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.
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