Knob Hill

6,408 yards, 131 slope from the Blues

Course:  Located in Manalapan, NJ.  At the outset, yes I know I’ve been playing a lot of Central Jersey cases lately, which may fly in the face of what the Philly Golf Guy stands for.  But in my defense, these courses are just as far as those in DE and even the 422 posse or Route 1 South Wyncote-ish courses from downtown, so really, location or distance wise it’s not much of a stretch.  What sticks out in the region though, is cost.  You are usually able to drive about an hour outside the city to some really affordable golf on great tracks, but it seems like the closer you get to NYC the more you will pay to golf regardless of course conditions, etc.

After cheaping out at a few places recently, we decided to try Knob Hill, a semi private course that seemed promising from the website, photos and scorecard.  And Mark McCumber designed it, his first course out of about 10 – 15.  McCumber was a tour player who finished 11th at the Masters one year.  Honestly, I don’t know much about any of the other courses he’s designed, but he appears to have a respectable resume of courses.

The NBA playoffs are going on right now and the Sixers are still in it.  In that spirit and since I’ve been watching a lot of basketball recently, this course reminds me of Andre Igoudala.  Igoudala is a pretty good NBA player and does a lot of things right.  He’s what you would call a solid #2, but there’s a few things missing that stop him from being a franchise player. That’s how I feel about this course.  It’s a great upper second tier and maybe even a low end first tier course, but it’s not a “franchise” place.  Conditions are the best I’ve played in the area, the par 3’s were pretty good and the front 9 was very good, but there were a few things missing that probably hold this place back from being a top banana, even if it is one of the better choices in the area.

The course itself has some interesting features.  I really liked the front 9.  Water hazards came into play often and the holes snaked their way through trees and ponds, with wind on almost every hole.  The rough is also unique; it’s deep and the ball sinks to the bottom of it, very similar to Wyncote, although the rough at Wyncote is bristly and tough to get your club head in.  The rough here is thick, yet porous, so your ball sinks like a brick and grabs at your club head during your downswing.   Hills and mounds are used creatively.  Bunkers are strategic and usually around the green.  The sand was hard packed, so plugged lies aren’t really a concern.  Greens rolled true, but were not tricked out.  That’s rare nowadays.

We decided to play from the Blues because the Whites were a little too short.  6400 yards isn’t that much of a stretch anyways, but that didn’t stop one of the old guys behind us to make some snarky comment that we must all be pretty good if we were playing from, “way back there.”  The first hole starts off on an elevated tee and is a nice starter par 4.  The second presents an interesting tee shot, as there is water to the right and trees come out from the left, so really you need a draw here.  Water continues along the right side of the fairway to a narrow opening of the green.  Even though we had to wait 5 minutes for the group ahead of us before we could tee off, the ranger instructed us to keep up with the group ahead of us.  Thanks for being helpful.  Between the snarky old guys behind us and the abrasive ranger all by the second hole, I was starting to have my doubts about the place.  But I quickly forgot about that stuff as we weren’t bothered again.  The same ranger drove by a number of times afterwards and seemed happy with our progress in keeping up with the group ahead of us.

Tee shot at the First

Tee shot at the Second
Turtles off the Second tee area
Close up of the tee shot at the Second.  It was tough to make out the water along the right from the tee area.

At any rate, the third hole is a par 3 about 140 yards.  Water greets you on the right up to the green yet again.  Anything right is in trees.  And anything long is in water.  There was plenty of green, but you better hit it on line and have your distance correct.  The fourth is the #1 handicapped hole, a 464 yard par 4.  It’s long and gradually rolls up and downhill, but I think the wind is what keeps this hole interesting.

Tee shot at the Fourth

The fifth is a short par 4 with an elevated tee.  There are bunkers protecting the sides of the green, which is multi tiered from back to front.  Wind comes into play here as well and our entire group basically overcooked our approach shots.  I liked the subtle challenge of the wind on these holes.  You saw it again with the sixth, which is a 190 yard par 3 against the wind.  It was not as subtle on this hole, but rather smacked you in the face.

The green at the Sixth

The seventh was a great hole.  It’s a 500 yard par 5, but it forces you to make some decisions on the second and third shots.  Again, wind makes for a tricky tee shot.  Water then separates the fairway from the green, forcing you to decide between a very long second shot (into wind) or get towards the end of the fairway for a manageable approach over the water to the green.  Not just any lay up shot will do though, as water also encroaches on both sides of the end of the fairway, forcing accuracy.  I really enjoyed the strategy involved with this hole and it can be played a thousand different ways.

