A.W. Tillinghast set out the original 18-hole course at Upper Montclair Country Club in the 1920s then Robert Trent Jones completely renovated the layout three decades later in 1956, adding another nine holes (the South) in the process.
The three 9-hole loops (East, South and West) are similar in style, but if you want to play the layout walked by Hall of Famers (such as Arnold Palmer, Nancy Lopez and Lee Trevino) who've all won titles at UMCC, you'll need to tee it up on the West and South combination.
Located in my hometown, Upper Montclair Country Club is a club I have known for over 50 years. I had the good fortune in caddying at the club during my younger days and I also was able to witness a full range of top tier professional events played over the grounds from the likes of Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer to Nancy Lopez and Mickey Wright and to the gifted senior players such as Lee Trevino and Ray Floyd who won events here when competing on the Champion's Tour.
UMCC is ideally located -- at the intersection of the Garden State Parkway and State Route 3 -- it's also within 15 minutes of midtown Manhattan when traffic conditions cooperate. The location was the main element that prompted so many of the key events to come.
Originally, UMCC was an A.W. Tillinghast layout but that changed in the mid-1950's when the Parkway was built. The hiring of Robert Trent Jones, Sr. was a win for the club since his office was located in nearby Montclair. Jones expanded the course to 27-holes and it is really the West / South combination that provides the best golf choice.
The main issue with UMCC is the regimented back and forth nature of the holes on a north/south basis. While the club benefited from the extra nine the sameness of the hole directions doesn't really add much on the design meter.
Jones did provide a few holes of note. The par-3 3rd on the West with its elephant hump in the middle of the green is a nice touch. The par-4 3rd on the South is regularly touted and the approach over a diagonally angled pond to a green hugging close to it is quite good. I have always enjoyed the opening hole on the East nine -- a stout par-4 that features a well-defended green.
Since the club has hosted so many events a good bit of its reputation is based on those tournaments and the people who competed. I can only wonder how good the Tillinghast course was since it came before my lifetime. UMCC has its moments but they are far too often fleeting and often repetitive.
by M. James Ward