Ridgewood Country Club hosted the 1935 Ryder Cup, which heralded a victory for Walter Hagen’s team USA over Great Britain. The USA retained a tight grip on the Ryder Cup for the next 22 years. Since the Second World War, Ridgewood has played host to the 1974 US Amateur, three Senior Major championships, a Ladies Pro Tour event and, in 2008, the “The Barclays”, which is commonly referred to as “The Westchester” because it was played at the Westchester Country Club from the tournament’s inception in 1967 until 2007.
There are three nine-hole loops at Ridgewood Country Club, West, East and Center, which refer to their location relative to the fabulous Clifford Wendehack-designed clubhouse. It’s the West and East combination that is the more challenging but all three courses remain true to the original A.W. Tillinghast 1929 design, although Baltusrol and Winged Foot are “Tillies” best Metropolitan area creations.
The majority of holes at Ridgewood require a right to left flight off the tee, although the last hole on the West loop asks for the opposite shape. The key to scoring well at Ridgewood is accurate driving as mature hardwoods have created tight, leafy corridors. Unlike Winged Foot and Baltusrol there is much more variation to Ridgewood’s design and that’s the main reason why the layout is so highly regarded.
Fiji’s Vijay Singh won The Barclays in 2008 and the event moved to the Liberty National Golf Club in 2009 prior to it returning to Ridgewood Country Club in 2010. USA’s Matt Kuchar won the 2010 title after Scotland’s Martin Laird three-putted from inside 25 feet on the final hole of regulation play. Kuchar beat Laird at the first playoff hole. The Barclays returned to Paramus in 2014 where Hunter Mahan claimed his first PGA Tour win since 2012. With a new sponsor on board (Northern Trust) Ridgewood hosted the 2018 re-branded event which Bryson DeChambeau won in fine style.
Gil Hanse has been advising Ridgewood Country Club on course restoration since 1995.
The juxtaposition between noise and tranquility cannot be overstated when discussing Ridgewood CC. The course is simply a good pitching wedge from the daily
comings and goings of Route 17 -- a major car artery full of commercial buzzing that runs the length of Bergen County and provides the easterly border for the course. Amazingly, most use that highway to get to the course but when you finally exit via Midland Avenue and head to the club's entrance via Country Club Road it's like someone turned the switch and you are now bracketed by tall stately trees and total peacefulness. In many ways - coming to Ridgewood is akin to the same situation faced when going to Augusta National via Washington Road.
Ridgewood was the brainchild of A.W. Tillinghast -- the gifted architect who for a good bit of his life called Bergen County home living in the nearby small community of Harrington Park. The club has 27 holes and it's rare for a facility with that many holes to have nines roughly equivalent to one another although many opine the East and West Nines are the two best over the Center.
My first time playing Ridgewood came in 1974 -- the same year the club hosted the US Amateur. My initial visit came during high school matches and I was totally amazed as the holes weaved around such large trees with their canopies often playing a major role in one's club selections. As someone with extremely limited experience the impact of Ridgewood was far reaching and indelible.
The greatness of Ridgewood is quite simple in my mind -- the course can fit the style of just about any player. There's no set advantage for just one style of play. The course demands precision, length and the wherewithal to shape shots and fit one's trajectory whenever the situation is called upon. In short -- a consummate challenge.
Before delving into the qualities of the holes a bit of history is needed.
Interestingly, Ridgewood CC's genesis did not begin in the Village. The beginnings can be traced to a rudimentary two-hole course started in nearby Ho-Ho-Kus in 1891. This two hole effort is often cited as the first golf holes in New Jersey. In 1893 the Ho-Ho-Kus Golf Club was formed and expanded first to six and then nine holes in 1897. With the need for more holes the club eventually left for the Village of Ridgewood in 1901 and the opening of a 9-hole course. In February 1910, a consolidation of the Ridgewood Golf Club and Ridgewood Country Club took place with the existing name Ridgewood CC being chosen. But that move was short lived.
Another move -- also in Ridgewood - was made to the southwest corner and in 1911 work began on 18 holes. That course opened in 1914. With encroachment from housing a final move to a heavily wooded area of 257 acres of land in Paramus was decided upon in August of 1927. Course construction started in August of 1928 with 27-holes created by the accomplished architect A.W. Tillinghast a resident of Harrington Park. Tillinghast's golf prowess as an architect can be seen with such iconic designs as Winged Foot, Quaker Ridge and Bethpage Black in New York and Baltusrol and Somerset Hills in NJ leading the way. The regal Norman Revival clubhouse was designed by Clifford Charles Wendehack and both opened on Decoration Day -- now called Memorial Day -- in 1929.
