Hackensack Golf Club dates back to 1899 but the course in play today isn’t quite that old. Designed by Seth Raynor and built by his construction associate Charles Banks, it was brought into play in 1928, two years after the architect passed away.
Featuring Raynor trademark replica holes such as Redan, Short and Biarritz, the layout has been overhauled by Rees Jones in more recent times, starting in 2007 when the original plans were found in the basement of the clubhouse.
Over the following six years, Steve Weisser from Rees Jones, Inc. worked on restoring design features, adding one or two that were planned but never actually constructed, like the enormous bunker that now runs for 150 yards along the side of the 11th, nearly eight feet below the level of the fairway.
Charles Banks wasn’t short of world class mentors. In fact, one could argue that he had an embarrassment of riches when it came to learning from the best. His work at nearby Forsgate CC and Whippoorwill have a large fanbase, and after playing Hackensack, the Banks portfolio by itself has a very solid foundation. The course occupies yet another rolling piece of land with naturally created holes moving in every direction – up, down and across the contours of the hills. It was clear that the active membership loves the course, and it gets a wonderful amount of play by players of all abilities. This club is blessed with recent renovations, and clearly has a great plan for the future. Given Bank’s nickname, many of the course’s glorious features are eye-opening. It goes beyond the depth of the bunkers, but the shaping of the templates is immensely impressive. For example, the green sites of the Redan and the Punchbowl catch your attention from several vantage points across the course before you even play them. I’d venture to say that the Redan at Hackensack may be my favourite interpretation of the concept on this side of the pond (out of the 25+ that I’ve played). It’s just amazing and so much of the danger is hidden. Staggering shaping is on display and it offers one of the fun moments where you smirk and wonder “where on earth do I land this tee-shot?”. While I felt the course really stepped up a gear architecturally from the short par 3 6th hole, I absolutely loved Hackensack and will race back to the first tee. Thought provoking architecture on firm ground is what makes this game so great. Bank’s mentors must be so proud.
Hackensack Golf Club has Charles Banks as the architect of record since he built the course. However, it was Seth Raynor who designed the course so one will find many of the template holes for which Seth Raynor is famous. Most of the template holes are slightly lesser versions of his more famous ones on renowned courses such as at Yale, Fishers Island or Chicago. Yet the slope of the twelfth, the redan, and the back protecting mound fronting a deep bunker, would rank with most of his more famous redans.
In a golf-rich state where the top ten are excellent to very good and can compete with the best golf courses in the world, there are at least another ten good golf courses in New Jersey. As such, it is hard for Hackensack to get the recognition it deserves. Work continues on the course for a more complete restoration which will continue to improve the golf aesthetic, yet it may not result in any further climb up the list in New Jersey as the quality of courses is strong within the top twenty five. After the top twenty five, the quality does diminish quite a bit.
We played the course in reverse order, starting on the tenth due to Sunday having the nines reversed due to some neighbors wanting more quiet time in the morning. Overall, I would say holes ten-eighteen are the stronger nine, but the front nine has the more interesting green surfaces. The front nine plays more along the boundaries of the property which leads to more holes having less land movement and being a bit “flatter.” The back nine has more holes with land movement creating a higher level of interest. However, the green’s surfaces are not as strong on the back nine in terms of inner contours. The greens on both nine’s have adequate tilt and slope to create speedy putts, but the back nine’s do not seem to have as many plateaus, hollows and mounds. The greens somewhat cleverly hide their speed due to some quick rises and gradual declines that are actually steeper than they look. There is a good use of central spines, both horizontal and vertical on many holes. There is a good use of both false fronts as well as longer slopes at the beginning of the green. It appeared several of the greens are going to be expanded to create some disguised pin locations behind mounds.
