Founded in 1912 by a couple of prominent local Jewish businessmen who’d been refused playing privileges at nearby golf clubs, Mountain Ridge Country Club had a 9-hole course in play soon after its formation. These original nine holes were later expanded to eighteen by A.W. Tillinghast then further altered by Herbert Strong but the severely contoured site was deemed to be unsuitable for the construction of a top class golf layout.
And so, when the club acquired a 250-acre property to the north of its original location in 1929, Donald Ross was engaged to design and build a new course, one that would endure for many years to come. The architect had already created a number of notable courses in New Jersey – at Deal, Englewood (NLE), Montclair and Plainfield – so the club had a good idea of what it would get by hiring the best in the business at that time.
The two nines start in parallel but quickly separate, the outward half circling anti-clockwise, the inward half clockwise, with the closing hole on each circuit rising to the finish. The layout is configured with short, medium, and long par threes, several of Ross’s much loved par four and a half holes and one true three-shot par five.
Mountain Ridge hired Ron Prichard in 1998 to develop a restoration master plan. Ross’s original field sketches were used to locate bunkers that had been removed down the years. New back tees were added, trees removed to improve airflow and open up long views across the course, and in 2011-12 fairways were significantly widened.
Unlike many of the old master’s courses, Mountain Ridge now boasts many of its original design features and the routing remains unaltered, even though the order of the nines has been swapped around. Ron Prichard also deserves credit for his work on the greensites, reinstating lost corners.
By way of marking Mountain Ridge’s centennial and showcasing the restoration, the USGA awarded the club the honor of hosting of the 58th edition of the U.S. Senior Amateur Championship in 2012, an event won by Paul Simson.
Mountain Ridge Country Club also hosted the LPGA Founders Cup in 2021 after the event was cancelled in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Ko Jin-young claimed the
title and in doing so matched Annika Sorenstam's record of fourteen consecutive
sub-70 set by the Swede in 2005.
“Now that Plainfield is receiving its just props,” said Tom Doak in The Confidential Guide to Golf Courses, “Mountain Ridge may be the most underrated course in golf-rich New Jersey.”
One of the most vexing of issues for any golf club is when a decision is made to update the layout. This can be an opportunity -- it can also be a minefield too.
A number of clubs often leap into making "improvements" without really doing a preliminary deep-dive before going full speed ahead. Before changing anything, it pays to know the roots of a club's design right from the start. Once changes get going -- the net result can be an incoherent hodge-podge that is completely out of step.
When an architect is brought on board to do the work -- it's crucial to have one who doesn't see fit to superimpose their fingerprints on the design. This is especially critical when the genesis of the course in question come from a creator of stellar talent.
Mountain Ridge went down this road and the pathway followed has produced a high-quality end result.
Clearly, a good portion of credit must also go to the club' leadership at the Board level. The hiring of architect Ron Prichard was wise move given his clear understanding of the Ross design style. Hiring the right architect was a crucial first step in heading down the right pathway. Seeing through the entire effort -- and providing the necessary dollars to carry that out -- is always a question of staying power and Mountain Ridge was certainly up to the task needed.
Like many other clubs -- Mountain Ridge had become tree-infested. The result meant spreading canopies and the unnecessary narrowing of fairway playing corridors. There was also invasive underbrush that engulfed many of the holes and had undercut playing options.
One of the most needed corrections came with poor drainage on several of the holes occupying the western property border. In years past, a heavy rain would see the spillover of water from creeks in that area of the property and the impact could last for a bit of time. When Hurrican Ida hit the northeast a few weeks ago -- the sheer intensity of the rain resulted in flooding that covered a few of the holes -- most notably the par-4 13th. But the updating of drainage helped minimize the lingering effects of that powerful storm and all is now set for this week's playing of the Founder's event on the LPGA Tour.
Prichard brilliantly brought back to life the genius of Ross. This can be seen with the fascinating greens. In some cases, the dimensions were expanded providing for more pin locations. Prichard also was the central force in creating "new" greens at the par-3 7th, par-5 17th and par-4 18th respectively. In each of the holes mentioned, Prichard added to the versatility of the holes. In years past, the aforementioned holes were very limited as to where pin locations could be reasonably placed. Now, there are a range of options and the overall qualities elevate the golf experience immeasurably.
