Nehsanic Valley GC

Meadow: 3,307 yards; Lake: 3,338 yards; Ridge: 3,327 yards (from the Golds)

Meadow/Lake: 126 slope
Meadow/Ridge: 127 slope
Lake/Ridge: 125 slope (all from the Golds)
In Central New Jersey off the beaten path a bit lies Neshanic Valley GC, a 27 hole course that’s part of the Somerset County collection of courses.  The course was designed by Dr. Hurdzan and Dana Fry.  As I’ve said in the past, I’m a big fan of Hurdzan.  His design style is what I’d call semi minimalist, as he primarily relies on the terrain in shaping the holes, using ridges, elevation changes and bunkers that are typically carved into or below the greens and fairways.  Subtle character is another way I’d describe it, as each hole sets itself apart from the next yet the routing is typically very well done and each hole seems to naturally follow the next.  In many ways, Neshanic reminds me of Pilgrim’s Oak, which is another Hurdzan course.  
Neshanic is indeed a farmland style course, with varying degrees of elevation changes, a few forced carries and blind shots, as well as larger greens with sufficient undulation.  Trees are present but are used sparingly while gullies and ravines cut in to a number of holes.  Rough is prominent and serves as an appropriate lashing for mis hits without being overly penal.  It’s a smart design that makes beautiful use of the existing, wide open landscape.  For these and I’m sure many other reasons, Neshanic is routinely ranked as one of the best public courses in New Jersey.  
Aside from the course, there is a separate 9 hole Academy course, a Callaway Performance Center (where you can go through club fittings), a learning center with a double sided driving range and a short game practice area.  It’s certainly an impressive public golf mecca for all it offers.  
The only time I had played here was about 7 years ago and all I could remember about the place was I really enjoyed the round.  I finally was able to get back here recent and play all 27 holes as part of a tournament amongst friends, where we pitted ourselves in teams of those from North Jersey and those from South Jersey, the winner getting to claim the “Armpit Cup,” the trophy of which is a miniature toilet bowl on a wooden throne.  Good times indeed.  So what better time to review all 27 holes than in the middle of competing for a toilet bowl?
THE MEADOW COURSE

The Meadow course starts with the 402 yard par 4 (from the Golds).  The elevated tee shot is to a generous fairway, goading you to hit it towards the left.  The fairway slopes left and if you’re not careful, you’ll end up in the rough with some of the trees possible blocking your approach.  But the temptation is there and it’s a nice example of the design characteristics you encounter throughout the round; simplistic yet subtle.  
The First

Approaching the green on the left side
The Second is a 365 yard par 4.  The hole is set on a terrace with the fairway running with the hillside from right to left.  The green is interesting, since it’s carved into the hillside and levels out, but anything left of it will be significantly downhill and below, leaving a challenging chip shot.  
The Second

Approach shot territory
The Third is a 169 yard par 3.  The hole continues along the same terrace as the Second, with the hillside dictating everything running from right to left.  It’s an easy enough one shotter, with not a whole lot of trouble to contend with.  No matter, I figured out a way to not score well here.  Some times I amaze myself.
The Third
The Fourth is a 503 par 5.  It was at this point in the round that I started noticing some striking similarities with Pilgrim’s Oak; using hillsides lengthwise, nice open sweeping fairways that turn, climb and descend abruptly and very subtle greens.  The Fourth is a great example of all of this, as the fairway turns left immediately before a ridge separates the fairway to the green, which is downhill to the ridge, essentially creating another blind shot.  It’s a nice hole.  
The Fourth

Second shot territory
The Fifth is a 427 yard par 4.  The hole sits above the Fourth and goes in the opposite direction.  Although the fairway is wide and the green generous, anything off fairway gets ver difficult very quickly, with rough, hillsides and trees.  Bunkers are placed in the right areas, but keeping it straight here is almost certain to be rewarding.
Approach shot territory
The Sixth is a 156 yard par 3.  Another straight forward par 3, with the green sitting a little above the teeing area.  The green actually runs from left to right a little more severely than it looks and there is a ridge in the green that puts shots towards the rear rolling further away, so being short is typically a better miss.  The par 3’s are definitely holes to get strokes back.  
The Sixth
The Seventh is a 315 yard par 4.  It’s a great short par 4, as the entire hole is in front of you from the elevated tee.  The fairway juts and dips to the left, with the green hiding below a group of bunkers on the left.  The longer hitters can challenge the green while everyone else has a nice stretch of fairway to decide what type of approach shot they want to the deep yet somewhat narrow green.  This was one of my favorite pictures of the day as well, with the clouds framing the horizon nicely.
The Seventh
The Eighth is a 421 yard par 4.  The fairway crests, then falls before rising again to the green, all while turning slightly to the left and the fairway running from right to left.  Similar to the Fourth, the fairway is bisected by a gully, which creates a forced carry approach shot to the green.  
The Eighth
The Ninth is a 549 yard par 5.  There is lots going on with the final hole for this nine, which leads back to the clubhouse.  It should be noted that the clubhouse sits on the highest point of the land, so all opening holes are downhill while the finishing holes lead uphill, placing a lot of emphasis on the large clubhouse, which complements each finishing hole nicely.  Here, the tee shot is a forced carry over some vegetation to a fairway that climbs to the green, which is elevated and to the left of the fairway.  Water is also on the left to protect overambitious second and third shots.  It’s certainly a great par 5 that reminded me of the Eighteenth at Pilgrim’s Oak in a few ways and a nice way to finish off this series of nine holes.  
The Ninth

