Founded in 1912 by a couple of prominent local Jewish businessmen who’d been refused playing privileges at nearby golf clubs, Mountain Ridge Country Club had a 9-hole course in play soon after its formation. These original nine holes were later expanded to eighteen by A.W. Tillinghast then further altered by Herbert Strong but the severely contoured site was deemed to be unsuitable for the construction of a top class golf layout.
And so, when the club acquired a 250-acre property to the north of its original location in 1929, Donald Ross was engaged to design and build a new course, one that would endure for many years to come. The architect had already created a number of notable courses in New Jersey – at Deal, Englewood, Montclair and Plainfield – so the club had a good idea of what it would get by hiring the best in the business at that time.
The two nines start in parallel but quickly separate, the outward half circling anti-clockwise, the inward half clockwise, with the closing hole on each circuit rising to the finish. The layout is configured with short, medium, and long par threes, several of Ross’s much loved par four and a half holes and one true three-shot par five.
Unlike many of the old master’s courses, Mountain Ridge retains many of its original design features and the routing remains unaltered, even though the order of the nines has been swapped around a few times down the years. Ron Prichard also deserves credit for recent restoration work with the greensites.By way of marking Mountain Ridge’s centennial, the USGA awarded the club the hosting of the 58th edition of the Senior Men’s Amateur Golf Championship in 2012, an event won by Paul Simson.
Public Service Corporation of New Jersey was the unlikely patron of the current Mountain Ridge golf course. The original course was located on a very hilly—and quite unsatisfactory—piece of property in West Orange. The members wished to move the club to the current location in the early 20s, but could find no purchaser of their original property. Until, that is, PSNJ bought the original property for a power distribution facility, providing the capital for the members to purchase the current property in nearby West Caldwell.
That property provided a lovely canvas on which Donald Ross painted 18 lovely golf holes. The land slopes gently down to a flatter area where the majority (11) of the holes are located and the final holes of each nine climb the hill to the clubhouse. Ross’s two 9 hole loops allowed him to direct his holes in all different directions, with no consecutive pair running in the same direction. Ross’s undulating greens and open front greens are very much in evidence here. Ron Prichard’s restoration work has done a fine job of featuring the original design.
One controversial feature is the huge tree that sits at the corner of the dogleg on the uphill 18th. Players landing in the right side of the fairway may find their second shot blocked out completely. While some find this unfair, others take the position that this is just another obstacle to be avoided.
Behind the final green sits one of the most beautiful clubhouses in the game, the work of Clifford Wendehack, whose canon includes the clubhouses at Bethpage, Winged Foot and Ridgewood. My view is that Wendehack’s work here is his best. And while Mountain Ridge’s golf course is not quite in the same league as the foregoing three, it’s not far behind.