The Knoll Golf Club features two 18-hole routings; the West course designed by Charles Banks and the East course, added 30 years later by Hal Purdy. Although the latter is totally public, the former also offers a limited number of tee times to unaccompanied visitors.
Banks was an acolyte of Seth Raynor, and accordingly brought the template style to multiple courses across New Jersey. Among the most popular of those templates featured at Knoll West are No. 6, a “Short,” and No. 13, a “Biarritz” (it’s worth noting that the latter features only the second plateau cut at green height...with the exception of Yale Golf Club, this is actually how Raynor intended the curious hole to be maintained).
This course also shares something with Blue Mound Golf Club in that it features a double set of “Redan” holes; the No. 3 par three plays in the traditional Redan style, while the closing par four also features a Redan-style green set high above a deep bunker. If traditional Redan holes give you fits, consider the difficulty in playing a par four measuring 440 yards that ends with such a green. A centerline bunker in the fairway does no favors.
The pedigree of Knoll (West) is clearly first with the handiwork of Charles "steam shovel" Banks leading the way. The genesis of the club was to be a truly private club of the highest order. Sadly, the timing of the club's creation was just before the full impact of The Great Depression hit America and the world with full impact.
The genius of Banks is still evident but the facility has failed to really do anything that can bring to life so many more design elements that simply vanished over the many years since its opening.
Before his death several years ago, George Bahto was likely the most knowledgeable person on the planet regarding the lives and times of Charles Blair Macdonald, the father of American golf and his two protégés -- Seth Raynor and Charles Banks. Bahto, a Jersey resident who lived nearby, truly loved Knoll (West) and had attempted over many years to convince the powers-that-be on how to reinvigorate the layout. A small number of efforts did see fruition but the reputation of the club owes more to its rich legacy than to where matters stand today.
The opening trio of holes is still first rate. Banks was masterful in creating large sweeping contours on the putting surfaces. The par-4 2nd is simply a superb hole with a green that provides no less than three sections. Failure to land one's approach to the correct side will mean a swift three-putt -- and maybe even more! The slightly downhill par-3 3rd is a redan-like hole and it too has a challenging green to both hit and hold.
Knoll (West) still has drainage issues in parts of the property and sadly, the firmness of the turf has been compromised by overdosing the property with too much water. A number of the greens often require a hefty shoulder turn to propel one's ball to the cup when on the greens.
The Biarritz par-3 13th is still a fun to play and the closing hole still is magnificent but because of improvements in club and ball technology doesn't present the requisite fear factor that it did in earlier times. It's too bad Bahto was not given the green light a number of years ago. The bones are most certainly present at Knoll (West) but the body needs a considerable makeover because if that should ever happen the total elements would be nothing less than stupendous. Sadly, that's more "what might be" rather than "what is."
by M. James Ward