The back nine does have the superior bunkering as well as the superior mounding just off the green, with the exception of the seventeenth. Some of the bunkers are too large but on the whole the bunkers add to the defense of the course because many of them have substantial raised faces or are placed well below the surface of the green. Many of the deeper bunkers nearly wrap-around the entirety of the larger greens or certainly most of one side so if one goes in them they will likely lose a shot given their size and depth.
The course seems to play shorter than its listed yardage but if the two shorter par 5’s were converted to par 4’s and if the total par became 70 the course would be enhanced. There is room on the course to find another 150 -200 yards if the club desired, although a few of these “new” tees should be reserved for the club championship or local top amateur competitions. I also noted various areas where additional bunkers could be added, or current bunkers relocated, as well as holes where additional micro-contouring just off the green would also enhance the course. As such, the course is a bit inconsistent with some greens very well defended while others offer too easy a chance at recovery.
I did like the routing of the course as it does take the best advantage of the land.
I also was impressed by most of the greens although more could be done on a few of them.
The conditioning of the course is very good.
The course measures 7011 yards from the Black tees, par 72 rated 74.2/140. We played the Blue tees at 6627 yards rated 72.6/137. The White tees are 6275 yards rated 71.3/132. I felt the ratings to be a bit high.
1. Par 4 – 442/422. This is a very good starting hole, playing downhill. The hole could be improved for a tournament by lengthening it 30 yards by playing from the back edge of a putting green rather than from the front of it. There is a single bunker on the right to be avoided. After this bunker, the land falls down into a valley where the longer hitters can get within 70-100 yards of this green. The green has a long gradual upslope before it with a wide bunker down the right side and a deeper, longer bunker starting at the left front wrapping itself around nearly all of the back. The green is tilted back to front and features a central vertical spine that is somewhat disguised if one is putting front to back from the right side of the green (I three putted. This is a long green of about 42 yards. The more difficult pin positions are on the left side due that wrap-around bunker.
2. Par 5 – 495/485. This is one of the weaker holes on the course as a par 5 and would be a candidate to become a par 4 in a tournament. The hole plays over a pond and the fairway rises on the other side until it begins a flattening just before the first bunker on the right that is in play off the tee. Longer hitters will easily clear this bunker. There is another bunker on the left about 150 yards from the green that pinches into the fairway. It is a raised bunker so if one is anywhere near the front of the bunker they are likely just trying to get out as far up as they can. A final fairway bunker is 20 yards short of the green on the right more in play for those trying to reach the green in two. The green is long and angled to the left with a small right side bunker and a longer left side bunker. The green is tilted to the front from about halfway but then flattens at the rear. If this is a par 4, this hole is fine, but as a par 5 it needs a green with more inner movement. Also if one goes over the green there is nothing interesting behind the green as it is just a slight slope, so the rear of the green also needs to be strengthened.
3. Par 3 – 230/204. This hole features a green of sixty yards with a Biarritz in the middle. The green is speedy despite the 4.5 feet swale as one of our players landed near the front yet nearly rolled off the back despite the green also being tilted back to front. As with most Biarritz greens, there is not a lot of side slope given the focus is on the Biarritz itself. This does not rival the Biarritz at Fox Chapel, but it is a strong hole. Adding to the defense are flanking bunkers that begin at the back half of the green at the end of the Biarritz.
4. Par 4 – 404/392. The fourth and fourteenth are somewhat mirror images from a landscape standpoint although the holes are different otherwise. Both play from a tee at the beginning of a valley with most balls landing on an upslope. On the fourth, there is out-of-bounds down the right side but with tall trees to provide a chance for salvation. There is a bunker on the left side in play off the tee for average length players as it also pinches into the fairway. This bunker is angled left to right with a tall mound of perhaps seven feet leading to clearance being a priority if one is close to the front. The green sits uphill with a large, round bunker on the right and a longer one down the left side. The green is angled a bit to the right and is very speedy from back to front with the front twenty feet having a more pronounced slope. If putting up to a pin just beyond the rise, you have to clear the rise or the ball will roll back nearly off the green. A putt from the back to a pin at the front needs to ensure it does not reach this point or off the green one will go. The back right pin position is likely the second hardest on this green although the green only has movement one way. The hole would be improved with more mounding in the back third of the green as well as perhaps more micro-contouring or a steep fall-off into short grass at the back of the green.
