Hominy Hill GC

6,456 yards, 129 slope from the Whites

Course:  In Colts Neck, NJ (east of Trenton, almost at the Shore near Long Branch) is Hominy Hill, a course designed by Robert Trent Jones, Sr.  Hominy was originally a private club, founded by Henry Mercer, the one and same who incidentally has a county named after him and was a shipping magnate that belonged to Augusta, as well as the Rumson Country Club locally.  For one reason or another, Mercer was not entirely satisfied with the guest policies at Rumson, so decided that enough was enough; he needed to build his own club.  He had land that was mainly used for his cattle and horses, so retained the services of RTJ to turn that land into a course.  RTJ lived in Montclair, NJ and was hired to build HH at a time when RTJ was fully developed as an architect.  Unlike a number of his projects, the proximity of the course to his home made it much easier to personally visit the site during construction to ensure the integrity of the design was intact.  The course became the exclusive sanctuary of Mercer until he decided to entrust the course to the county and public, provided that it continued to be used as a golf course.

Hominy Hill is currently ranked as the 13th best public course in NJ by Golfweek Magazine.  It has hosted the US Public Amateur Links Championships for both men and women.  While time change and golf course evolve a number of ways, including private clubs finally opening themselves to public play, it’s quite something that such an exclusive course has been and continues to be available to the public, with much of it untouched from its original design.

I was finally able to make it to the course after years of trying to get here.  There is plenty of commentary on RTJ as a course architect.  As one of the first to turn course design into an industry, RTJ churned out courses by the dozens, some he paid attention to more than others, which in turn meant that some (or a lot) of his courses miss the mark in what he was trying to accomplish, resulting in a lot of formulaic and redundant courses.  After reading one of his biographies, RTJ certainly enjoyed the business side of getting a course done, but it’s indisputable that he was an extremely talented designer that worked from virtually nothing to build an empire and leave a legacy behind that popularized course architecture, in both positive and not so positive ways.  I have played a number of his courses and while they range in appeal for me, there are several that I like a lot.  You can always find at least a few heroic shots during the round, the bunkering is typically interesting, and the greens seem undulating but not to the point of silliness.  They always seem to have a grand scale to them that I find appealing.

Hominy Hill is still a public county course and as mentioned, it really hasn’t changed much design-wise.  Up until five years ago, the bunkers were not touched at all but now have been rebuilt.  The Seventeenth green is also different, as the original green was long and narrow.  I found it to be a good representation of RTJ’s style, playable with some challenge.  The terrain is fairly flat with a few juts, there were some forced carries over water and the greens were large and sweeping.  Most holes are dog legs, a lot of the greens are elevated to some degree, so there’s something to be said for the fact that the holes were able to distinguish themselves as much as they did.  While the course provided some variety and most of the holes were set up with the tee shot, you’re probably not going to see anything here that you haven’t seen elsewhere.  But those looking for a course with nice conditions that provides a pretty good challenge on a familiar fare layout that gives you a sense of history playing on a vintage RTJ track, this is your place.

There were two major drawbacks to the course in general and they go hand in hand.  Unless you’re a county resident, you’ll be overpaying to play here.  The cart fee is $20 most of the time, a few dollars less in some circumstances, so you save a good amount if you walk, and the course is very walkable.  But for those of us who want to visit from out of town, we pay dearly for the trip.  That includes a fee just for making a tee time!  Then when you arrive at the course, don’t expect that the money you’re paying means top of the line amenities or even decent service.  I don’t need either to enjoy my time on the course, but boy this place does not do much to make you feel welcome.  I got the impression that playing the course was privilege enough for whatever you paid, whether you’re from out of town or not.  Just feel lucky you’re allowed on the grounds and stay quiet about everything else.  I hate bristling about service and amenities, but some times it’s worth pointing out.  A big miss here that detracts from the experience and makes a return trip that less likely.  Regardless, I don’t let these types of things impact what I think of the course, it’s entirely separate.

