Plainfield Country Club was first established in 1890 so is one of the oldest clubs in America. Redesigned in 1921 by Donald Ross, Plainfield played host to the 1978 US Amateur Championship and the US Women’s Open in 1987.
Land was acquired in the 1930s which facilitated the expansion of Plainfield enabling the construction of new holes from 13 to 15. Some felt these holes failed to blend with the rest, so they were included in a package of items that were fixed by the Gil Hanse design team when they began restorative work in 2000. Other identified areas of restoration were tree removal, fairway repositioning, bunker restoration and enlargement of the greens.
Plainfield is now a more open course, though some trees still remain, with bunkering containing beautiful soft, white sand. There are many strong holes on both loops of nine holes but one on each nine really stands out. First of all, the 460-yard, par four 7th is the favourite hole of many golfers who relish the challenge of carrying a bunker complex cut into a ridge in front of the punchbowl green. The signature hole is the 585-yard, par five 12th (which was a shorter hole before the changes in the 1930s) where a snaking drainage ditch bisects the fairway then runs up the left of the green.
The name Plainfield is understated and perhaps suggests an ordinary run-of-the-mill layout but we can assure you, plain it is not. Plainfield is a rather eccentric, traditional old course where blind drives and blind approaches hark back to yesteryear. Plainfield in an interesting course that not only deserves its place in the national Top 100 but also the return of top-flight golf.
In 2011, following Gil Hanse’s extensive restoration programme, Plainfield Country Club was selected to host The Barclays, a tournament that has sported six different names since Jack Nicklaus won the inaugural Westchester Classic at the Westchester County Club in 1967. The 2011 Barclays got off to a shaky start when an earthquake measuring 5.9 on the Richter Scale struck northern Virginia and was felt by players practising on Tuesday. Later that the week, the PGA Tour announced that the event would be shortened from 72 to 54 holes due to the impending threat of Hurricane Irene. However, neither earthquake or hurricane would prevent Dustin Johnson from winning The Barclays on Saturday by two shots from compatriot Matt Kuchar.
The Barclays returned to Plainfield in 2015 and Jason Day followed up his recent victory in the US PGA to record his fourth win of the season. The headlines however were grabbed by Brian Harman who carded to two holes-in-one at the 3rd and 14th in his final round at The Barclays.
This course is among the shortlist of Ross’ best work in the US. It is immensely enjoyable for the membership and provides a significant challenge for the PGA Tour when the layout is periodically used. I first played here around 2008, but the dramatic improvements in recent times by Gil Hanse have taken the course to a whole new level. My group discussed how incomparable certain areas of the course had become since 2008 – almost unrecognisable. Gil’s talent with shaping the turf and the bunkers is arguably the best in the world. The phrase “work of art” gets thrown around a lot, but in this course, I couldn’t think of a better description for the results. His skills are in such high demand and the outcome at Plainfield has not only improved the design of the holes, but the entire property is oozing with good health. Abundant tree clearance is the obvious place to start, the club certainly did plenty of this in all the right places. The return visit was a well needed reminder of just how enjoyable the topography is across the course. Right from the first fairway, you experience the rise and fall of the many ridges that navigate the property, and it’s a celebration of Donald Ross’ routing skills to have discovered such a pleasurable walk. Landing areas are hidden, greens are pitched back to front and raised up to challenge your short game – and notably, all the bunkers are relevant again. On the front side, the course gets off to a rapturous start with the 1st and 2nd holes being tough par 4s with winding fairways and tremendously difficult greens to hit in regulation, and then to putt on! The course will test your ability to hit great tee shots using the land to your advantage, otherwise the thick rough will make its presence felt. The 9th hole continues to be a personal favourite as I truly love the visual of the bunkers guarding the raised green with the house in the background. On the back nine, the devilish highlight comes at the treacherous short par 3 11th hole with one of the most punishing false fronts you could imagine on a tee shot that you’ll think about literally all day long. Once again, it’s just one of the countless examples to support the argument that you don’t need length to make a golf course difficult. Some modern-day courses didn’t get that memo unfortunately. The stretch of 12-15 are generally considered the more straightforward holes on flatter topography and don’t possess the same landscape that is enjoyed elsewhere on the property. The drainage, however, is significantly improved on this part of the course which is of enormous benefit to the condition of the routing. The fabulous final 3 holes quickly climb up the turbulent tumbling hills and really identify the best players. I just absolutely love this golf course and am so happy to have seen it in prime condition. In addition to renovating the golf course, the club also made an incredible investment upgrading the magnificent clubhouse and practice ground. It is a top-class facility and every member is blessed beyond words to call this place home. Once again, the state of New Jersey packs a big punch with world class golf.