5. Par 4 – 393/377. There are three bunkers down the right but the difficult ones are the two placed in front of a mound about ten feet in height. In the summer the other side of this mound features tall fescue from the mound nearly to the green down the right side. There is a bunker angled right to left that begins about 20 yards from the green. The wise play for anyone who hits a bad tee shot is to play short or to the right of this bunker. The green has a defined plateau in its back third as well as a small bunker on the back left and a bunker down the right side. There is also a series of small hollows on the front half of the green, more pronounced on the left side near the bunker. This green is tricky as it is tilted more left to right than it appears and a putt will definitely roll with some speed if coming from the left side of the green to the right. It is a good green which I three putted from 15 feet as I did not guess correctly on the pace. On this tee this hole looks much longer but does play to its list length and has one of the better greens on the course.
6. Par 3 – 160/142. The club has knocked down trees behind the green creating a long view over the countryside of perhaps 15 miles. The hole is nearly surrounded by bunkers with only a small crack at the front middle. This is another excellent green with a titled shelf on the back half and plenty of subtle breaks in the front third. There is room to add another 30 yards to this hole which would improve it. I was told in the summer they allow the fescue to grow between the elevated tee and green.
7. Par 4 – 398/378. Four central cross bunkers dominate this hole, starting in the middle and angled more into the right side of the fairway. Longer hitters will clear these cross bunkers. There is a final bunker down the right side which is the preferred line to the green as the green is angled to the left. There is a small triangular bunker on the left front while a longer bunker goes down the right side. The green complex shares a large bunker with the fifteenth hole which comes into the back left of the green. We had a front pin so I did not get a good look at the rest of the green but I did admire those cross bunkers, even if they perhaps should add a fifth one for the longer hitters or perhaps a duplicate starting 20 yards further up the fairway which would be unique.
8. Par 5 – 575/534. The longest hole on the course features scattered trees down the left side and thicker trees down the right. There is a fairway bunker on the right side that comes into the fairway a bit. The land rolls a bit as one approaches the green which has a long, wide bunker on both sides. There are two plateaus on this green with the left side being higher. These plateaus are on the back half of the green with the front half having its own multiple tilts. We had a right back side flag and my putt from twenty feet from the left plateau misjudged the speed of the ball coming out of the swale and I missed the resulting ten feet putt. I replayed the first putt and nearly made it but appreciated how the speed of the green was again disguised.
9. Par 4 – 439/421. This is a fine finishing hole to the front nine. You play slightly uphill all the way to the green. The right side features trees and a collection area of three bunkers. The left side has a small valley and trees. There is a long bunker down the left side of the green shared with the eighteenth green. The right side has an hourglass shaped bunker. The green is round but with a lot of interior movement and I was pleased to have my fourth one putt on the back nine to offset the three three-putts.
10. Par 5 – 537/515. This is a straightforward hole playing downhill. Longer hitters will catch the downslope and pick up an additional 20-40 yards making this hole easily reachable in two. They only have to avoid a bunker on the right that bleeds into the fairway. For shorter hitters, the downslope for the second shot becomes more pronounced so a second shot simply needs to find the fairway in order to get a favorable long roll-out and one should have no more than 100 yards into a large green. The hole has large bunkers at the front corners making the back half of the green wider. There is a long gradual upslope before the green which basically slopes back to front. However, a shot into this green will run a bit further than it looks so any play to a pin needs to play more short of the flag than it appears. Going long will result in finding a rear bunker. This green could use additional interior movement.
