Eagle Ridge

There are 27 holes here, so yardage and slope ratings are as follows:

Ridge Course:  3,448 yards
Pines Course:  3,239 yards
Links Course:  3,528 yards
Ridge-Pines:  138 Slope
Pines-Links:  140 Slope
Links-Ridge:  139 Slope 
All are from the Black tees
Eagle Ridge is in Lakewood, NJ, which is about an hour and a half from Philly.  My buddy moved to North Jersey, so we’re looking for places we can play that are midway between us.  I have heard of this course before, the website gets very high marks for providing a comprehensive course tour and the fees were very reasonable through an online deal.  We decided to give it a go.
Course:  Eagle Ridge is a 27 hole lay out, with each set of nine holes having a distinct set of characteristics.  There is the Ridge course, the Pines course, and Links course.  I believe the Links course was added and the Ridge-Pines was the original 18.  We played Ridge and Pines.  Although I reviewed the hole by hole course tour before I arrived and the Ridge-Links looked the most interesting, it was much colder than we anticipated and the staff would have allowed us to play Links but warned the wind would make it almost unbearably cold.  We decided to check out that nine on another day.  
Generally, this is a high end public fee course.  They offer memberships, but there is no equity share or approval process so long as you’re willing to pay the dues.  I believe this type of public course is getting more popular and will be more common in the near future.  You are able to get many of the benefits of a country club without having to commit thousands of dollars each year.  If you live close by and a membership makes sense, there’s no commitment beyond that particular season and there’s usually no minimum food bill requirement.  I think a lot of serious golfers who either don’t have the money to join a private club or simply don’t want to commit so much money will find this type of arrangement appealing.  Don’t get me wrong, I think there are certain intangibles to belonging to a private course, among them no crowds during the summer and great course conditioning, but this type of business model seems to be working better while many private clubs have started opening up play to the public.  
As for the course, this is what I’ll call a classic Southern/Central New Jersey set up.  These courses have a similar structure; the tee shots are usually elevated to a generous fairway, most likely tree lined, then the approach shots are challenging and varied, with complex bunkering and large undulating greens.  Most of Central and Southern New Jersey, more towards the coast, is vastly covered with pine trees.  That might explain the names of such courses as Pine Valley, Pine Hill (now Trump Philadelphia), Pine Barrens and Piney Pines.  Ok I made one of those up, but you get the idea.  The point is that these courses follow similar designs for a reason.  They are providing a set up for what the natural landscape yields.  Out of the courses I played, including those above (except Pine Valley), each is able to set itself apart to remain distinct.  I was a big fan of Pine Hill because the elevation changes were severe and most fairways were much narrower, demanding large and accurate drives off the tee.  The approach shots required thought, but not all that difficult.  I am bummed it is now completely private, as it was one of the best overall public golf experiences in the area.  Pine Barrens, which is also private but I was able to play, did not have a lot of elevation changes, but fairways were generous and you encountered a lot of pits, large sand/waste areas, and immense bunkering (similar to Scotland Run).  I have never played Pine Valley, but everything I have seen and heard seems like tee shots are usually generous, with the real challenge being the approach shots and forced carries.  At any of these courses, make sure you can get out of sand, you will be in at least a few bunkers!
As for Eagle Ridge, the things that stuck out for me were that the pine trees were taken out of play on many of the holes, which put the wind into play a lot (it was pretty windy when we played) and the approach shots were on the difficult side.  There were also a lot of enjoyable elevation changes.  Each set of nine holes was decidedly different, which I’ll go into below.  Overall, the set up was interesting and the setting was tranquil.  There are houses around the course, but are well placed and aren’t a distraction.  
Ridge:
First off, I played terribly on this nine.  Yes part of it was rust, but the shanks crept in and it was miserable.  That explains why I only took a couple photos.  Despite most memories of this nine hitting the ball hard right and immediately deciding to quit golf forever, I appreciated the design and hope I play better next time.  The first hole is an easy enough par 4, with an elevated tee shot to a well sized fairway and a green protected by a bunker along with front right side.  Number 2 is another par 4, but much more challenging.  The tee shot has water on the left and trees on the right, as pictured below.  