Played on the 31st of August in a perfect cool and sunny day. Course was in great shape with perfect very large fairways, very fast greens and a quite hard rough. Liked very much the piece of land and the layout. It played quite long and the greens were very tough also considering their big size and their incredible slope. Placing the ball on the right place of the green is of paramount importance to avoid three puts. All holes were fun and did not find any weak one. The second nine maybe a little better than the first nine with the last three holes quite magnificient.
New Jersey is 47th among all States in America in terms of overall size -- but when the golf side is measured it easily ranks among the top ten in terms of overall quality. Much of that reputation for many is centered on two specific courses -- the iconic Pine Valley in the southern half -- and Baltusrol in the northern tier.
Yet, the attention the Garden State should receive is obscured by the array of equally top tier courses situated just across the Hudson and Delaware Rivers in the New York City and Philadelphia areas respectively.
Internally, NJ has a number of stellar courses -- several of which merit national attention -- among the most notable is Plainfield Country Club. The master architect Donald Ross was blessed with a quality piece of topography. I've opined when courses are reviewed the key item meriting special attention is the land the course occupies. In my mind, that element makes up no less than 50-60% of the total equation. Mother Nature has no equal when it comes to creating land forms of special note and Plainfield is rich in this regard. When having the qualities of such land in the hand of such maestro designer like Ross the net result is beautiful golf music of the highest order.
But, over the course of a number of year the greatness at Plainfield needed to be brought back to life. A thorough development of a master plan was formulated by architect Gil Hanse -- arguably the most sought after architect in golf today with his design of the venue for the Summer Olympics and his masterful updating of the classic Dick Wilson design at Doral / Blue. Trees, narrow fairways and the insertion of heavy rough had been allowed to overstate their role -- thereby undercutting the fundamental character Ross originally created.
Interestingly, before Hanse's career escalated his skill in bringing back to life classic courses was well received and in great demand with such efforts in the metro section with the likes of Winged Foot, Quaker Ridge, Sleepy Hollow, The Creek, Fisher's Island, to name just a few in The Empire State and with efforts at Essex County and Ridgewood in NJ.
You see the results immediately when stepping on the 1st tee at Plainfield. Prior to Hanse's involvement the hole had been enveloped with heavy rough -- the grass effectively blocking out an entrance way to a distant left fairway bunker. The opener at Plainfield now is the equal of any course in America. The land appears like a giant wave in the ocean -- creating both anticipation and nervousness as you prepare to hit your opening shot of the day. Playing 432 yards the hole requires a healthy connection between distance and accuracy. Out-of-bounds does push in from the right side so swinging wildly provides swift punishment. The majesty of the hole comes into full being with a superb putting complex -- one of a number found at Plainfield. The green tilts noticeably from back to front and there are falloff areas cut to fairway height that will propel an approach away from the intended target. Inane trees planted years ago behind the green were smartly removed -- thereby eliminating depth perception aiding the player.
The same holds true with the even longer par-4 2nd. Played from an elevated tee the fairway slides downhill with two protecting bunkers on the left side. The green is a turtle back green fortified by a brilliant false front that ably rejects approach shots not well-executed. The routing Ross used takes the golfer to all corners of the property and it is the short holes which are woven into the layout which are quite striking. The uphill short par-4 4th plays 326 yards and is exceptional. The tee shot goes uphill with a trio of bunkers protecting the preferred left side of the fairway. The player must decide how aggressive the line of attack must be.
