English professional William H. Tucker laid out the course at Preakness Hills Country Club in 1926 and it’s since been modified by a number of architects, including Brian Silva during the 1980s and Ron Forse early in the new millennium.
Preakness Hills is another New Jersey layout that often gets little notice because the competitive depth of courses throughout the Garden States is highly competitive with much of the attention reserved for the upper elite clubs.
While the layout has remained the same -- the allocation of par designations has been changed. Previously, the opening hole was a short par-5 at 470 yards. Now, that hole has been reduced to play as par-4 and that change clearly intensifies matters for players looking to get off to a good start.
The other switch happened at the 9th. Years ago, the hole played as a difficult par-4. The demands were elevated because of a creek that cuts perpendicularly at approximately 275 yards. When played as a par-4 player had to decide if laying back was the worst of two options or take on a precarious carry with a narrow opening. Complicating matters the green is elevated and well defended by flanking bunkers and one in the rear.
Beyond the two aforementioned holes there are others meriting special attention. The uphill par-4 13th is truly memorable. The hole features no bunkers and candidly does not need a single one. The terrain sets the tone as players must skillfully find an uphill moving fairway before encountering a challenging uphill approach to a green wonderfully contoured. The 14th begins from the highest point on the property and descends rapidly to a narrow landing area which includes a pesky creek cutting across the line of play. Players have to determine how aggressively or conservative they wish to play and that decision sets in motion the type of approach one must then play.
Preakness Hills is aided by a quality quartet of par-3 holes. The long par-3 6th at 233 yards can be terrifying not only because of its length but because out-of-bounds hugs ever so closely to the right side. Those opting for the green have to be ever mindful that any shot escaping to the right can easily result in scoring double-bogey or worse. The other par-3 meriting acclaim is the 18th which plays to a max of 144 yards. Few courses reserve the final hole as a par-3 and the one at Preakness Hills is quite good. Play commences from an elevated tee before descending to a green protected in front by a pond. Adding to the complications is a two-tiered green thereby forcing players to gauge correctly on club choice from the tee.
Though many might believe at first glance that a pin placement nearest to the front is the most difficult I've found a hole cut in the rear right or left corners is the most pressure packed. When located in those areas it takes a gutsy play to fly one's ball to the upper tier and have it remain there. Those overshooting the target will likely find a rear bunker and the danger from that position can be fear inducing to the max as the green runs away from and the pond awaits those who skull their shots. Interestingly, the club has a gorgeous clubhouse that overlooks the hole and I've been told the glass is shatter proof given the number of balls that have airmailed the green over the years.
Total length is just above 6,700 yards and the fairways are ably protected by appropriate usage of rough, terrain changes and carefully preserved trees. The putting surfaces are also a good mixture with different shapes and movements. Preakness Hills presents itself well -- clearly shining as a testing member's course.
M. James Ward