Spring Brook Country Club features one of the more eccentric routing foibles in American golf...namely that Walter Travis opted to play three par threes back to back. This series of short holes, dubbed “The Gauntlet,” may not end the course, but it will be surprising if they do not have some impact on the result of a match.
The first of these holes, No. 9, requires an 190-yard shot that hugs Armstrong Pond, to a green that sits to the left of the drink, and between two large trees (to be fair, this will bring you back to the clubhouse, so the gauntlet does offer a brief commercial break). The No. 10 hole is the shortest of the trio, but requires a carry directly across the same pond to a wide green where a tee shot past the green is not much safer than a wet ball out front. Finally, players will get away from the pond and play a 200-yard hole with imposing bunkers at the front.
This routing choice will certainly not be to everyone’s taste, but it’s a charming reminder of golf’s more eclectic age.
Interestingly, Travis’s involvement at the course was strictly speculative for the club’s first 87 years of existence, until researchers from the Walter Travis Society finally confirmed the routing was indeed the native New Yorker’s. More recent updates were done by Ken Dye...we're sure he hopes the future Ken Dye Society takes note for posterity.
One of the hardest aspects facing clubs in the Garden State is breaking through and being noticed given the sheer depth of courses that dot the upper elite stratosphere.
Spring Brook is a fine layout often under appreciated because so much attention -- rightly so -- is given to nearby layouts such as Morris County in Convent Station and Somerset Hills in Bernardsville just a few miles south of Morristown.
Spring Brook commences with a trio of testing holes. The par-4 1st at 416 yards plays downhill and it's essential to find the fairway because the approach must be played with precision to a contoured putting surface. Things only intensify with the long par-3 2nd. Once again, the skills are tested to deliver a long iron, hybrid or even fairway metal to an elusive target. At the par-5 3rd you reverse direction and while par-5s may signal clear birdie opportunities, the 3rd does so miserly like Scrooge unless the tee shot is played with the utmost in execution and placement. The drive zone moves right and tapers in from the left. Being able to deftly work the tee ball to the right is a clear plus.
The two par-4s that follow at the 4th and 5th respectively, play in different directions and although fairly similar in total length play differently because of the topography. At the par-5 6th you have an opportunity to secure a birdie but only if again placement is secured off the tee.
At the long par-4 7th you reverse direction and the grade change is clearly present but often not totally comprehended by inexperienced players. The par-4 8th that follows again reverses direction and it too is anything but pedestrian for the requirements needed.
One of the most fascinating elements at Spring Brook comes with hole 9 thru 11. Unlike the conventional side of so many courses, Spring Brook showcases a flourish that stands out beyond the novelty of what's faced. The three holes in succession are all par-3 holes and each is done superbly.
The 9th is just under 200 yards but when standing on the tee the carry appears to be longer. Fortunately, there's a bailout area to the left but those opting for total safety will need to recalibrate their efforts with a pitch to the fast-moving green. The 10th that follows reverse course -- going back across the same water penalty area. The hole plays 177 yards but often times the prevailing wind can wreak havoc on the haplessly hit approach. Three different -- yet vexing pin positions can wreak serious pain on the scorecard -- when placed in the immediate front or to the far left and especially so the rear right corner.
The 11th that follows -- plays a good bit more than its listed 206 yards. The hole repels all but the surest of strikes from the tee. Missing to either side will then require an escape expertise rivaling that of Houdini.
The remaining seven holes on the back nine continue the fine routing process. The downhill dog-leg left 12th is a good change of pace hole. You then cross Spring Brook Road to play holes 13 thru 15. The 13th is a quality long par-4 that turns left. The par-3 14th provides for two greens -- one requiring an uphill approach -- the other located nearer to a pond previously encountered at the 13th.
The uphill 15th is a captivating mid-length par-4 because there's not much added to what the land so beautifully provides. The par-4 16th is likely the hardest two-shot hole at Spring Brook. The tee shot must favor a right-to-left trajectory but not do so in an overly aggressive manner. Once again, the natural flow of the terrain makes a solid result. The par-5 17th has been bolstered with the addition of several bunkers in the drive zone. Players have to decide how bold a play they wish to take at the tee. Those capable in flying past the bunkers will get a good look at the green and a possible eagle / birdie outcome. Those who fail to execute the tee shot will encounters some serious pushback as out-of-bounds awaits for those too far right with dense woods lurking left for those missing the fairway bunkers on that side.
The closing hole at Spring Brook is good -- but hardly stellar. The hole turns right and the green is really the star as it requires a quality approach to find the dance floor.
Visibility and exposure play a critical role in any course's stature. As mentioned at the outset, the depth of superior layouts in the Garden State is among the best in the USA and in recent years such clubs as Mountain Ridge, Hollywood and Essex County have clearly made major strides. But others have done similarly -- and Spring Brook is clearly emerging out of such shadows. The club will celebrate its centennial in grand fashion in 2021 when hosting the New Jersey State Open and in doing so can provide the pathway for even more awareness and rightful attention.
M. James Ward