Tee shot on Number 2
The rest of the second hole includes a tough approach to the first of many large bunker complexes that will swallow your ball if mis-hit.  The sand is also worth mentioning: fluffy.  I find it different than a lot of courses I played in the area and it took some getting used to.  
The Third hole is the first par 3.  It’s + 200 yards even from the Whites and there really isn’t any room for error unless you hit it short right.  The green is elevated and bunkers are everywhere.  
Tee shot on Number 3
The Fourth is a short par 4.  The green is large and raised, but undulates a lot so three putting is a definite possibility if you take the wrong approach.  The Fifth is the first par 5.  Elevated tee shot through a chute of trees and is pretty much straight to a green protected by water on the left and bunkers on the right.  There are cross bunkers to contend with on your second shot as well.  I should clarify that these greens undulate mainly by having different steps, tiers and ridges.  Pin placement can get interesting if the hole is set on one of these ridges.  That was the case here when I played it.  
Holes 6 – 9 are some what of a blur since this is where I really lost the will to live, but I will try to re-piece these holes as best I can because in the midst of my existential crisis, I recall these holes being really good.  The Sixth was a little narrower than the other holes and most trouble is presented around the green, with bunkers littering from 100 yards in.  The Seventh is the second par 5 that dog legs left.  It is tree lined as well.  It reminded me a little of Scotland Run as I was maneuvering my way down the hole.  The Eighth is the second par 3 and I liked a lot.  From the Whites, it’s about 150 yards uphill to an amphitheater green sloping back to front and of course, bunkers everywhere.  The Ninth is a good par 4 that dog legs left to an uphill green.  The green is on a sidehill, making putting especially tough.  
As objectively as possible, the strong holes here were 2, 4, 5, 8 and 9.
We decided to grab lunch at the turn so I could regain some sanity and warm back up.  My thoughts on the bar are below, but generally, great food, good beers and nice tv’s.  
When we went in for lunch, the course was pretty empty.  All the conversations I overheard were that it was too cold and no one really felt like braving the elements (it really wasn’t all that bad).  When we came out after lunch, however, the place was packed.  The staff was accommodating in getting us back in the line up and we didn’t see any of the crowd on the course, nor did we really have to wait to hit.  
Pines:
I basically committed to making a full turn and not caring where the ball went, which helped immensely.  I played much better and took more pictures.  Pines is the shortest of the nine holes and is generally considered the easiest of the three sets of nine and not surprisingly, included a lot more trees in general, which kept out the wind for the most part.  I appreciated this set of nine, but a lot of the holes didn’t really set themselves apart as they did on Ridge.  The strong holes, however, made it worth playing this nine altogether.
The Tenth quite honestly reminded me of the First on Ridge.  The difference lies with the green though, as there is severe bunkering on the left, the green is raised and trees surround the green.  On second thought, I’m not sure why this hole reminded me of Ridge 1, but probably because of the elevated tee shot from in front of the clubhouse.  Number 11 is a short par 3 that is pretty much straight ahead, as pictured below.  
Eleventh Hole
The Twelfth is another par 4 that is longish and straight with a few bunkers down the fairway and green.  
The photo below shows the common characteristics of the hazards you encounter here; trees lining each side of the fairway and rather large bunkers you should maneuver around.
Tee shot at 12
The Thirteenth goes back the other way from the Twelfth, is a little shorter and dog legs right.  The photo below shows another characteristic here– deep bunkers around the green.  These can be found at 13.
The green at 13.  The gentle sloping from green to bunker makes it quite easy to get in them even if your ball lands on the green.
The Fourteenth starts back to back par 5’s.  There is water on the right towards the green and it actually opens up from the trees on the left.  The green is pretty large and bunkers are in front of the green.  
I really liked the Fifteenth.  You have an elevated tee shot to a split fairway with water on the right and bunkers on the left.  The green is hidden on a sharp dog leg left to a raised green fronted with bunkers to a large and severely undulating green.  
Tee shot at the Fifteenth
Another photo of the tee shot at Fifteenth showing the water hazard on the right
