Nick nominated Morris County Golf Club as a Gem and we added it to our New Jersey pages in November 2010. Nick’s comments are as follows:
“This is a great old school Seth Raynor design. Comprising some of the finest green complexes I have ever putted on, a superb collection of short holes, blind shots, elevation changes and out and out an extremely interesting make up of holes. I feel it would be very worthy of an inclusion in your gems section.”According to Daniel Wexler’s The American Private Golf Club Guide, Morris County was “founded in 1894 as a women-only club. Morris County hosted the 1896 US Women’s Amateur before being co-opted by the husbands – and hosting the men’s version two years later. The club hired Seth Raynor to build an entirely new course in 1916 which, after years of minor tweaking by lesser architects, was largely restored by Ron Prichard in 2001.”
Maybe the best Raynor course you’ve never played or heard of, because again, it doesn’t flirt with mainstream media that salivates over the usual Raynor/MacDonald suspects. The same could be said of the clubs of Westhampton or Southampton in the heavy hitting geography in eastern Long Island.
The course is beautifully routed across a heaving topography that rises and falls like the nearby Manhattan skyline. There’s no shortage of ‘wow’ moments. I am fortunate to know the Head Superintendent who set up my game, and was even luckier that he gave me a detailed briefing of the course before we teed off.
The course doesn’t wait a single second to impress. Right from the first fairway you behold a majestic presentation of golf which was established in 1916. I really loved how the course offers so many delightful vantage points to cast your eyes across the entire property and spot the renowned template holes shining under the sun.
I am always a fan of the ‘Punchbowl’, but this one was very special. It plays as a par 5 over a big hill and then tumbles down into a huge bowl. Furthermore, the one-shot 13th hole Reverse Redan is magnificently presented and preserved – and a world-beater in its own right.
As with many holes at Morris County, a camera does not do the place justice. I was intrigued all the way around and was really taken aback by the changes in elevation without feeling that anything was too severe. What an underrated under appreciated golf course that oozes with quality. It even has a par 4 named ‘Gibralter’ which caught my attention when I first saw the scorecard. The images of the par 3 10th hole at Moortown Golf Club came into my head. It was yet another example of a hole that found the perfect spot on this glorious canvas.
From start to finish, I really enjoyed this course and can’t wait to go back.
Morris County Golf Club is an often overlooked course few outside a 50-mile radius may even be aware of its existence although its place in the development of the game in America is well documented.
The course came into being primarily as a women's club -- truly beyond its times.
The quality of the course was also good enough to attract early USGA Championships -- hosting the Women's Amateur twice as well as the Men's Amateur.
Located on 150 acres of land -- the present course dates back to 1916. While credited as a Seth Raynor design -- there has been speculation of a possible involvement from the "father of American golf" -- Charles Blair Macdonald -- the brainchild of such iconic courses as Chicago Golf Club and The National Golf Links of America.
Morris County is a tale of three parts when playing. The first six holes consist of mainly short holes with interesting green sites that are quite varied. In addition, Morris County is blessed with rolling land - providing for ball movement upon landing and in adding a wide variety of different stances through the round. The key to scoring at Morris County is based on how well one can start your round.
Things change noticeably in the next six-hole sequence.
The 7th hole -- named "Big Ben" -- is one of the metro NY / NJ metro area's most fascinating holes. The tee shot is blind -- over a rise flanked by tall trees. Be mindful in going too far right as out-of-bounds lurks. Should a player hit accurately and with sufficient distance -- one's ball can hit the far downslope and gain appreciably more distance. The unknown is always an issue at the 7th -- no matter how many times one plays the hole. The approach is to a green surrounded in the rear area by several bunkers. The green is set in a partial bowl so any misses to either side will mean an exacting recovery is needed.
The 8th is another superb mid-length par-4 of 420 yards. Here you have to work one's tee shot from right-to-left as the hole keeps turning left in the drive zone. There is a solitary right fairway bunker and it pays not to over-hook one's ball as trees defend that side quite well.
The 9th concludes the outward nine -- another strong par-4 of 447 yards. The terrain is uneven in the fairway landing area which is best played with a slight fade from the tee and the approach is to a deliciously elevated target. Getting close in two shots is clearly an exercise in top tier shotmaking.
The inward nine begins with another top tier par-4 -- usually played into the prevailing wind with a green that's well-contoured.
The 11th and 12th holes are a short par-5 and par-4 respectively -- providing a good opportunity for the player to recover the shots lost over the last four holes.