At the 471-yard par-4 7th you face a clever green design which runs away from the player on the approach. At the uphill 8th you face a challenging tee shot -- the hole plays as a par-5 for members but a long par-4 in championship play.
The inward half of holes commences with a solid mid-length par-4 of 411 yards. At the tee you face a blind shot which goes over a rise. During the 1960-70's a pond was added to the right and it clearly was not in keeping with the Ross design. A restored creek is back where it was originally and it adds a perfectly placed foil for those attempting to shorten the hole by playing down that side. The hole is a short pitch but the green is angled nicely and the green is perilously quick if you get above the hole.
The short par-3 11th at 148 yards is simply a delicious hole. A short pitch is all that is needed but the need for utter precision is mandatory. The green is sloped severely from back to front with a menacing false front for any approach lacking clear conviction.
At the long par-5 12th you encounter one of the best risk/reward holes in the metro area. Originally the hole was a long par-4 and par-3 before being changed. The 12th features a blind tee shot and those players able to hit long and straight can gain additional yardage by a downslope. Once getting to the fairway you face additional choices. A bedeviling creek winds its way into the mixture. The player can either play to the right and leave a short pitch or attempt to go for the green directly with the creek cutting just to the left of the putting surface. To add to the elements -- Ross smartly provided an internal spine added on the putting surface -- splitting the back right and left areas.
The next three holes were later added by Ross in 1931 when the club opted to forego the original 17th and 18th holes for what is today the practice area. The 13th thru 15th is part of what is called "the tunnel holes" for the sequestered areas in which they occupy. Of particular note is the daunting long part-3 14th -- playing 228 yards with a lurking frontal pond that must be cleared. I have always believed the "new" holes Ross added were solid in their shotmaking requirements but devoid of the land elements found elsewhere on the property.
The 2nd par-5 on the inner half of holes is also well done. The 16th at 582 yards is bolstered by a series of cross bunkers which are serious impediments to cross should one's tee shot find the rough. The hole is again strengthened by a demanding green providing plenty of slope and internal contours. The par-4 17th at 427 yards features another blind tee shot to a tight landing area -- protected ably by out-of-bounds right and deep dense rough left. The green sits high above the fairway and judging the correct distance is difficult because surrounding trees in the rear areas were rightly removed putting more pressure on players correctly selecting the right approach club.
The closing hole at Plainfield has been helped considerably in its restorative presentation. The dog-leg left hole play just over 400 yards and a slew of trees down the left side were smartly removed. Players have to decide whether to be aggressive with their line of play. Those doing so can shorten the hole considerably. The green is one of the best at Plainfield -- tilted towards the front with a series of bold movements that will clearly inflict their pain for the golfer with the shakiest of methods. I find the closing hole at Plainfield better than what was there previously but it doesn't have the concluding aura such a superb course should rightly have. In many ways it reminds of me what one finds at the concluding hole at Cypress Point.
Plainfield is no stranger to high level competition. Hosting such USGA events as the '78 Amateur, the '87 Women's Open and twice staging the former Barclays event -- now called The Northern Trust event -- as part of the FedEx Playoffs on the PGA Tour -- has clearly placed the course in front of a broader golf audience. A future Northern Trust event is planned for 2020.
The leadership at Plainfield should be rightly praised in moving ahead with a restoration effort that clearly brought out of the shadows the many exquisite elements such a glorious site possesses. Ross clearly saw the potential and his work was keenly re-established through the hands-on efforts of Hanse and his skilled team. Plainfield has added much to the reputation of the Garden State. Those who viewed the State simply as the home of Pine Valley and Baltusrol will be doing themselves a clear disservice in not searching out a number of other courses that call New Jersey home. Plainfield is most certainly a major chapter and no footnote by any means.
By M. James Ward
On a chilly November day a few years ago, Scott Paris’s phone rang. On the other end was Gil Hanse. “You have to come out to the eighth green,” the architect told Plainfield’s Director of Golf. “I’ve just uncovered a Donald Ross bunker.” Hired in 1999 to restore the course, the then unknown Hanse proceeded slowly at first, recognizing that the changes (starting with tree removal that eventually resulted in 1200 fewer trees) would be controversial. Over time it became apparent that his work—such as that restored bunker on number eight—was a definite improvement. Now complete, Hanse’s effort included restoration of over 100 bunkers, expansion of half the greens (all to their original size and shape), new tees on 14 of the holes, and restoration of chipping areas and fescue.
