Trenton Country Club

6,358 yards, 129 slope from the Blues

Trenton makes, the world takes. Or so the saying goes, which my wife always thought sounded a little bitter. I have an unusual connection with Trenton. I clerked there after law school and got to know the area pretty well. This was when my golf was fairly limited and the only thing I knew about TCC was my judge was a member. But I’ve certainly read and heard about the club over the last few years and it’s been on my short list.

The history of the club and course is an interesting one. For starters, you really need to work before finding out who designed the course. That’s because the club really wasn’t sure who designed it until recently. Thanks to the work and research of a few local enthusiasts, we now know that Jimmie Norton, the club pro, has that honor. The club was founded in 1897 and it appears Norton laid out the course in 1913. A nine-hole course existed on the property beforehand, but Norton apparently did a complete re-design. Jimmie Norton was the brother of Willie Norton, a golf professional as well who designed courses in the area near his club, Deal GC, so at least had some sources of input if he wanted or needed any. The club officially opened in 1897 and have hosted a number of distinguished guests over the years, including Roosevelt, Rockefeller and Crosby.

The quirk found throughout the course is incredible and refreshing. There are several features many greens committees or designers would have removed or changed over the years in the name of improvement, but TCC left a lot of it alone. It has now paid off, as the course sets itself apart with its character. The course frolics here and there about the hilly terrain, leaving blind shots, large slopes and an array of angles and lies in its wake. The green shaping ranges from fun to fairly quick while the bathtub bunkers are some of my favorite. The ground game is alive and well here, while the elevation changes challenge the driving and shotmaking game. An imposing large tree stands in the middle of the fairway on a hill at the Eleventh, blocking the path to the green below. The Fifteenth green sits directly in front of the Sixteenth green, while the sandy area level with the surface sprawls back to the Fifteenth tee and out before the Sixteenth green. The variety of the holes, and the quirk, presents itself in a logical order, all making for a memorable round of golf you’ve likely never had before.

While the resurgence in popularity of classic golf design has been with us for a while now, there are courses like Trenton that haven’t changed much and likely won’t change much as we pass through whatever different eras in course design await. The course highlights a lot of the great things about classic design; inviting different golfing styles, walkability and ensuring every club in the bag is utilized. Using the land effectively and getting downright unique in spots really adds to the character and memorability of the place. Despite its length, the challenge is there with strategic decisions and enough shots where the long clubs need to be used.

Trenton needs to be in more discussions about courses that typify why it’s known as the Golden Age without regard for much else. It’s a great rendition of classic golf.

The First is a 296 yard par 4 (from the Blues). The short par 4 is straight on with trees on both sides. The green is set a little below the fairway with rough separating both. A larger bunker on the right side of the green and a smaller one on the left side hug a generous sized green, running front to back. A gentle warm up, the movement of the green is the mantelpiece of the hole, ensuring that each shot keeps it in mind.

The First
A closer peak at the flag
Approach shot territory, right side
The green

The Second is a 450 yard par 4. Things ramp up in a hurry as the tee shot is blind to a downhill fairway. The hole dog legs right with the fairway ending into rough where the fairway really slopes down. Continuing downhill and back into fairway, the green slopes off to the left into a collection area while the rest of the green slopes off around the perimeter, with lots of undulation. It’s a nice approach where knowing the green and movement just before it help play it well.

The Second
Approach shot territory
A closer look at the green
The left side with some nice shaping
Looking back

The Third is a 212 yard par 3. Playing uphill with a green that moves very quickly from back to front, the difficulty notches way up here so hopefully you’re sharpened up from the last two holes. Bunkers flank the green towards the front. A healthy tee shot, then deft touch on the green, all for a chance at par. A terrific par 3.

The Third
A closer look
From the bunker on the right
Looking back

The Fourth is a 448 yard par 4. The number one handicapped hole, and for good reason. The fairway moves from left to right but unless you have played here before, the Biarritz in the fairway is well hidden from the tee. That Biarritz is severe, creating a blind shot to the green from a downhill position. Longer hitters may be able to carry past it from the tee, but even well hit shots end up in it. From the Biarritz, the fairway climbs uphill and turns left, then descends slightly directly into the green. The green is large and moves balls away from the center and from left to right, in line with the slope the hole is set upon. An exciting hole that can be played a number of ways, with the biarritz injecting a lot of character into it.

The Fourth
Water running along the right
Looking back at the tee
The green is up there some where
Approach shot territory
The green

The Fifth is a 196 yard par 3. The green sits a little below the tee, water in front and right and a wide bunker along the left. Many of the greens and bunkers here take on a rounded rectangular shape, which adds to its character and provides plenty of width that adds to placement strategy. Conversely, the generous size of the green means that any shot that doesn’t find it is likely in a good amount of trouble. The angle into the green from the tee is a simple yet effective strategic element as well.

The Fifth
The green and rear lip

The Sixth is a 315 yard par 4. A shorter par 4 with trees on both sides and fairway bunkers on the right, then a greenside bunker fronting the green on the right side. While instinctually the tendency will be to play away from the tree line on the left, the fairway movements towards the bunkers complicates this, making staying as close to the left tree line as possible a great line to the green, opening up the entry point on the approach as well. Those who decide to steer away from the left will have to deal with the greenside bunker, likely aerially. Live dangerously and flirt with those trees.

The Sixth
Approach shot territory
The green

The Seventh is a 452 yard par 5. Heading uphill and between trees once again, the holes start to switch back and forth in this area. The hills and bunkering maintain a modicum of variety but this is the weaker portion of the course as there is some repeatability here and the trees confine things in spots. There’s a creek that bisects the fairway at the second shot that must be contended with. After the creek, the fairway begins uphill to the green, defended by bunkers on each side but the rear.