After those two par 5’s, you get a very short par 3.  The scorecard has it as 114 yards from the Whites, but it was playing 98 yards the day I was there.  As you can see in the photo, they make this short hole interesting, with a raised green and some deep bunkers on the right.  I like short par 3’s and feel every good course has an interesting one.  
Sixteenth Hole
The Seventeenth is a par 4 with yet another elevated tee shot.  It then dog legs to the left slightly.  There are interesting mounds along the left side of this hole that make for some challenging lies if you get caught over there.  I know from firsthand experience.  
The Eighteenth is a nice finishing hole with the clubhouse in the background even from the tees.  You have an elevated tee shot to a fairway that climbs towards the green, which sits on a plateau and is protected by bunkers in the front.  The green is pretty big and is multi tiered.  The pin was set on a small ridge on the far back right corner of the green.  I happened to hit my approach on the ridge and one putted for a nice finishing par that will keep me from swearing off this game, for now.  
Tee shot at Eighteenth
The strong holes were 10, 14, 15, 16 and 18.  I liked Pines more than I thought I would.  The interesting holes were fun and there was some challenge, but more enjoyable than tough.  Just what I needed after a disastrous front nine.  Pines is about 200 – 300 yards shorter than Ridge and Links, which I suspect comes from shorter par 3’s and par 5’s for the most part, but is just over 3,000 yards from the Whites, which is fine for me.  
Generally, Eagle Ridge was a nice play.  The lay out was nice and you got a little of everything as far as challenge goes.  In fact, it was just the right amount of challenge, although some of the holes on Pines, like 11 and 12, may have been on the pushover side.  Some times it’s fine to have some holes where you can get back some strokes; I suspect that was in mind when Ridge 4 was designed as well.  
Because the course was still on a winter schedule, there was no cart girl out, but I’ll go out on a limb here and suspect you see the cart girl early and often.  The range is nice, with a little short game area just off to the side.  I found the starters and pro shop guys nice and friendly.  We just played as a two some so I didn’t have a chance to play with anyone else, but I got the impression that more serious golfers were the majority here.  They seemed friendly enough.  The rates were reasonable and the online deal I had made it a smash and grab job on my part.
Gripes:  Aside from this place giving me the shanks, the only other thing that comes to mind was the service at the bar.  At one point during lunch, there were 3 workers in a conversation while me and a few others had to wait until they were done in order to get served.  They were 3 feet away from us and completely unaware or just downright ignoring the customers.  It was baffling.  I didn’t really associate the golf course with the bar though, as it was obvious the restaurant was more of a place for locals to go for a nice meal, any service issues with the restaurant/bar are limited to that department.  In other words, I don’t really hold the course responsible for a few slightly rude servers.
This isn’t really a gripe more than a discussion, but whether this place justifies the long drive is debatable. I will likely return to meet my northern NJ friend, but would I recommend driving all the way out there otherwise?  If you live in Bucks County, then yes.  The drive is much shorter for you guys.  But for someone in Center City or the western suburbs, it really just depends.  There are only a few places I’d drive more than an hour for, usually either because I love the lay out, the design is unique to the area, unbelievable value or just has something else special to it.  As far as this course goes, I enjoyed the lay out, the design has character but I don’t know if I’d label it as unique, the value is pretty good, so it’s right on the line for me.  In fact, I don’t know.  The only public course that would offer a similar design would be Scotland Run, which I like more.  I’ll have to revisit this, as I think the deciding factor for me would be crowds.  If this course doesn’t have a crowd issue during the weekends, then I believe I would in fact make the drive.  I’ll update this when I get a chance to go back.
Bar/Grill:  Aside from the gripes, the food was really good and they had a great selection of beers, all of which was reasonably priced.  We hung out and watched some golf after the round, which is what you want from the bar.  And whatever they served helped my play on the back 9, so there’s that intangible.
Clubhouse:  On the large side with a lot of equipment and clothes.  Decent hat logo.  They had a great sale on Callaway drivers, so that is a huge plus.  Friendly staff too.
Nearby:  Not real sure.  I think Jackson, NJ is nearby and Tom’s River is a little close-ish, but my drive in was basically through a bunch of, what else, pine trees.  
Getting there:  About 15 minutes off 195.