11. Par 4 – 441/425. I liked this hole with its long bunker down the right side reminding me of the fifth at TPC Sawgrass, although the fall-off is not as deep. Thick trees go down the left side. Longer hitters can hit beyond where the fairway bunker ends. The green complex is a good one with a long, thin bunker down the left side, and a beaker-shaped bunker down the right side, both set about 5 feet lower than the green. The green is angled to the right with a middle horizontal spine. Much like the tenth, balls hit into this green tend to release a bit more than one might think as the green has a subtle tilt to it.
12. Par 3 – 194/184. This is the most fun hole on the golf course. This redan hole going right to left is about 50 yards long with a wide, front bunker and a bunker on the right/back that goes the length of the green. There is a ridge/mound built as a backstop on the back right half of the green which can save one from going into the back bunker given its steepness of about 4 feet but if one goes too high up it they will gather additional speed that can cause balls to roll either nearly off the green to the left or to the front. There is a central ridge in the green as well that runs horizontal on the green that can also slow a ball but one may have to navigate that central ridge on a putt. One cannot see the bottom of the pin if it is in the middle of the green or to the left side. It is not near the list of best redans in the world, but it is a gem of a hole. From the front of the green to the tallest point of the mound is perhaps 8 feet while the bunker behind the rise looks to be 11 feet down.
13. Par 4 – 392/337. I misjudged the length of this hole thinking it played longer and therefore tried to over-cook by tee shot, ending up in with my ball clearing the pond off the tee but rolling back into it due to the slope of the land. The pond should be easily carried. There is ample room to miss down the right side even if there are trees and a bunker on the right. The bigger issue for the longer hitter is a central bunker in play off the tee as it has a raised face. The green has a bunker short right and is angled to the left with a long bunker down the left and a short one on the right side. The green has a big tilt back to front and to the left which I was able to navigate from the bunker to save bogey.
14. Par 4 – 356/347. There is room to add another 20 yards to this tee if one moves to the right. While not normally a fan of trees in the fairway, this hole features just that, a large tree more down the right side put in place in memory of a former head pro. The hole bends to the right from the Black tees, the second dogleg on the course, although it plays straight from the Blue tees. There is an early bunker down the left.and another one an additional 20 yards up on the right. Longer hitters will fly both of these bunkers. Much like the fourth, you play over a valley then uphill to the green. The green has a knob on its left side and the club has added more green to that side to add more difficulty to the hole. There is a large bunker down the right side. This hole would benefit by moving the tee left and that additional green on the left side has improved the hole.
15. Par 5 – 549/512. This hole bends to the left but not enough to make it a dogleg. Much like the previous hole, the first bunker is on the left side and the second one is another 25 yards down the right side. From there it is a nice look at the green. A bunker on the left about 100 yards from the green comes into the fairway forces one to the right where a collection of three bunkers awaits. At the green is a wide, long bunker on the left and an even wider, long bunker on the right which is shared with the seventh hole. I liked this green which is slightly angled to the left, but I thought the size of both of these two large bunkers were unnecessary and should have been reduced to half their size. There is room to add another 40-50 yards to this hole which should be done.
16. Par 4 – 435/405. This punchbowl hole is a delight. The hole features flanking bunkers off the tee with raised faces. Another 20 yards ahead is a central bunker with another raised face where getting out would be the priority. The land rises gently to the green which sits surrounded by hills about nine feet high. A bunker is built into the side of the hill on the left front. I wondered whether a bunker on the right front would have made a good hole even better to create a replication of “spectacles” at Carnoustie, although those are in the fairway and not part of a green complex. The green is steeply tilted back to front. This is one of the best visual holes on the course.
17. Par 3 – 170/160. This hole plays across a pond with the green set against the water. However, there is a bailout area on the right side where one can putt. The right front of the green has a bunker. The green is tilted back to front, more pronounced on the back half. This hole is bland and would be improved by a bunker placed in the mounds about ten yards short of the green on the left. In addition, there is no real penalty for going over this green as the land gently falls away. To increase the defense of a hole at the back one should add either a sharper and deeper fall-off, a series or irregular height mounds, or a rear bunker.