I met a friend here for a weekend round.  I have a long list of courses I want to get to and review and when my friend said he would be in the area and had time for a round, I knew it was time to check it out.  I had been playing well so wanted to see how my game traveled.  The range session warming up was tentative to say the least, but I was still confident.  We decided to walk to save some money and with a few things from the vending machines (I’m not sure there is a snack bar), we set out on one of those Saturday afternoon rounds you think about all winter long.

The First is a 390 yard par 4 (from the Whites).  The fairway is wide and dog legs left to a green that tilts to the right with bunkers on both sides.

The First

Approach shot territory

The Second is a 328 yard par 4.  A short par 4 that dog legs right, the tee shot presents the quandary of either carrying the bunkers on the right or laying up short straight out to the fairway, as any tee shot too far straight out will go in the treeline on the left.  The green is a little elevated, with sunken bunkers on each sides.

The Second

Approach shot territory

The Third is a 181 yard par 3.  The trees some what confine your options for ball flight off the tee, but the green is the most interesting you encounter thus far, twisting off to the back and front, depending on what side of the ridge you end up on.  Bunkers on both sides of the green are present as well, which is prevalent here.

The Third

The Fourth is a 498 yard par 5.  This slight dog leg left brings the left side of the fairway, and bunkers, into play off the tee, forcing you to adjust your tee shot.  The fairway is wide but lined by trees on both sides, so keeping it straight is paramount.  Near the green, there is water off to the left and bunkers on the right, while the the green is perpendicular to the fairway, moving from front to back.

The Fourth

Moving down the fairway

Approach shot territory

A closer look at the green

The Fifth is a 312 yard par 4.  A short par 4 with a sharp dog leg right.  Trees protect the dog leg some what, but the right line off the tee can carry the trees for a short wedge into the green.  Bunkers on the right side of the fairway collect tee shots hit too far straight, so if you’re hitting straight, lay up and by all means, make sure you clear the trees on your right for your second shot.

The Fifth

Approach shot territory after the dog leg

A closer look at the the green, with my tee shot in wedge distance

The Sixth is a 374 yard par 4.  A dog leg left with a deep bunker protecting the inside of the dog leg.  That bunker did its job, as all of the guys in my group ended up in it off the tee.  Perhaps that’s because the dog leg and fairway tighten up near that bunker, which goads you into taking it on.  The green runs from back to front with bunkers on either side.

The Sixth

Approach shot territory

The Seventh is a 175 yard par 3.  Similar distance to the first par 3 and probably the same club you used there, the green is more generous and staying on the right side of the green is safer than the left, which has a side board, sending balls hard right once they land.  A good scoring hole.

The Seventh

The Eighth is a 390 yard par 4.  One of the better holes on the course, this dog leg left starts to climb to the green after the turn, with cross bunkers there as well.  The approach shot is uphill to a smaller green, surrounded by trees and rough.  Precision is required on the second shot and once on the green, it is multi tiered and more subtle than others on the course.

The Eighth

Approach shot territory

The Ninth is a 475 yard par 5.  Another interesting hole that dog legs right after the tee shot, with water on the right to consider if you want to get on the green in two shots.  There are also mounds and bunkers on the right to protect that line as well, while going up the left center of the hole is the safest option.  The green is set off to the right and well protected, kidney shaped and running back to front, right to left.

The Ninth

The right side

Second shot territory, with the green off to the right

The front nine has some interesting holes, including a variety of par 4’s, a nice finishing par 5, but the par 3’s are kind of bland.  I’d rank them 8, 9, 5, 6, 2, 4, 1, 3, 7.

The back nine starts with the 430 yard par 4 Tenth.  A dog leg right where challenging the inside of the turn is deceptive from the tee, as there is rough and more to clear after it you can’t see from the tee.  The green is uphill and means a long approach shot to a green that is larger than can be seen from the fairway.  Another good hole.

