Robert Trent Jones Snr and Roger Rulewich carved the twenty-seven holes at Metedeconk National Golf Club out of a dense pine forest. The “1st” and “2nd” nines comprise the original 18-hole course, though some regard the newer “3rd” nine (unveiled in 1998) as the best 9-hole circuit on the property.
This exclusive club is situated within a massive 1,200-acre property on the edge of the Pine Barrens, midway between New York and Philadelphia, and its owner, entrepreneur Richard Sambol – who built the facility as George Crump did at Pine Valley, with his own money – celebrated his club’s 25th anniversary in 2012.
One of Metedeconk’s more memorable holes is the 386-yard 7th, which bends around a hill with a bunker benched into it. Left of centre is the ideal line from the tee, allowing the best approach to an offset green that slopes towards a lovely lake. On the back nine, the 190-yard 12th is a very intimidating par three, demanding a long forced carry from the tee over a large pond.
Certainly the 27th hole embodies the spirit of Metedeconk and typically RTJ saved perhaps the toughest hole until last. This 419-yard par four doglegs right past the club’s emblematic pitch pine tree and the treacherous green is guarded by water to the front and right.
Fate smiled on in two ways at Metedeconk National. First, the weather was good during a year where seemingly so far every other day has seen heavy rain or thunderstorms. Secondly, we were scheduled to play the II and III routing, but our fourth member arrived right at our tee time due and they opened up the I tees, so we were able to play 1 and III. These tees are known as the tournament course, rated the most difficult of the three options.
While I rarely comment on anything but the golf course, the practice facilities at Metedeconk National are certainly in the top five I have ever seen. It is an expansive range with multiple teeing areas playing to at least ten greens, a large putting green, three different practice holes for chipping and bunker play as well as a stretch of grass on a tilt in order to practice shots off of uneven lies. The practice facilities looked to be nearly 35 acres.
As to the course, I found it to be very fun to play despite its reputation for difficulty. With the exception of two holes, the fairways are relatively generous, although missing the fairway can be problematic. If one strays from the fairway and beyond the rough, which is usually not very wide, they will likely encounter tree trouble. The bigger difficulty is in the green surrounds, as I found the greens relatively easy to read despite their tilts, tiers, and slants. The green surrounds can lead to a lot of awkward lies or short carries to a pin that is too near. Most balls pitched or chipped near the greens tend to run out rather than come to a reasonably quick stop. The land is primarily flat with the exception of a couple of holes. Water is sparingly used for defense and there is ample room on most holes to play away from the water. It is a nice routing with a good mixture of straight, gentle doglegs, as well as a couple of holes with a sharper turn.
With the exception of a few holes, the greens are not overly large. There were certainly times I wished they were slightly larger.
The bunkering is good, not overly done and generally in the right location and size. There is a nice mixture of both large and small greenside and fairway bunkers.
The three nines sit on well over 1200 acres with several walks over wide wooden bridges to get to the next tee. Although there are a few rises, the walk itself is very pleasant. Nearly every hole is tree-lined, although there are many holes were one can hear the noise from cars from nearby interstate 195 as well as Cedar Swamp Road. It is only those holes placed well away from these roads that are quiet. I would not classify the road noise as distracting, more as a constant low hum.
It is a course one could play over and over and enjoy, particularly since it has the third nine for additional variety. I glanced at several of the holes on the II course and the few I saw looked interesting.
The I and III tees play as a par 72, 7188 yards from the championship tees and rated 76.4/152. Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and Roger Rulewich definitely designed a tough course. From the Member tees the course is 6664 yards rated 74.0/146. The middle tees are 6089 yards rated 71.4/139 proving that length is not the primary variable for the challenge of the course. Due to recent rain, we played a combination of the member and middle tees are approximately 6400 yards for the day’s tee locations.
