 240 yards is a long narrow green with a major dip in its center section. Forsgate's 17th is patterned after a par-3 at Biarritz in France. Over the course of time the original length of the green at 73 yards was shortened. When architect Stephen Kay was brought on board to restore many of the old-time features -- the focus on bringing back to life the inherent qualities of the original par-3 17th was on his immediate agenda. The hole is a marvel because of the utter elasticity it provides for all handicap types. Generally the hole plays with a helping breeze from the south but there can no half-hearted play at any time. Much is rightly made of the Biarritz hole at Yale's par-3 9th but the 17th at Forsgate is no lesser version by any means.
The closing hole at Forsgate is appropriately named "Purgatory." A new championship tee was added a number of years ago -- bringing the length to 450 yards -- the longest of the two-shot holes at the course. The fairway has a rolling quality to it -- similar to what one played at the 10th which adjoins the closing hole. The prevailing wind is generally in on the player and for those who opt for the bold aggressive play it's possible to ascend the hill and get to the other side but if one fails to reach the bottom the approach will be played from a difficult downhill stance to an elevated target. The key is avoiding woods flanking both sides. In years past recovering from those woods would have been unlikely as grass and tree branches were too thick. They have been smartly pruned in recent times but there's no automatic "get out of jail card" provided.
The approach is a glorious site to behold. The clubhouse sits majestically behind the green. The putting surface is especially sloped from back to front with a left-to right slant. The right hand bunker is where "Purgatory" got its name. Once you enter the bunker you may get the feeling of utter hopelessness -- never being able to conclude the hole.
My first round at Forsgate came 45 years ago as a teen playing in a major junior qualifier. I have seen the different cycles of how the course has gone through various ups and downs. In the most recent of years the course has come under the watchful stewardship of Chris Schiavone and it has been through his dedication to the property and love of the game that Forsgate has clearly made herculean strides.
The quarter of par-3 holes is as good as any in NJ -- only a slightly behind the four stellar par-3 holes found at Pine Valley. The terrain is walkable but it also provides for sufficient movement -- the player must know how to hit from uneven lies and be able to hit to elevated targets with proper distance control and loft. The greens offer an array of shapes and sizes. Green speeds are kept at reasonable levels but should they be cut and rolled for maximum effect -- the demands on the player can increase significantly.
In this era when courses have been stretched to unseemly distances and the virtues of discerning design details can be flattened or outright eliminated -- it is clearly refreshing to see the magical nature of what Banks envisioned carry on to this day. For anyone coming to New Jersey be sure to get on the NJ Turnpike and head to Exit 8A -- you'll find a very fun and entertaining course that's happy to oblige a finely played shot but will never accept the foolish or reckless play. Is Forsgate a top ten course in a very competitive golf state like NJ? It is most certainly in that discussion.
As a postscript -- many may not realize that before Peter Oosterhuis went on to success as an television golf announcer for Sky, BBC and CBS-Sports - he served as Director of Golf for several year at Forsgate and later at Riviera. Playing such a richly detailed course and having the opportunity to chat with such a fine gentleman is something I will always remember.
By M. James Ward - images courtesy of Forsgate Country Club