UPDATE UPDATE UPDATE

April 2013

On a rather nice Spring day, I headed to the Eagle for another gander.  Last year, I played here in March and it was pretty cold, so I wanted to play here when it was warmer, things had a chance to blossom and the course was in full swing.

Uh, didn’t happen.  The wind brought the temperature down significantly, the course didn’t have the range or putting green open, it was cart path only and we were repeatedly told that everything would be open and running on 5/1.  Oh yeah, and the greens were aerated.

All of this is understandable.  I don’t know how hard the area was hit from Hurricane Sandy or whether the lingering cold weather has slowed down their scheduling, so though it was disappointing that the course wasn’t fully functioning, it wasn’t shocking.  What was annoying is that no one told us the maintenance schedule when we booked our tee time, or when we checked in.  The driving range closure is posted on their web site, but nothing about aeration and no one told us about CPO.  I guess my standard here is that courses should either have their maintenance schedule posted, so you know when greens will be aerated, etc., or you should be notified when you book your tee time.  Obviously aerated greens significantly affects play, so at the very least green fees should be lowered.  As far as CPO, that’s something you should also be notified of at booking or check in.  That helps you figure out whether you want to go forward with the round ahead of time.  Just seems like the right thing to do.

At any rate, we played the Ridge and Pines courses again.  I was interested in playing the Links course, but not in the cards.  To their credit, there was a backlog of players on the first tee, but the wait wasn’t all that terrible and we were able to finish under 4 hours.

Other than the greens, the course seemed to be in good shape.  The Sixteenth on the Pines course was undergoing quite a bit of work, but otherwise the fairways, bunkers, rough and tee areas were good to go.  The other players there were also nice, as a foursome allowed us to tee off ahead of them and everyone we came across was friendly.  The halfway house was open and nicely run and there were some really good deals in the pro shop once again.  The bar and grill area was so crowded we couldn’t find a seat; lots of non golfers obviously come here to hang out.

I’ve been playing well recently, but decided to get a lesson to find more consistency with my iron play.  The lesson was the day before I played here and even though I was playing fine for most of the front 9, a mis hap in a green side bunker on the Ridge Seventh was enough to unravel my swing.  Just too many swing thoughts swirling around, but of course I started turning it around on the Seventeenth, too little too late.  Probably should have spent some time on the range to work on some things before round, oh wait, the range was closed….

It’s interesting to read my reviews from prior rounds and compare them to my most recent impressions.  Some times things are drastically different, some times they’re the same.  This time around, I still liked playing the Ridge course, but the Pines was a little more bland than I remember.  The Fifteenth is a nice par 5, but otherwise there’s not a whole lot that’s memorable.  A lot of the holes follow the same design and look alike for the most part.  And I feel like I could have played the course with about 4 – 5 clubs.  It’s relatively easy and can be fun to score well, but I’d really like to see if the Links course is on the same level as Ridge to figure out how I feel about this place.  

My initial review asked the question whether the drive from the Philadelphia area to play here is worth it.  I’d say no if you’re paying peak rates and have to play the Pines as one of the nine holes.  It doesn’t matter if the weather is better and everything is in full swing; it’s just not interesting enough to justify the higher green fees.  I’m not sure how available the Links course is, or if it is at all to non-members, but I’ll likely only come back if I’m able to play it, or find a great deal on green fees.  I’d like to come back during the Summer and give it one more chance before rendering any final verdict.  For anyone that is closer to the course, in Bucks County or central NJ, I still think this is a good choice for you guys.    

I took some more photos of the Ridge course.  Some are repeats of my first set of photos, but these are later in the season and more indicative of what the course looks like most of the playing season.

Front of the clubhouse

Ridge First tee

Ridge Second tee

Approach shot on the Ridge Second

Tee shot on the Ridge Third

Tee shot on the Ridge Fourth

Approach shot at the Ridge Fourth
Tee shot at the Ridge Fifth
Tee shot at the Ridge Sixth
Approach shot at the Ridge Sixth

Tee shot at the Ridge Seventh
After the dog leg looking at the green on the Ridge Seventh

      

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