Approach at the Seventh.  You can see the water pinching the end of the fairway, demanding a pretty good lay up.

The eighth starts off with a forced carry tee shot over water, then immediately turns right, so a fade works well here, but don’t fade too much or you end up in water that creeps along the right side of the hole.  Another great approach shot here as you face a peninsula green, with water on all sides but the back.

Approach shot at Eighth

The ninth is a nice Eden par 3 at about 150 yards, tree lined on both sides and rough right up to the fringe of the green.

The back 9 definitely has a different personality than the front.  Honestly, it was a little bit of a let down, as I realize now that I really enjoyed the front.  I just didn’t see as much creativity and originality.  I still liked playing the back and appreciated it, but the excitement of the front 9, not knowing what to expect, getting challenged in different ways from the tee shot to the approach, just wasn’t the same on the back.

The Tenth and Eleventh were similar and almost identical distances; par 4’s with trouble on the left side of the green.  The twelfth again piqued my interest.  It’s a par 3 about 125 yards, but the green sits on a severe hill and is fronted by bunkers.  Anything left or right is dead and hitting it too long puts you in the rough with a downhill chip shot.  The hole demands an accurate tee shot and is somewhat visually intimidating form the tee area.

The Twelfth

Thirteen and Fourteen were a forgettable par 4 and 5, respectively.  The fairways opened up and there wasn’t much trouble to contend with.  Not much character here.  The Fifteenth is another 190 yard par 3, but this one is downhill to a large green.  Anything left is done in the trees and too far to the right is the entry road.  Bunkers and water on the right penalize any shot that is too long.  The Sixteenth is a par 5 that narrows significantly.  You gotta go up the left side here.  The Seventeenth is a very short par 4 with an elevated green.

Tee shot at Seventeenth

The Eighteenth was a great closing hole.  It’s a 465 yard par 4 uphill.  The fairway snakes along between bunkers and presents different landing areas up to the green.

Tee shot at Eighteen

Generally, I liked this course a lot.  It had one of the better front 9 and quite honestly, I don’t think the front 9 had a weak hole.  I was really happy with the conditioning.  The par 3’s were solid.  As I mentioned, the back 9 didn’t deliver the same as the front.  Aesthetically, there were enormous power lines visible for a few holes.  You’re so close to them you could hear the humming of electricity.  Except for Twelve and Eighteen, not a whole lot of strategy or imagination was required to navigate the holes.  Really though, these holes don’t detract all that much from the experience here more than they were disappointing.  I was all in during the front 9 and thought I found a course that could break in to the top 10, but being that the back 9 didn’t meet the standards of the front, I still see Knob Hill cracking the top 20.  I need to play a course at least twice before it “qualifies” for consideration on the rankings, so we’ll see where we are once I get here a second time.

This course does most everything right though.  The service was excellent; one of our foursome was stuck on the NJ turnpike, was an hour late and they accommodated us even though groups were still in line to go out.  The cart girl was nice and we saw her a few times, on the front 9 only.  Maybe she doesn’t like the back 9 either.  They have a halfway grill house that sells cheap burgers and sandwiches at the turn that was great.  And the practice green was large and had hills, rough and bunkers to work on your short game.

So the bottom line for me is that I will definitely be back.  $60 after Noon during the weekend is an absolute value.  In fact, NJ is terrible for providing value golf, so this could be one of the better deals I know of.  But there’s more to it than value; as I’ve already emphasized, I am in love with the front 9, conditions were the best I’ve seen in the area, it was a little more than an hour drive, service was great and the short game practice area was impressive.  Yes the back 9 was a little disappointing from a design perspective, but I can get over that with all the other things this course has to offer.

Gripes:  I’ve already said enough about the back 9, but the other blemish here is there is no driving range.  That would probably annoy me more if I was a member here, but it does detract.  Even the guys in the pro shop admitted it was a sore subject.  It’s definitely something to consider when looking for places to play.

Bar/grill:  A nice bar and separate area if you want to sit and eat at a table.  Televisions are every where.  Food is above average.  The halfway hut also has burgers, sandwiches and beers and there are places to sit outside, including the nice touch of Adirondack chairs.

Clubhouse:  A good size and has a good range of clubs and clothes.

Nearby:  Not much I could see.  I also doubt there’s anything around that beats what the course has.

Getting there:  Exit 8 off the NJ Turnpike.  Just about 7 miles.