Tillinghast's design came during the Golden Age of Golf Architecture in the 1920's when other courses of note opened and the growth of golf was clearly on the fast track nationwide. The holes at Ridgewood work their way around stately maples and oaks serving as towering sentinels guarding the fairways. The putting surfaces -- as Tillinghast eloquently described -- are like human faces. Each uniquely different with a slew of vexing twists and turns.
The ascension of Ridgewood early on was greatly assisted by the involvement of long time head golf professional George Jacobus. Born in the Brookdale area of Bloomfield, NJ, Jacobus was hired at age 21 to become Ridgewood's head golf professional in 1919.
His leadership skills were instrumental both in the Garden State and in becoming the first native-born American elected president of the PGA of America. He remains the youngest person selected for the position and served an unprecedented seven years from 1932-1939. It was Jacobus, in concert with the generosity of members from Ridgewood, that the club hosted the 1935 Ryder Cup Matches during the lean years of The Great Depressions. The USA squad would prevail and was captained by the renowned Walter Hagen. Jacobus had a sharp eye for talent and brought on staff a young talented Texan named Byron Nelson who would go on to achieve a Hall-of-Fame career. Sadly, Jacobus at age 67 suffered a major heart attack and passed in 1965. He was elected posthumously to the PGA Hall-of-Fame in 1983.
Ridgewood's hosting of the 1974 US Amateur was a major event in elevating the awareness level of the storied layout to a new generation of players through the Tillinghast connection. The awareness was additionally helped by then USGA Executive Director Frank Hannigan writing in the association's former publication, Golf Journal, how Tillinghast was responsible for the creation of several courses hosting USGA events that year. In 1990 the club hosted the US Senior Open -- won by Lee Trevino in epic fashion down the stretch over the great Jack Nicklaus. Eleven years later Ridgewood would host the US Senior PGA Championship won by Hall-of-Famer Tom Watson.
Even with all of these clear previous successes the involvement of Ridgewood on a rotating basis when serving as the opening event for the PGA TOUR's FedEx Cup Playoffs became the catalyst for even greater attention and acclaim. The finest players in golf hailed the traditional layout for its timeless qualities and the manner by which the Tillinghast design blends vintage shotmaking and natural beauty in a seamless manner.
With the PGA TOUR returning this year for a 4th time via The Northern Trust the event once again serves as the kick-off tournament for of the FedEx Cup Playoffs.
The course used for The Northern Trust is a combination of different holes from all three nines. The first seven holes of the East are used, with holes #2 thru #6 from the Center and holes #4 thru #9 from the West round-out the layout. The walk from the 6th of the Center to the 4th of the West is the only real lengthy walk the professionals will encounter.
Much of the improvement made to the course rests on the shoulders of two people -- Todd Raisch, Ridgewood's highly capable superintendent and the plans brought forward by architect Gil Hanse in reclaiming many of the original Tillinghast elements either downplayed or lost over the period of years. Part of the success can be attributed to the need for pruning of the many trees that line the fairways at Ridgewood. Years back the increasing encroachment of the trees had effectively narrowed down the strategic options players should be able to employ. The present 27-holes have been liberated from that dilemma and the strategic calculations are now front and center.
One of the most amazing elements Tillinghast provided is to create 27 quality holes and have each of three nines return to the clubhouse without losing momentum for any of the nines. That is no small feat. While Ridgewood does have sufficient acreage the shape of the parcel did require a good bit of imagination from Tillinghast to complete the total golf package.
I have a number of favorite holes at Ridgewood. The par-5 3rd on the East is especially well done. The famed "Sahara" bunker is really not as impressive as many might imagine but it does serve a clear purpose in providing separation from one side of the fairway to the other. The key is being able to land one's approach on the appropriate level of the vexing putting surface. Two par-4's are notable on the East as well as one of the best par-3's at the club. The uphill 5th at 440 yards is first rate. The tee shot must find the left side of the fairway as trees hover near the green on the right side. The contours of the putting surface are especially well done as any missed approach to the left will be forced to play a herculean recovery to escape with par. The long par-3 6th at 229 yards is also done well with flanking bunkers guarding against the hapless play. The par-4 7th at 467 yards is protected by fairway bunkers with the ideal approach coming in from the left side. Given the length that the best players can hit it today -- it's a shame this hole could not be extended another 25-30 yards to match up the requirements Tillinghast originally envisioned.