The Tenth

Approach shot territory

The Eleventh is a 162 yard par 3.  Similar distance to the prior par 3’s, but this one is set below the tee.  A forced carry over the creek, with water off to the left of the green as well.  The green is pretty subdued, so knock it on and get that birdie.

The Eleventh

The Twelfth is a 419 yard par 4.  A slight dog leg right with a blind tee shot.  The approach is straightforward away, with a couple bunkers on the left set shorter of the green than they appear, which messes with depth perception a little and may have you assume the green is closer than it is.  Trust the yardage and avoid the bunkers.

The Twelfth

Approach shot territory

A nice look at birdie (spoiler alert: I missed)

The Thirteenth is a 370 yard par 4.  A tight dog leg right where we see a little more deception; it almost seems imperative to challenge the bunker on the right off the tee, but there’s enough room and the fairway is wide enough to hit to the left of it.  Too far left ends up in the tree line though.  The green tilts from right to left with larger bunkers on either side.

The Thirteenth

Approach shot territory

The Fourteenth is a 504 yard par 5.  The fairway dog legs right off the tee, then proceeds downhill until water bisects the fairway.  The green is raised and on the other side of the water, creating a forced carry approach shot.  The green is very wide and while a two putt is a challenge if you’re on the other end from the pin, makes the carry shot manageable.  Figure out what distance you want to hit that approach at and adjust your second shot accordingly.

Approach shot territory

Closer to the forced carry

The Fifteenth is a 375 yard par 4.  This dog leg left rewards you for getting as close to the inside of the turn as possible, but a group of bunkers will snag your ball if you go too close.  The green is significantly uphill from the fairway and the approach is blind, but the green is very deep and there’s a lot of room up there.  The green also runs back to front.

The Fifteenth

Approach shot territory

The Sixteenth is a 188 yard par 3.  A little further than the other par 3’s, but the tee shot is elevated and I ended up hitting the same club on all par 3’s.  The green has some shape to it and some pin positions will bring the bunkers on that particular side in play, but center of the green is a safe bet and two putting from that location shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

The Sixteenth

The Seventeenth is a 501 yard par 5.  One of the few straight holes on the course and a par 5 at that.  Bunkers and trees can be found as you proceed down the fairway.  As you get close to the green, you’ll have to carry it over some bunkers to a large (if not the largest of the course) green.  Apparently, this hole is one of the very few changes to the original design, as the original green was much smaller than the behemoth there now.

The Seventeenth

Approach shot territory

A closer look

The Eighteenth is a 384 yard par 4.  The closing hole is a dog leg right, with more bunkers than normal guarding each side of the turn.  The green is a little narrow yet deep, with more bunkers on either side.  Placement on both shots is at a premium here to close out the round.

The Eighteenth

Approach shot territory

A little closer, with the green straight ahead

The back nine seemed a little more difficult than the front and without the shorter par 4’s, a little longer.  There was a few interesting holes, but some repetition with the uphill greens and forced carries on par 5’s.  I’d rank them 10, 15, 18, 14, 12, 13, 17, 16, 11.

Generally, Hominy Hill has some classic features that maintain interest and a little challenge, but there is some repetition RTJ was known for in his designs that takes a lot of strategy and thought out of the round.  With that said, you need to hit good shots and play solid golf to score well here while bad shots always seemed to be adequately penalized, which actually made for some fun shots.  If I lived in the area and was looking to walk with a minimal amount of stress or focus yet enough for enjoyment, I would play here.  But unless you’re a really big RTJ fan, it may not be worth journeying to from too far away.

Gripes:  As mentioned before, the pricing and service here are head scratchers.

Bar/Grill:  There seemed to be something around, but it wasn’t open when we were there, on a Saturday afternoon.  Also, the facilities overall are outdated.

Clubhouse/Pro Shop:  Adequate, seemed to have a good assortment of stuff.

Practice area:  A range and putting green.

Nearby:  A couple good bar/grills, one with a nice outside area.   Depends on what you’re looking for a google maps has you covered.