The main weakness of Mountain Ridge comes from similar type holes at both the par-4 1st and 10th holes. They each run parallel to one another with the practice facility separating them. Each play downhill and are fairly close to the same yardage. While they are not complete clone of one another, the need for meaningful diversity is limited. The same thing happens with the 2nd and 11th holes. In this case -- the holes go in the same direction - north to south -- and feature a blind landing area. While not of exactly the same yardage -- the diversity dimension is limited.
The four par-3 holes at Mountain Ridge are a quality quartet. The 4th seems rather straightforward but the green is truly mindboggling. Being in the wrong position on one's approach will mean a very quick three-putt. The short, but uphill 7th gained in a big-time way with a new green being created. Now, there are multiple pin positions. On the inward half the par-3 14th and 16th holes are both good but a bit less so in term of the shotmaking challenges when held against the likes of the two on the outward side.
Prichard provided a winning creation at the par-4 12th. There's a menacing creek that pushes in from the right and there are fairway bunkers that squeeze in from the left. Players have to decide if a bold or conservative play from the tee is in order. The 12th is less than 400 yards and it is one of the most memorable holes on the course.
There are only three par-5s at Mountain Ridge -- the 6th, 9th and 17th holes. For the Founders event the nines will be flipped so play will conclude on the 9th. Be forewarned any ball above the pin position at the 9th encounters one of the most frightening situations as the green is considerably banked and those left with sidehill putts will need to provide for sufficient burrow and speed to reap a reward. Putting off the 9th is never out of the question.
As was done at the 7th, Prichard created a much more dynamic green at the 17th. The previous green was fairly straightforward but rather limited in terms of different pin locations. The new green is superb -- internal contours require a deft touch with one's approach. When the pin is cut in the far-right corner it appears to be totally protected by a greenside bunker on that side.
The ending hole at Mountain Ridge had much internal discussion at the club. The dog-leg right par-4 had a large tree at the inside corner of the hole and any tee shot coming near it would need to somehow figure a way to bypass it. The tree was planted many years ago and, as a result, had a built-in support audience that did not want it to be removed. The tree was not envisioned in the original design by Ross and the putting green was also handcuffed by major back-to-front slope that provided only a few pin positions.
The lone tree in question was removed -- as were others on both sides. Fairway bunkers were added so that players have to carry a tee shot in the range of 280 yards to secure the most ideal approach angle. To protect the right side of the hole a series of perpendicular grass bunkers were included. Balls that find this location will pay a steep price as the rough grass is gnarly and lends itself to a wide assortment of lies that are hardly user-friendly. Prichard smartly recontoured the 18th green so that additional pin positions can be used. The 18th at Mountain Ridge ends the day in grand style.
The superb Clifford Wendehack clubhouse elegantly looks down upon the course and the structure gloriously adds to the experience when on property. The club also wisely improved its practice facility -- a double-sided area sufficiently wide and deep enough to handle the needs of its membership.
Is Mountain Ridge a top ten course in the Garden State? Tough question. The competitive nature of New Jersey golf is certainly present and securing a position in such a high grouping is no small feat. It is, however, a legitimate contender. In years past when the name Donald Ross and New Jersey were mentioned together -- the connection shined a spotlight on the qualities of Plainfield CC. Mountain Ridge has now elevated itself into that conversation.
The desire by clubs to bring back to life the inherent qualities they possess is a situation being pursued by a number of clubs. The Ross design at Mountain Ridge is truly inspiring from the moment when one arrives at the 1st tee. The glorious panorama highlights a number of holes to be played. Prichard eliminated all the mindless clutter so that the inherent character of the property now truly shines.
It's also crucial to congratulate the superintendent and grounds crew for the detailed presentation. Tee pads are exquisitely prepared. Fairways cut tight and turf firm for a reasonable ground game option. The putting greens provide for a myriad of internal puzzles to be deciphered. There are also a number of closely mown chipping areas just off a number of the putting surfaces. The bunkering is now totally in sync with the Ross style with a strategic basis that's front and center.
The playing of the Founders event this week will shed considerable light on the qualities of Mountain Ridge to a far wider audience in the club's history. Viewers will be amazed at how marvelous the layout is and what a test of golf it will be for the best women players in the sport.
Mountain Ridge is on the move.
