This year marks the 125th anniversary of Montclair Golf Club and the storied history extends back to when golf developed a lasting toehold in Northern New Jersey and throughout the greater New York metro area. How good is the course? On several occasions Montclair has served as a US Open sectional qualifying site. In 1973 the USGA Women's Amateur was played here and 12 years later the Men's Amateur was hosted. All of the key regional state events have at one time come to Montclair.
Few clubs are blessed to have such a rich design pedigree -- with 27 holes the handiwork of Donald Ross and nine holes from the very much underrated architect Charles "steam shovel" Banks. The steam shovel tag came because Banks often excavated large amounts of soil in order to create massive bunkers flanking the greens he designed.
Montclair is on the slope of a major hill -- the elevation change is in the neighborhood of 250 feet. The quick look at the scorecard may lead many golfers to believe the course is not particularly stout as the total length is just over 6,500 yards. Don't be fooled by those numbers because the strength of the course is the varied and perplexing putting greens. When pushed to the max the greens can inflict major harm on all players who fail to heed their vexing contours. There's a clear admonition all players should heed -- never miss a green long at Montclair because the likelihood in securing an escape is utterly remote.
The Second Nine by Ross starts with a series of three quality holes. The first, a long par-5, plunges downhill and is framed with several bunkers -- one of which is located in the center of the fairway. Strong hitters who keep their ball on the short grass can get home in two blows but the approach must be well struck and avoid finishing to either the right or left of the green. The 2nd is a quality par-3 that plays much longer than the stated distance because of the elevation. The green is a quick reminder that any ball finishing beyond pin high will need all the savvy a player can muster in order to walk away with a par. The downhill long par-4 3rd that follows shows the brilliance of Ross as there's no bunkers for the entire hole but the green provides a quality defense with fall-offs for those unable to string two quality shots back-to-back.
The short par-4 4th appears to be a pedestrian drive and pitch hole and truly the absence of length is more than made up by a green that is sloped noticeably. Heaven pray for those who are left with longish sidehill putts -- escaping with a three-putt can seem like a hard earned victory.
The outward side concludes with a demanding mid-length par-4 -- playing uphill to another challenging green. While the distance says 396 yards, the effective yardage often requires an additional 1-2 clubs.
The Fourth Nine at Montclair commences as well with a par-5, however, the downhill turning left hole tempts the bold play off the tee. For those successful in getting a drive far down the hill -- you're left with a fascinating approach to a bowl-shaped green. When the pin is cut tight to the front of the bowl it takes a deft touch to have one's golf ball stay nearby. The 2nd hole is an outstanding long par-4. Long hitters will opt for less than driver as a pond is ready to catch those who are too bold. The green is another gem -- well-protected by a solitary front left bunker to a green that has an array of different movements. At the 3rd you encounter a Redan-like par-3 playing 217 yards. The tilt of the green is not as pronounced as the 2nd at NJ's Somerset Hills but it's pivotal that club selection be spot on to secure a par. Banks continues his masterful contribution at the uphill dog-left par-4 4th. Listed at 413 yards the hole plays longer than the stated distance. The green is another gem with a range of internal movements. A cavalier approach will likely mean a three-putt or worse.
The Fourth Nine concludes with a quality dog-leg right par-4 of 440 yards. It's likely the least impacted hole in terms of any grade changes but the need to work the ball left-to-right off the tee is an essential element to bolster one's opportunity to make par or potentially birdie.
The Ross and Banks Nines accentuate constant attention to positioning one's golf ball at all times. If green speeds are kept at reasonable levels the spirit of the game is entirely appropriate. No question, the overall elevation changes impact club selection to a large degree but if one is having a difficult time with your short game or flatstick you can be sure Montclair will eat you alive faster than the fictional character Hannibal Lecter.
by M. James Ward
Date: February 26, 2018