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 Senior Men’s Amateur Golf Championship in 2012, an event won by Paul Simson.
“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.”
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.