Images courtesy of Evan Schiller Photography.
M. James Ward
Overlooked tri state area golf course, but holds up to most and is not far behind the likes of somerset, winged foot, Quaker, baltustrol and is in a dead heat with Plainfield, Hollywood, the creek, piping rock, etc. The restoration, tree, and bunker work over the past decade make this course visually stunning and very playable.
Couple average holes on the front with 3,5, and 7 but the holes in between make up for what they are lacking and a solid close on the front with 8 and 9.
Back 9 is special besides 16 which feels forced, but again you forget about it quickly with the strategic par 5 17. 18 is one of top closing holes you will find anywhere.
Getting noticed in the top 100 and deserves to be there.
What’s to say that isn’t already said about MRCC? From the stunning layout to the views, to the clubhouse, to each hole this course has it all! The LPGA will be here in four months and they are in for a treat! This is easily a top 10 golf course in NJ if not a top 5. I was particularly surprised with the size of each green complex and how well hidden some of the false edges were from the approach. This course deserves national attention and it is likely to receive it once the LPGA validates the GOLF Top 100 course rating from last fall.
This fabled Donald Ross layout has existed on its current property since 1929. Over the past years, Ron Prichard has renovated much of the layout with exquisite results. I was invited to an outing last week where Mr. Prichard served as the guest of honour, and he followed players around the course explaining his work across the land. Experts from the Donald Ross Society were whispering that this might now be Ross’ best course in New Jersey, which will perk your attention when you consider the likes of globally heralded Plainfield CC being in the conversation. I’ll wait with bated breath as to what the various panels will say.
The two loops of nine begin with a downhill par 4, with holes 1 and 10 being parallel to each (separated by the range). Ironically, holes 2 and 11 both play southwest parallel to each other. This is where the relative comparison of the two nines ends, as each takes on a personality and direction of its own. The short par 4 3rd hole takes you to the Western corner of the property before you turn around and play holes 4, 5 and 6 that take you all the way to the southeastern segment of the course. Prichard’s contributions continue to shine on the front side with the addition of a small punchbowl area at the par 5 6th green, plus the fabulous chipping area off the back of the par 3 7th. The uphill par 3 7th hole has one of the most beautiful putting greens with slopes and spines that emanate from the adjacent hills that surround the green. The long downhill 8th hole plays as the hardest hole on the outward nine, before you turn around again and play the uphill par 5 9th with the most difficult (pitched) green on the course. The back to front nature of the Ross greens is alive and well at Mountain Ridge.
The back nine has more character to it in terms of playing over creeks / ponds, more enjoyable dog-legs, and approach shots with more interesting angles – especially holes 12 and 18. The back nine heads anti-clockwise, and then the closing stretch unwinds clockwise around the property’s perimeter. The 17th and 18th move from left to right. Progressive and significant tree removal has done wonders for the health and visual enjoyment of this course. Prichard’s masterful renovation is a resounding success.
Public Service Corporation of New Jersey was the unlikely patron of the current Mountain Ridge golf course. The original course was located on a very hilly—and quite unsatisfactory—piece of property in West Orange. The members wished to move the club to the current location in the early 20s, but could find no purchaser of their original property. Until, that is, PSNJ bought the original property for a power distribution facility, providing the capital for the members to purchase the current property in nearby West Caldwell.
That property provided a lovely canvas on which Donald Ross painted 18 lovely golf holes. The land slopes gently down to a flatter area where the majority (11) of the holes are located and the final holes of each nine climb the hill to the clubhouse. Ross’s two 9 hole loops allowed him to direct his holes in all different directions, with no consecutive pair running in the same direction. Ross’s undulating greens and open front greens are very much in evidence here. Ron Prichard’s restoration work has done a fine job of featuring the original design.
One controversial feature is the huge tree that sits at the corner of the dogleg on the uphill 18th. Players landing in the right side of the fairway may find their second shot blocked out completely. While some find this unfair, others take the position that this is just another obstacle to be avoided.
Behind the final green sits one of the most beautiful clubhouses in the game, the work of Clifford Wendehack, whose canon includes the clubhouses at Bethpage, Winged Foot and Ridgewood. My view is that Wendehack’s work here is his best. And while Mountain Ridge’s golf course is not quite in the same league as the foregoing three, it’s not far behind.