Past and present a fine blend at The Architects Golf Club
PHILLIPSBURG, N.J. -- Sometimes gimmicks work and sometime they don't. In the case of one upscale daily-fee golf course in western New Jersey, a gimmick works beautifully.
The Architects Golf Club is a great place with an interesting concept. The 18 holes have been designed using the traits of some of the great names in golf course architecture. Old Tom Morris, Donald Ross, William Flynn, Alister Mackenzie and Robert Trent Jones are all represented there.
Now this is not a track of replica holes from courses done by the aforementioned. The Architects Golf Club simply has holes that use the masters' common design features. The result is a course that flows very naturally and doesn't seem forced. Stephen Kay, a golf course architect who's done a number of high-end daily fees in New Jersey, worked with Golf Digest's course critic Ron Whitten to develop this unique tribute to the pioneers of golf course design.
But the unique concept doesn't mean much if you're playing the course four or five days a week. "This is really just an interesting and fun course to play," says Warner 'Red' Heitmann, who left a private club to join Architects a couple of years ago. "If you hit the ball straight and stay out of trouble, you've got a good chance to score well."
Straight hitters aren't guaranteed a low score. The greens, some of them huge, are uniformly fast and require a deft touch. Water only comes into play on the ninth and 13th holes. But the strategically placed bunkers seem to be in play on nearly every shot. That's a tribute to the architect of this course.
Even if you have zero appreciation for golf history, you can still enjoy a good days golf. But if you are interested in the roots of the game and enjoy time spent on a course with a Ross or Tillinghast pedigree, the Architects Club will get your blood flowing like few others.
The yardage book details the features of each hole and pictures the architect who inspired that hole. The hole markers at the tee name the architect and list a few of the most prominent courses they designed. If you get off on the history lesson, it's easy to become distracted from the task at hand.
Here's a run down of some of the holes and how design traits of the legendary architects are used:
You lead off on a par 5 that might have been laid out by Morris. If you watch the British Open, his work at St. Andrews, Carnoustie and Muirfield will be familiar. Here the distinguishing trait is the pot bunkers to the right and left of the fairway.
The pedestal green and strip bunkering of the par 3 second hole reflects the work of C.B. MacDonald. He designed the first 18 hole course in America, the Chicago Golf Club and coined the term "golf architect."
A.W. Tillinghast's bunkering is the focus of the par 4 seventh hole. A fairway bunker to the right of the fairway is similar to the pit bunkers at Bethpage Black, while a trap with a sweeping face in front of the green is like those found at Winged Foot Country Club.
The outward nine finishes with the No. 1 handicap hole, a long par 4 with a pond to the left of the green. The most prolific architect of the first half of the 20th century, Ross, is the focus here. The green, which features a deep trench running through the middle, was designed using actual Ross drawings.
Flynn, the architect of this year's U.S. Open venue, Shinnecock Hills, is featured on hole 11. The mid length par 5 is a sweeping dogleg right with a cluster of almost a dozen small bunkers at the bend. Clear the bunkers and you might get home in two.
The man who helped Bobby Jones create Augusta National and also sculpted Cypress Point on the Pacific Ocean, Alister Mackenzie is the honoree at the 13th hole. You might notice some Augusta National on the par 5, a hole short enough to tempt you to get home in two. But a creek runs diagonally across the front of the green to provide the penalty if you come up short.
History is everywhere at the Architects Club and so are golfers. The course, which opened in 2000, averages 35,000 rounds a year. That's a lot for an upscale daily fee course. But conditions remain above average. "We've got a great superintendent and a large staff who are always working to keep the course in great shape," said Mike Dellatore, an Architects member. "Between tee and pin placements and the wind, you could play here five days in a row and the course would be completely different each time out. But the course would always be in great condition and the views (of the Pohatcong Mountains) would always be fantastic."
The Architects Golf Club: The verdict
The Architects Golf Club works on two levels. The course itself is stellar and offers a great experience. But if you're a fan of the history of the game, Architects will be on your must play list. The 90-minute Drive from either Philadelphia or New York City won't seem too far.
Places to stay
The Clarion Hotel (choicehotels.com) and the Phillipsburg Inn (908-454-6461), both in nearby Phillipsburg, are the two closest.
Places to eat
South Main Street in Phillipsburg has undergone something of a restaurant renaissance. Zoota (908-387-9595) offers eclectic American cuisine and a view of the Delaware River. La Dona Pintata (908-213-7010) serves up Italian specialties in a restored Victorian era home.
Off the course
You can catch the Delaware River Steam Train in Phillipsburg to Carpentersville for a scenic hour-long round trip. If some want to shop while others golf, the Phillipsburg Mall is five minutes from the golf course.
Only one architect has two holes at the Architects Club commemorating his work. Ross, whose masterpiece is Pinehurst No.2, is the honoree at Nos. 9 and 15. Appropriately, both are long par 4s. Ross believed the truest test of golf was the ability to hit long irons.
April 14, 2005