The final six holes feature three par-3 holes in the mixture -- beginning with the reverse Redan par-3 13th. The green is set on angle from the tee and when the pin is cut to the far right be ever mindful of the series of bunkers that lurk nearby. The 14th is a solid mid-length par-4 -- dog-legging right and having a small green that features an array of subtle twists and turns.
Morris County concludes with a beautiful ending hole -- a 412-yard par-4. The drive is partially blind and the hole sweeps to the left -- a pond awaits those who over-hook or pull their tee shots. The putting surface is wonderfully placed -- tress flanking both sides with the green being especially deep in length so proper yardage is essential.
From an architectural perspective Morris County provides a range of top tier moments. Length is important but placement and knowing how to shape shots whenever called upon is even more crucial.The course is eminently walkable as tees and greens are placed nearby to one another.
As I mentioned at the outset -- Morris County is located in a golf rich environment -- the competition especially keen. Thankfully, the club has shown a strong desire not to tinker with what was originally provided. Sadly, too many clubs have seen fit to add inordinate length and to alter beyond recognition the characteristics of the greens they have. I hate to use the terms "hidden gem" or "sleeper" because they are far too often bandied about to lose their meaning.
While Morris County doesn't have the goods to be among the Garden States top ten courses -- the course shows fun golf - not the tedious slog predictable type -- is still very much alive and well.
This Jersey jewel still sparkles.
by M. James Ward
Typical of the wealth of top class golf courses in the New York Metroploitan area that if you were place Morris County next to any regional town in the British isles or Continental Europe and it would gain far reaching recognition. The course lies in the heart of Morris county, a suburb of New York home to the same clientel as places like Westchester or Grenwich but without all the glitz and attention. The club itself is very much in the "Country Club" mould, complete with Tennis courts and swimming pool. For a first time visitor this type of setup can be imposing when you go to meet someone at "the club", but in reality these are places where people go to relax and enjoy themselves and once you become accustomed to their way of life you quickly realise that they serve a wonderful purpose in American society.
The entrance road takes you up a hill alongside the driving range, where you hit invitingly downhill towards a Beautiful Oak forest. Morris county was the first course I played on American Soil and I the views people held on it were mixed, ranging from "tricked up" to "the best course you have never heard of". As always I approached the course with an open mind and as soon as I reached the First fairway I knew I wasnt going to be disappointed. Firm fast running greens, exciting undulating fairways, blind approaches, sharp doglegs, up hill, down hill, this place had everything. It reminded me of a course from back home coupled with American styled conditioning.
The first is a great little opener, a short drive and flick par 4, but the green sets the tone for the remainder of the day, for it is dangerously sloping from back to front and can offer some great hole locations which I am sure have tempted many a golfer to walk back and start again. The second continues in this trend a par five, with a both a blind drive and a blind second shot, to a green that repels only a sweetly struck shot. The third is one of my favourite types of Par 3, a mere 120 yards to a tiny green sloping from back to front on an elevated piece of ground surrounded by sand on all sides. The finish to the front nine 6-9 are all terrific holes and to play this stretch in even par the golfer needs to be on the top of his game.
The back nine eases the golfer back into himself and holes 10-14 offer some great birdie chances for the player, having survived the rigours of the front nine and also in preparation for what lies ahead. For the last 4 test examine the player in every aspect of his game ensuring only the mentally and physically strong will post a number at Morris Co. 15 is a bear of a par 3, nearly 240 yards, where the only saving grace is a beautiful Raynor version of the McDonalds punchbowl green, which gathers shots struck into the right area. 16 is an extremely tough par 4 where the challenge only begins from the fairway, another challenging green where only an exacting iron shot of the highest quality will hold the surface. 17 is a cracking short hole, where again the player can easily hit the green and walk off with a 4 not having done much wrong, such is the severity of the slopes if you fail to find the correct levels. If 15 was Raynor's version of a punchbowl, then 18 is his cape hole, the sensible drive is to the top of the hill before the large lake before playing into a large green beautifully framed by tall trees, my kind of finishing hole, the type where a player can make a score or easily run up a big number.
Morris County is a place I fell in love with from the very moment I set foot on the property. The atmosphere among the members of the club is teriffic, with a real appreciation of "golf" being properly harvested among the members. People say it is tricked up and I will admit the greens when they get their speed up can frustrate even the classiest putter, but here as at St Andrews they are the defence and Raynor's throwback to old school design here is refreshing and a privielege. And although it will forever be known as a hidden gem in people's eyes the members can rest quietly confident that they possess a course that can stand alongside any and hold its own