Approach shot territory
The Meadow course is generally more of a wide open rota, relying on the terrain and rough for most of the challenge.  It’s very similar to what you what find of a heathland course, but there are more trees than you’d find on a heathland.  I thought the routing was terrific, the par 5’s very good and the sorter par 4’s also very good while the par 3’s were a little standard.  It was an enjoyable 9 holes and I’d rank them 9, 7, 2, 4, 8, 1, 5, 6, 3.
THE LAKE COURSE

The Lake Course starts with the 412 yard par 4 First.  The fairway descends from the tee and turns to the right, where the green is set on a hillside, dropping off severely on the far side.  Distance control is vital here, especially on the approach, while placement off the tee is almost as important.  The hole played shorter than its stead yardage and accuracy is the name of the game here to score well.
The First

Approach shot territory
The Second is a 343 had par 4.  Another interesting short par 4 where the tee shot is crucial to setting up a playable approach.  The tee shot is a forced carry over native grass to an uphill fairway that immediately angles about 2:00 to the green, with bunkers and ridges in between.  Due to the more difficult approach, the tee shot should avoid the bunkers in the beginning of the fairway and a good lie is almost necessary.  Of course, I decided to “Golden Tee” this hole by hitting the cart path with my second shot, on which my ball bounced and rolled to the left side of the green.  Who says cart paths were only for driving the carts?
The Second

Approach shot territory
The Third is a 155 yard par 3.  Sadly, I forgot to photograph this hole, but the green sits below the tee area with mounds blocking most of the green from the tee.  Definitely one of the most baffling greens, as it was tough trying to figure out how it ran to the hole from the right side.  Definitely a better par 3 than what we saw on the Meadow, as it demands precision and a little bit of faith in knowing the distance of your club.  
The Fourth is a 433 yard par 4.  The tee shot is elevated and must be carried to the fairway, which continues downhill unit it dog legs right to the green.  It’s similar to a Cape hole in that you can attempt to carry the turn, but anything that ends up short along the left will be in deep rough at a bad angle to the green.  Any attempt at that carry would only be from a short tee shot, as a well placed tee shot would be to the right center of the fairway, setting up the best approach.  
The Fourth

Approach shot territory
The Fifth is a 564 yard par 5.  The Fifth through Eighth are the lowest part of this nine holes and circle around a large water hazard, which I would guess explains why this nine is called the Lake Course.  This hole snakes uphill while sunken bunkers on either side collect any balls too far off line.  The green is rather deep, rewarding those who belt it on, and making recovery shots a little easier to salvage par with.   
The Fifth

Second shot territory
The Sixth is a 394 yard par 4.  Water creeps in a little to the right on the tee shot, as the fairway dog legs right to a larger green with very little trouble other than rough nearby.  It’s what I call a refresher hole, as it should be relatively easy to score on.
The Sixth

Approach shot territory
The Seventh is a 355 yard par 4.  Water becomes a much bigger part of this hole, as it sits along the entire right side.  With the narrower fairway and encroaching bunkers on the left, the water very much comes into play if your tee and approach shots are not well attended to.  Another nice short par 4 that features some risk/reward from the tee, yet demands precision, distance control and course management.
The Seventh

Approach shot territory
The Eighth is a 187 yard par 3.  Water is again a prominent hazard, as it intrudes on the hole from the right while the green is elevated from the tee.  The only bail out room is short, while any where else provides a challenging up and down.  What also is not readily apparent is that the green runs from left to right, even though from the tee it looks like it should run from back to front, yet true to form it runs towards the water.  Definitely one of the better par 3’s on the course.
The Eighth
The Ninth is a 495 yard par 5, keeping with the theme of closing par 5’s leading uphill to the clubhouse.    It’s a semi double dog leg, first turning to the left before descending into a gully and forcing a carry to the other side, where well places bunkers ahead of the green forced you to decide where to place your second shot.  Of course, the forced carry makes for a tough decision on tee shots in precarious places, and you ay do well to lay up in certain situations.  Course management is important here, yet the fairly easy green and approach are the rewards once you make it there.
The Ninth
The Lake Course is on flatter terrain than the Meadow or Ridge, but true to its name utilizes water much more than those other sets of nine holes. Bunkers are also a little more prominent, while ball striking and distance control are prized possessions in scoring well.  It was my favorite set of nine, mainly because the par 3’s were the best and scenery was a little more serene than the others.  Ranking them, I’d go 2, 7, 8, 9, 1, 3, 4, 5, 6.
THE RIDGE COURSE
The Ridge Course starts with the 390 yard par 4.  I can’t believe I didn’t photograph this hole, as we were waiting to tee off for a few minutes.  At any rate, it’s similar to the First for the Lake course, as the tee shot is elevated to a fairway that runs downhill to the green, which is placed to the left of the fairway instead of the right (like at the Lake).  The fairway bottlenecks a little as you get closer to the green, so you should consider that accuracy becomes much more important as you get closer to the hole, so much so that driver may not be the ideal club off the tee.  
The Second is a 352 yard par 4.  The fairway dog legs left off the tee and keeps turning, with the green set to the left of the fairway.  Like the Meadow, long grass and rough are the main hazards, with a couple bunkers on the left side for those who try to cut too much off the turn.  
The Second