1. Par 4 416/388 – From an elevated tee, this is a visually attractive hole turning gently to the left. You simply cannot miss on the left or even left side of the fairway or you will likely be blocked to the green. There is a collection of two large bunkers on the left in play for the longer hitters. The hole is heavily lined by trees and is one of the thinner fairways on the course. I missed to the left. The green is angled opposite the direction of the hole, going left to right with a large fronting bunker and only a small amount of room at the front. What I did not like about the hole is the green plays downhill and is slanted away from you then moves to a higher tier which means any ball coming in over the bunker is likely to hit the downslope of the green and go over the green and perhaps even over the mound that backstops the green. This leaves a tricky downhill chip that has to be judged perfectly or one’s ball can nearly go off the front of the green. The safe play is to the front of the green which leaves a long putt. I liked the hole, but not the slopes on the green.
2. Par 3 – 2105/190/167. My caddie said this is his favorite hole on the course, but I did not understand why. It plays flat with a short grass area fronting the green. There are large flanking bunkers on either side of the first half of the green which shrinks the green’s first half to about 40% of the back half. The green has a bulge out to the back left which would be a difficult pin position. The green has a ridge where the bunkers end but the first half plays nearly without any break.
3. Par 5 – 557/537/505 – This hole has been changed from its beginning as it used to play straight with water down the left. Now, one’s approach shot needs to carry the water as the green has been placed on the other side of the long pond. Off the tee there is a bunker on the right forcing one closer to the pond on the left which pinches the fairway. But one can simply play short of the bunker if they are going for the green in three. The second shot can result in a shot typically of 110-160 yards back sharply to the left over the pond and a long irregular bunker fronting the green. This bunker is about five feet deep. The green has mounds along its long length of nearly 55 yards. Off the back of the green are two large bowls as collection areas and any shot hit over the green will likely gather in one of these two bowls leaving a tight lie about six feet below the surface of the green and likely having to carry about 2-3 feet higher over one of the mounds. The green has a lot of undulations and turns in it. It is an interesting hole because the biggest terror to the hole is not the heavy trees lining the fairway, the long pond on the left, or crossing the pond, but merely getting to the surface of the green as it is somewhat thin despite it being very long. I liked the hole. It deserves its number two index.
4. Par 4 – 436/397/353. This fairway rolls a bit with a large bunker on the left placed on slightly higher ground. Balls landing near this bunker will kick away from it. The green has long flanking bunkers with a long rise before it. The green is somewhat narrow with a spine running halfway through it. To the left side of the green is a fall-off. This hole is very fair.
5. Par 5 – 520/500 – Trees are heavy on both sides of the fairway. This hole plays almost like a fishhook to the right. A long bunker with higher rough grass is on the right, in play for the bigger hitters. The next bunker is also to the right where the turn in the fairway begins. The green sits well off to the right and is likely too far right due to the trees for many to consider going for it in two. I think a few of the trees at the turn should be removed even if it gives the longer player an advantage. The green is odd shaped for the approach shot angled opposite the fairway with a narrow back half. One needs to carry two large bunkers on the front corners. The green has a higher back left portion and fall-offs.
6. Par 3 – 190/168 – This hole plays through a channel of trees over wetlands and a creek snaking it way in the front of the green, albeit about 15 yards short of the green. There is a fronting bunker which means any shot to the hole must carry it. There is another bunker on the right side placed on a mound. The ground falls away at the front and back of the hole. The green has a rise on the right side and is tilted back to front. It is a visually attractive hole.
7. Par 4 – 397/360. This is one of my favorite green complexes on the course playing as a dogleg right with a long fairway bunker on the inner corner placed on the high point of the hole. If one does not reach the peak of the hole they will have a blind shot to a green sitting down in a bowl with a pond off the left side. There is a front bunker and a rear bunker on the right side. One can hit right of the green and a ball with pitch onto the green. The green has two tiers in it as well as slanting towards the pond. While I thought the length of the fairway bunker to be both too long and the fairway to be too narrow at the turn due to that bunker, I liked the location of the green and its surrounds.