Ross’s routing remains intact, though the nines have been flipped around. With the exception of a 50 yard walk around the 8th green to get to the second tee, the routing flows quite smoothly and Ross managed to site at least four holes in each of four different directions. There is an area where five holes parallel each other: 5, 7, 8, 12 and 16, but only two (7 and 8) are played consecutively.
The result is a course is a course that holds its own with most any other in the U.S. The line of charm, strategically placed hazards (mostly bunkers, but water is in play on three holes) running approaches, dastardly contoured greens—it’s all here. Moreover, it’s a course that has shown it can challenge the best in the world (as it will again in 2020) while also providing a delightful day-to-day experience for far less skillful players. Conditioning is another strong suit here: my most recent round followed a three day PGA Sectional event. The greens read 13 on my stimpmeter……..and they hadn’t been cut that day.
Plainfield is great fun……and one of my dozen U.S. favorites.
Once you set foot on the property,you feel as if you are in a different world. Beautiful Practice facilities, friendly staff, impeccably kept grounds. One thing I heard about Plainfield was that the memebrship there was one of the most welcoming and down to earth bunches of people one would ever meet, no air or graces, traditional, old school and just happy to be out playing golf and enjoying themselves. I experienced this first hand as the day I was to play myself and my travelling companion got split up and as a result I was paired by the starter with three members. This is something I never have a problem with, it's great to meet new people and share golfing experiences. The three people I played with at Plainfield Dick (a club stalwart) Linda (Ladies Club Champ) and her husband Mark (a real genuine nice guy), affirmed all I had heard about Plainfield and its members.
To sum the course up in a nutshell, the single word I would use is "Fun", in the same way as Somerset Hills keeps testing the player, Plainfield does the same, whether it be slick greens table top greens, thrilling design features like fescue mounding, sharp changes in elevation,blind shots etc. At Plainfield Ross just keeps the player guessing. One of the many problems that have surfaced in recent years in relation to Ross courses is the overplanting of trees, which (remember Ross was scottish... Dornoch) were never intended to be an element of his courses. As was done at Oakmont, here under the supervision of Gill Hanse the members decided to restore the course to its origins and remove over 1500 trees, having never seen the course before this I cannot comment on a comparison but I believe I would only feel one way about it! A side note, in preparation for 2011 Barclays the bunkers have also been restored to their former glory.
I often comment about the true strength of a course being vested in its par 3's and at Plainfield they are all of true quality. Two medium length (3 played across a stream to a green angled away from the player to the right and 6 a narrow devishily sloping punchbowl green). 14 requires a long Iron over a pond to a green which is surprisingly flat and as result much harder to read than its 17 companions. However 11 is the pick of the bunch and goes down in my top ten par threes ever, a short hole of only 140 yards, the green is banked into a ridge which runs right through the golf course, long is dead, short and your ball will roll back into the course's deepest bunker, only a sweetly struck shot will find the surface, but given its severe slope even then par is no formality. The other standout hole for me at Plainfield were, number 13 a tremendous par 4 playing along the Ob with deep rough awaiting a pulled tee shot, 4 a cracking little short par 4 requiring a blind pitch to a tiny green and 12 a tremendous par 5 (formerly a par 3 and a par 4 but Ross combined the two). The finish is teriffic, two Doglegs both turning different directions (a surprisingly uncommon trait) both with greens like billiard tables perched above the level of the fairway.
Plainfield is quality and requires every shot in the bag, even the bump & can be utilised to great effect given the rolling nature of the terrain. It's a tremendous down to earth club, for people who just enjoy their club and take tremendous pride in their course. For me it just shades Ross other similar creation, Aronimink, both are top notch, but at Plainfield the golfers mind can never wander requiring 100% concentration on every shot!... Nick