Approach shot territory
The Third is a 408 yard par 4.  I remember playing this hole and surprised it wasn’t a par 5, but it’s mainly because it plays a lot longer since it runs uphill to the green.  The fairway narrows and widens, which along with the ridges, makes it seem like there is no fairway entirely.  This certainly makes the hole feel longer as well, but something tells me that’s exactly what is intended.  
The Third
The Fourth is a 172 yard par 3.  It’s yet another hole I didn’t photograph, as it was getting late and my game was falling apart rather abruptly.  Bunkers are on either side of the green and there really is no room for error unless you are short, but it’s a decent one shotter with a smaller than normal green.
The Fifth is a 518 yard par 5.  It’s definitely a bolder design, as the fairway runs from 5:00 to 11:00 from the tee, almost demanding a draw to hit the fairway, all with a forced carry.  The fairway runs downhill before ending completely, with another forced carry over a large ravine to the green, which runs along that 5:00 angle as well.  It was a tad out of place from the other holes, but certainly stood out and is memorable, for better or worse.  I found it an awkward hole and the angles with the carries felt too contrived, but it’s one of those holes everyone is likely to feel differently about.
The Fifth
The Sixth is a 202 yard par 3.  It’s the longest par 3 of any of the courses and is not as forgiving as I would have expected it to be, although anything short will play fine.  The green is above the tee area, making it a bit longer than the stated yardage.  A longer par 3 such as this testing the accuracy of the long iron or hybrid is at the right point of the round in my opinion and is one of the sterner tests of The Ridge.  It’s not surprising it’s the number 2 handicapped hole.  
The Sixth
The Seventh is a 368 yard par 4.  Another blind tee shot, as the fairway crests near the landing area and turns slightly left to the green.  A deep bunker guard the front right side of the green, so that will have to be carried if you end up on the right side of the hole.  Other than the green side bunker, there’s not a whole lot to worry about, or get excited about, with this hole.  
The Seventh

Approach shot territory
The Eighth is a 532 yard par 5.  A nice hole and we finally get the epitome of a ridge hole, as the right side of the fairway has a steep drop off while the left side is fraught with trees and rough.  The fairway is not terribly generous, as it slinks gradually downhill to the green, with bunkers on the right side to add to the penalty of going off the fairway to the right.  There’s not a lot of room for error and it’s a longer hole, another test of length coupled with accuracy later in the round, where it’s best placed.  
The Eighth

Approach shot territory
The Ninth is a 385 yard par 4.  After a tough stretch of holes, the Ninth lets up just a little with an uphill par 4 with a decent sized fairway and green.  Unlike the Meadow and Lake, things do not end with a par 5, although things can snowball rather quickly on this hole and make it feel like a par 5.  The rough off fairway seemed to be particularly brutal and with the wind whipping over the cresting fairway, I’d probably club up as a matter of course.  
The Ninth

Approach shot territory
Generally, the Ridge course relied more on forced carries, blind shots and length than the other courses.  Although the stated yardage is actually a tad shorter than the Lake course, the hills and wind added to the length for sure.  The Ridge was added a year after the Meadow and Lake and to me, it felt that way.  The routing didn’t feel as smooth and the holes were uneven in presentation.  Regardless, it was a nice series of holes in terms of challenge and distance.  Ranking them, I’d go 8, 9, 1, 2, 4, 6, 3, 7, 5.
Neshanic Valley gives you three sets of nine holes, which all have different personalities.  Hurdzan and Fry do well to maintain a theme throughout all of them and utilize the terrain as much as possible in creating most of the character.  Although there are a few holes that really stand out, the main appeal here is that the make up of the whole surpasses any individual hole by itself.  The routing of the Meadow and Lake are superb and to me, are the reason why the course is impressive.  The combination of making you think, execute, all while allowing you to have fun by not over-penalizing worked well.  With a clubhouse and grill staff as friendly as ever, great course conditions and top notch facilities, Neshanic lives up to its reputation as one of the better public course destinations in New Jersey.  
Gripes:  The cart girl.  Ugh.  Over 8 hours of golf and we saw her twice.  It was brutal.  
Bar/Grill:  Nice indoor and outdoor seating area.  They stayed open until we felt like leaving, which was above and beyond.  And the food is pretty good.  
Clubhouse:  Well sized and stocked with lots of good stuff.  
Practice area:  Putting green, double ended driving range and short game practice area, as well as an entire 9 hole course for the Academy.  Lots to like.  
Nearby:  Farms I think.  The bottom line is not much.  Stay on site.  
Getting there:  Yikes, I took side roads for about 45 minutes once I got off 95.  GPS is a must.  

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