The Center starts with a fine cape hole at the 1st. The long par-5 2nd that follows shows how just the nature of topography can mean a great contribution without overdoing man's hand. The same holds true with the 3rd -- a superb par-4 that slides downhill but not without giving golfers careful thought to the tree line that encroaches from the left. Much is rightly said of the 6th hole on Center. Nicknamed "five and dime" -- the 291-yard hole is one of the metro NY / NJ area's best short holes. The hole plays with a slight bend to the right and is uphill to a green perched on a tiny piece of putting surface -- just under 3,000 square feet. Reaching the green is no small feat -- but the penalties can be severe -- whether left or right. For the tournament the hole will be positioned as the 12th hole and likely will have a major impact on the outcome of the event.
The West is the standout nine at Ridgewood. The first three holes are not part of The Northern Trust and it's a shame because the par-3 3rd is one of the best short holes at Ridgewood with a menacing bunker pushing tight to the right side of the green. The holes used for the tournament starts with the par-5 624-yard 4th hole (13th for event). The hole entices players to go for the green in two shots but the slightest pull to the left can easily encounter out-of-bounds that hugs just across from guarding bunkers on that same side. The uphill 5th (14th) is a true beauty. Here the tee shot area narrows considerably when tee shots are hit for maximum yardage. The elevated green is full of twists and turns which Tillinghast splendidly installed.
The final two holes on the West end the side in grand style. The double-dogleg 8th (17th hole) is one of the metro areas finest. Players can opt for a bold tee shot that flirts with the left side. The fairway narrows appreciably at roughly 300 yards and those pushing or pulling will find the journey a bit more demanding to their liking. With a well-placed tee shot the option for a go at the distant uphill green will only be possible with a laser-like second. The elevated green can be a chore to two-putt -- especially when the pin is placed hard to the left side with a protecting bunker standing guard.
The ending hole on the West -- a par-4 of 470 yards -- is the final hole for The Northern Trust. There are no fairway bunkers and the simplicity of the hole is what makes it standout. Working the ball from left-to-right is a must. The trees push in from the right side and failure to work the ball in the direction called upon can quickly mean one's ball skirting into the rough on the far left side. Interestingly, during the 2001 Senior PGA I remember watching Jim Thorpe -- who would eventually finish second one shot behind Watson -- launching an incredible drive at the 18th by taking the ball up and over the right side with a towering draw landing far down in the fairway leaving a very short approach to the final hole.
The green at the 9th on the West is another tour de force effort from Tillinghast. Elevated so only the best of approaches will be rewarded. The green is full of vexing movements and when the pin is cut hard to the far left rear it takes nothing short of execution at the highest of levels.
The Ridgewood CC has made great strides over the years and is now rightly included in the top 5 courses in the Garden State. One can make a very good case that the layout belongs just behind the likes of Pine Valley. The world's best professionals will find a layout bolstered considerably and the results will likely show the man hoisting the trophy is one who has shown skills across all 14 clubs in the bag. The ultimate statement for course greatness and one I surmise Mr. Tillinghast would be happy to see.
by M. James Ward
What an excellent course, I played it in the opposite order(East/ West). Since the Northern Trust is fast approaching, many grandstands were up, the greens were firm and fast, and the rough was challenging. Course isn’t overly long but the smaller greens and perfectly placed bunkers make this course challenging. The par 3’s are beautiful, downhill beasts. The shorter par 4’s are the holes you need to score on. The longer par 4’s in the 430’s and more are the toughest. Take 5 west, uphill, long par 4 with a 3 tiered green and bunkers guarding most of the front. It is not easy to navigate the ball onto this green and 2 putting from 30 feet is far from a guarantee here. The signature hole of these 9’s would have to be 8 west. It is a long uphil par 5 that doglegs to the left. The green slopes right to left and if you miss the green right you are dead. There are 3 bunkers some 20 ft below the putting surface that you absolutely cannot afford to go into. Overall, Gil Hanse’s recent renovation of the bunkers and removal of trees has made this course a fantastic challenge as well a beauty.
In 1995, Ridgewood hired an unknown golf course architect to build a short game practice area just north of their range. Twenty years later, he completed a full restoration of Tillinghast’s three nines there. Gil Hanse says the key to authentic restorations is research and at Ridgewood, he was blessed with a plethora of material. Not only were aerial photographs from the 1930s available, but the 1935 playing of the Ryder Cup produced detailed photographs of every hole.
