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
Date: February 26, 2017