8. Par 4 – 436/388/365. This hole plays uphill with a central fairway bunker but there is ample room to play left or right of it. The green sits well down a hole which means one less club can be hit to it as well as it is one of the few greens one can run a ball onto. For the first time there is a right side bunker that begins about 30 yards near the green that looks much closer. Another long, deep bunker goes down the left side of the green. There is a small valley before this bunker on the left. The green is long with a back half tier.
9. Par 4 – 440/397/353. This hole is a strong dogleg uphill right with the majority of the rise coming near the green. About 40 yards from the green the hole rises about 40 feet. There is a long bunker on the inner turn that I thought to be overly large. Off to the left front of the green are double bunkers but one can play away from them. The green is triangular in shape with a backstop. I was told the green used to sit another 20 yards further back and another 15 feet higher. Obviously any lay-up shot is going to result in a blind shot giving the green sits well above you. I cannot imagine this green is often hit in regulation that leaves a reasonable birdie chance.
19. Par 4 – 390/370. The III tees are numbered 19-27. Near the valet and club drop from an elevated tee this is a downhill sharp dogleg left with another large bunker on the inner corner. This might be the largest bunker on the course but there is room to play away from it. The green has a very large bunker beginning 10 yards before the green going halfway up the left as well as a large bunker on the front right. This creates a narrow opening to the green leaving nearly no chance to run a ball up. The green has mounding all around it but yet falls-off sharply after these mounds. I liked the hole.
20. Par 4 - 406/381/361 – This hole bends slightly to the left but a large bunker on the inner corner that I thought to be misplaced. The green has the hole’s second bunker on the right side creating a narrow front half of the green. Fall-offs and mounds surround the green.
21. Par 5 – 576/532/496 – Perhaps the sharpest turn in a fairway comes next as a dogleg right at the beginning of the hole. There is a large bunker that bigger hitters will carry to cut the dogleg. I played well to the left of it and nearly ran through the fairway on the other side. The hole then plays straight although it is lined with thick trees. Wetlands of perhaps 130 yards on the right side going to 80 yards on the left side then come before the green which is elevated on a plateau resulting in a semi-blind shot. The green is fronted by two bunkers and has a rise behind it creating a half bowl. If one misses the green to the left there is a sharp fall-off down to the wetlands or trees. The green is steeply banked on the back half. I hit my putt below the hole too hard but it came back down the slope and nearly went in. The green also has a vertical spine separating the halves. It is a fun hole.
22. Par 4 – 436/397/353. This is the number one index although I could not figure out why as I thought it should be in the middle. The hole plays straight and has a somewhat narrow fairway. One can catch a speed slot going down the left side of the fairway. The green is very well protected with a double bunker on the front right and a bunker on the left. The green is angled left to right and rises to the back. There are mounds surrounding two thirds of the green.
23. Par 3 – 187/166 – This hole plays downhill to a green angled to the left which brings a pond into play that goes down the entirely of the left and back of the green. There are two bunkers placed on the right well below the green but with a rise in the land behind them. The back left pin position would be very difficult. My ball found the first bunker on the right and had a downhill lie to a green running away from me. I was happy with my bogey. The hole is visually attractive but perhaps too punitive due to the size of those two bunkers.
24. Par 5 – 526/502 – It is a little confusing here as one passes another green and a fairway to a hole on the II routing. This hole plays straight but longer hitters need to either carry the wetlands/depression on the left or play out to the right. This is another near fishhook hole this time going to the left. There are two bunkers about 150 yards from the green on the right that pinch the fairway as the left side is wetlands. The green is semi-disguised on the left side as it drops away behind a fronting bunker and mound. There is a final bunker placed short of the green on the right. The back left pin positions are somewhat “sucker” locations as the better play is to the right even if this means putting down a tier to a banked green. I thought the green to be a bit too small even if in today’s game this is a short par 5.
25. Par 3 – 192/156. I felt this to be the gem of the par 3’s that we played as the hole sits in a bowl from the right and rear with a fall-off of the left side. The land is perhaps 15-20 feet high in those areas. To the right of the green are two deep bunkers placed below the hill. The smart play is short of the green or front of it even if this means a longer putt. This is both a visually appealing hole and in playing it. The back right pin position is very difficult.