Ridgewood has 3 nines, but the course used for the many championships it hosts is a composite. Called the Championship Course, it consists of seven holes from the East nine, six from the Central and five from the West. This routing flows quite naturally with only a slightly longer walk than normal from the 12th green. The members only get to play it a couple times a year, but it’s the configuration I’m reviewing here.
The usual reclamation of greens lost to mowing patterns was a notable part of Hanse’s restoration. He also reclaimed some fairway areas as well (to the right of the 18th green, for example). Tree removal occurred but the early photographs indicated that Tillinghast cut many of the holes near the clubhouse through a forest, and there the giant oaks still stand. The photographs showed ragged fescue fringing the bunkers and that has been restored as well. Hanse points out that restoration is not merely slavish copying of the original. If a fairway bunker is no longer in play, he will move it forward. The bunker to the left of the seventh fairway is a good example. All this work served to reveal and celebrate Tillinghast’s design.
Tillinghast is well known for his heavily bunkered green complex, and though his trademark is present at Ridgewood, fully half the holes—generally those requiring a long approach—leave the option of a running approach. I did not find the prevalence of right to left shots cited in other reviews. Certainly the 7th, 9th and 17th call for a draw. But the opposite is true at the 5th, 10th and 18th. Further variety is added in hole lengths, giving the player the opportunity to employ most every club (s)he brought.
Particularly noteworthy are the three par 5s, as fine a group as any I’ve played. From the tournament tees all are in excess of 580 yards, but it is the strategy required, as much as the length, that distinguishes them. Nor is merely reaching the green a cause for a sigh of relief: all sport nasty contours…….as do many of the others. Ridgewood’s most interesting hole is much shorter. The 12th plays a mere 294 yards from the back tee and has been dubbed the “Five and Dime” by members, the result of being played by some with a five iron and a wedge. But that’s just one of the options here: a fairway wood leaving a half pitch and attempting to drive the 33 foot wide green being others.
A.W Tillinghast, one of the great golden age era designers had an innate ability to design a course that fitted the land he was given and not simply impose his own particular style on a property. Baltusrol, is long and open with deep rough, Bethpage a monster with exceptional bunkering, Winged Foot possesses some of the finest green complexes on the planet and Somerset Hills he created an extremely unique blend of holes. At Ridgewood, he again created a course that is distinctly different from all the aforementioned tracks.
I had the good fortune to play all 27 holes at Ridgewood just after the Barclays tournament in late August, with the rough around the greens still like steel wool and the putting surfaces although dried out after the 4 days of tournament play, still running true. From start to finish there is a premium on ball striking and strategy at Ridgewood, you must not only approach the greens from the fairway, but in many cases the correct side of the fairway, to be able to attack the many small and quirky greens exceptionally angled around the course.
The courses at Winged Foot are possibly the closest relation to Ridgewood among Tillie’s designs, but here I feel he has created his most one of his most enjoyable tests. The course is both playable for the high handicap but en extreme challenge for the low man. The mix of holes is quite outstanding, with a combination of short par threes played to tiny greens, to long iron ones played to large undulating ones, two outstanding par fives which both contain less penal versions of Tillinghast’s Great hazard(Sahara bunker, ala hells half acre at Pine Valley’s 7th) to be cleared with the second shot, long par 4’s played uphill with blind shots to downhill ones with that oh so inviting drive, which encourages you let open the shoulders.
The standout hole on the course for me was without doubt the 6th(as played in the Barclays), this is a short uphill par 4 just under 300 yards, played to a green perched atop an enormous grass mound with a severe fall off on one side. This hold give the golfer the option of playing the hole in a variety of ways, does one a) attempt to drive the green risking the sharp fall or the extremely deep greenside traps, b) hit a fairway wood to the bottom of the slope to the green presenting him with a blind 40/50 yard pitch or c) Lay back with an iron and have a full shot in, oh and I failed to mention the green is only 11 yards wide!
The one common trait to the majority oh the holes at Ridgewood is their tree lined nature, with as stated above a right to left flight being very much the order of the day and as such this would be my biggest criticism of the design. It is an extremely worthy host of the Barclays and it would be nice to see more tournament golf return to courses of this nature, one need only look at the winning scores as evidence of the test it provides. Nick