18. Par 4 – 411/387. The course ends with a good hole, somewhat reminiscent of the finishing hole at Plainfield although not quite as sharp a dogleg nor with quite the change in elevation. There is room to add another 50 yards to the back tee which would require the removal of a few trees. While this tee might be a little too close to the fairway of the tenth hole, it could be reserved for tournament play. The hole is well bunkered with three staggered bunkers set about twelve yards apart going down the right side and another one on the left where the final one on the right finishes. The green sits high above the fairway with a long bunker down the right side shared with the tenth and a smaller one on the right side. This smaller bunker creates a narrower front to the green which is angled right to left. There is a substantial back to front tilt to this green and a knob on the middle right creates additional slope away from it. The green is 55 yards long. It is an exciting finish but for the better/longer players they need the additional yardage.
I like Hackensack, even if it may not make the top twenty in the state of New Jersey. Longer and better players will likely look at a majority of the holes as potential birdie opportunities, yet the greens have enough slope to give them pause. More contouring on several greens as well as added length would benefit the course. A few of the weaker holes could have defense added to the rear of the green complexes. If this was converted to a par 70 it would be one of the more difficult course in relation to par.
For its members and the average player, this is a course that is very walkable and enjoyable. If one is in the area it is worth seeking out. The members have a fine golf course, maybe not in the same league as Ridgewood, Essex County or Mountain Ridge, but one they likely enjoy every time they play it as well as being proud to share it with their guests.
Credit the leadership of Hackensack Golf Club in realizing in the early 1990's a thorough review of the golf was needed and that a smart decision was made at that time to hire Rees Jones to do the restoration and updating of the course. Hackensack gained immeasurably and the outcome brought to life a Charles "Steam Shovel" Banks course.
While the layout is indeed bolstered -- the overall architecture is simply good -- not the compelling variety -- found at a number of the top tier courses in New Jersey. Hackensack has enough to offer and is a serious candidate for top 20 inclusion in the Garden State.
Unlike other Banks courses -- the land at Hackensack is quite mild. There's some elevation change but nothing drastic. The hole diversity is varied but there's no real series of holes that really cause the blood to stir with much anticipation. The restored Biarritz par-3 3rd hole is especially well done. The essence is clearly present but when held against the likes of a similar creation at Forsgate / Banks Course (17th hole) the one at Hackensack takes the silver but not the gold metal.
The greensites at Hackensack are appropriately contoured but nothing stand out on a consistent theme. Rees Jones has updated the bunkering and his work clearly has dusted off the cobwebs and made the course more contemporary without compromising its pedigree.
Being located in Bergen County -- Hackensack falls in the shadows of the top layout in the jurisdiction with The Ridgewood County Club in nearby Paramus leading the way. That's not a knock on Hackensack but a clear recognition of the overall design superiority found at the A.W. Tillinghast creation.
Two of the best holes at Hackensack come to close out each side. The par-4 9th is very demanding end to the outward side and requires a well-placed tee shot that avoids two fairway bunkers and also include a two-tiered putting surface.
The closing hole is no less in terms of overall strengths. Unlike the 9th which moves on a left-to-right basis -- the 18th works the other way and two fairway bunkers are included to keep one's attention. The green is elevated slightly and angled -- with a lone frontal bunker eagerly awaiting approach shots which are not played accordingly. The green is also bisected by a ridge running from front to back.
Memorability is the cornerstone of scintillating design. Hackensack is worthy of attention, however, context is pivotal in not overstating what it offers and what it conversely fails to do. The Oradell-based club clearly rises above adequacy but it cannot demonstrate a striking presence that clearly ascends the highest of steps on the competitive course ladder that defines golf in New Jersey.
by M. James Ward