26. Par 4- 438/410/365. This hole did not do much for me. It has a long bunker on the left side that squeezes the fairway followed by a fronting bunker at the green. The green’s slopes and surrounds are very good.
27. Par 4 – 451/420/380. This is another narrower fairway with the green sitting off to the left after a pond that fronts most of it other than the left side where a bunker is placed. If one is left off the tee their approach shot is likely blocked unless they have 140 yards left. The green has a lot of internal movement although the back right corner is fairly flat. It is a nice finishing hole, albeit one of the more difficult holes on the course.
One has to have a good chipping/pitching game, a good putting stroke, as well as hit the ball long and straight at Metedeconk National. They must also choose the right tees to play. I played essentially to my index, leaving six putts less than four inches short and totally messing up two chips, which to me proved the course can be played without frustration over its inherent difficulty due to the heavy trees, large bunkers, and terrific green surrounds. I had fun playing the course and as mentioned, this is a course that members will enjoy playing. I found it to be mainly fair although there are a few areas where the bunkers were either misplaced or overly large. If in the area and one has a chance to play it, they should go as it is a good golf course.
This was one of the final courses designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr. and his work here was aided by chief lieutenant Roger Rulewich. Metedeconk is located in the central area of New Jersey -- halfway between New York City and Philadelphia. When first conceived the project was truly isolated from a number of other key courses in the Garden State. That has since changed as population migration has spread -- nonetheless, the club is still an oasis away from the 24/7 clutter.
Metedeconk was built through dense woodlands and originally opened as an 18-hole layout -- later named the 1st nine and 2nd nine.
A few years later a 3rd nine was added and named accordingly. Rulewich played a major role in completing that side.
When the course first opened - the difficulty was clearly present. Trees and deep rough encroached ever so closely to the closely cropped fairways. Jones followed his philosophy mantra -- holes should be a hard par but an easy bogey.
The demand side was always present when the course opened. The woods were cleared for fairways and a small strip of dense rough on both sides was added. However, should one have a bit of issues with the driver -- the recovery side is quite problematic given the terrain encountered off the fairways. Wedging out is not a sound architectural element.
I view the combination of the 1st and 3rd nines as the two best at Metedeconk. They possess the richest mixture of hole types.
The difficulty of Metedeconk is clearly present but the broader issue is does the architecture present a compelling storyline that adds a fun element when playing? For me -- the answer is no. Difficulty per se is about rigors encountered. On that front there's no issue Metedeconk provides an unrelenting progression. Top tier architecture is a two-sided coin -- providing a rich mixture of exciting holes engaging the physical and mental side. Pushing players to dig deep into exposing shotmaking prowess and also a mental stimulation that doesn't mean a steady litany in seeing the same situation time after time.
Memorability is a fundamental aspect -- an indelible mark when the round concludes. Given the site and the manner in which the holes were created -- I find Metedeconk accomplishes the desire to be brutish -- but with little rapture engendered on the player side. Metedeconk clearly captures the stern father role but has little to provide in being the warm mother figure. For lower handicap players such a presentation may be just fine but for those not so gifted the one-way dimension may prove off-putting.
When one plays such holes as the 9th on the 1st nine or the 27th on the 3rd nine you face stout challenges on these two demanding long par-4's. Diversity of holes woven together to provide a superlative routing is needed -- less robotic with a flair for visual stimulation and strategic calculations is what provides a much more thought provoking engagement when playing.
Metedeconk is impeccably groomed and when the putting surfaces are at a swift pace -- a daily occurrence -- it's critical for players to keep approaches below the hole.
One of the real virtues when coming to Metedeconk is the 50-acre practice area -- arguably the finest in all of New Jersey. You can hit shots from all different areas so being able to face several wind directions is doable. The combination of practice targets makes for a fantastic way to get one's swing in groove.
Metedeconk should be played for those who have the time and energy but if the clock is an issue head to nearby Forsgate or Hollywood for a much more architectural dynamic presentation.
by M. James Ward