The Seventh
Moving down the fairway
Greenside bunker on the left

The Eighth is a 366 yard par 4. Turning around and playing in the direction we just came, the creek must be carried from the elevated tee to the fairway below. The fairway is straight to the green, with a nice mouth leading into it. The green crowns, moving back to front from the center, then front to back on the rear portion. Not too much of note here.

The Eighth
Approach shot territory

The Ninth is a 475 yard par 5. Now on the perimeter of the property, the fairway is uphill yet not as severely as the Seventh. The right to left movement of the fairway, as well as how it widens as you get closer to the green, should be taken into consideration off the tee. While many will be tempted to go for the green on the second shot, the green is uphill and well defended by bunkers, leaving any miss a likely tricky recovery shot. A conservative second shot over the creek leaves a nice and short third shot into the green and in many instances, probably a better chance for par. The second shot is an interesting decision, inviting different styles of play, and likely has determined a good number of nine hole matches.

The Ninth
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory
A little closer from the left

The front nine starts gentle and builds up well to the tougher Third and Fourth, then hits some interesting notes before a lull, then ends on the interesting Ninth. Ranking them, I’d go 4, 3, 5, 2, 9, 6, 1, 7, 8.

The back nine starts with the 178 yard par 3 Tenth. It’s deceptive how fast the green moves from left to right but should be taken into account off the tee. There are large bunkers on each side of the green except the right, where the road to the club is adjacent to the hole. The green is nice and wide, which is both good and bad, as watching a well struck shot land on the left side, then roll 20 yards to the right and realizing you have quite the challenge ahead of you. It’s yet another par 3 here I enjoyed a lot.

The Tenth

The Eleventh is a 437 yard par 4. The tee shot is uphill but the tree right in the middle serves as a great aim point. The tree is also right in the middle of the hole, blocking the green. Deciding how to negotiate the tree is the primary objective of the hole. Whether you go to the sides of it, or lay up off the tee so you can go over it, is up to you, but it must be considered from the tee. It’s a great hazard that we simply don’t see utilized as much nowadays, in the age of width. Just like the tree in front of the Third green at Sweeten’s Cove, the tree on this hole creates an entirely different dynamic, creating a more strategic hole than would be without it. So glad no one has decided to remove it over the years. It creates so much character.

Beyond the tree, the green is downhill from the fairway and wide yet shallow. The back side of the green drops off considerably, so distance control is part of the equation here; not only do you need get past the tree, but you need to account for the downhill green and make sure you don’t over shoot it. If anything, ending up short is much better, as the slope should advance the ball towards the green. A great par 4.

The Eleventh
Approach shot territory
The green
Looking back from the green

The Twelfth is a 565 yard par 5. While straight, the fairway cants left to right. The first half runs uphill with trees on both sides as well, before heading downhill to the green. Keeping it straight is a good idea since the trees will block you out of advancing, which is detrimental here because of the length. The green is pinched in front by two bathtub bunkers, wide yet level throughout. They’re a great feature here, making the rear portion of the green a lot more tempting, yet the green moves from back to front so the trade off is putting is more challenging if you take the easier approach. Wish we would see these types of bunkers more often as well.

The Twelfth
Moving down the fairway
Approach shot territory
Great bunkering here, wide and level

The Thirteenth is a 160 yard par 3. We now cross the canal, where this hole through the Sixteenth reside. A forced carry over a creek framed by trees with a single greenside bunker on the front right. Accuracy is important, getting it over the creek without running into the trees is paramount.

The Thirteenth
Closer look at the green

The Fourteenth is a 422 yard par 4. Although it’s straight, the fairway moves at an angle from tee to green, with the tee shot a forced carry over quite the hidden bunker below ground level. The green is a little raised from the fairway with bunkers on either side. The angle to the green, the bunker in play off the tee and the green contours make the hole interesting.

The Fourteenth
Approach shot territory
Back left of the green

The Fifteenth is a 114 yard par 3. The shortest par 3 on the course and also the last. The tee shot is a forced carry over an expansive sand area that covers most of the area from tee to green. The green itself moves right to left, with the left side cascading down to another tier. While it seems the hole was thrown in a corner due to limits on space, instead the sand and green complex make it a unique par 3. Again, its configuration with the Sixteenth could have tempted change throughout the years, but the quirk adds to its character and the short par 3 presents unique playing elements from others on the course.

The Fifteenth
Really cool sandy area with the Sixteenth tee directly behind the green and Blue tees to the right of it

The Sixteenth is a 351 yard par 4. The sand area follows you to this hole, shooting out at an angle from 7:00 to 2:00. The tee shot is a forced carry over the Fifteenth green as well as the sand area to a fairway running along the same line as the sand. Figuring out your line off the tee is a big part of the challenge and trees on the right side complicate that decision. The green is protected by two bunkers on either side on the front with some nice undulations. A very solid par 4.

The Sixteenth
Looking back at the Fifteenth tee
Approach shot territory
A little closer
Looking back
The green side bunkering work

The Seventeenth is a 529 yard par 5. Crossing back over the canal and on the way to the clubhouse now. A burly par 5 that plays uphill pretty much all the way with a fairway that is narrow in spots, tilting right to left. Eventually, the fairway peaks and starts to run slightly down to the green, feeding directly into it. The fairway widens for the approach to one of the under the radar greens of the course, running from right to left. A tougher hole coming at the right time of the round.

The Seventeenth
Moving up the fairway, literally
Approach shot territory
The green
Looking back from the green

The Eighteenth is a 392 yard par 4. The round ends with this gentle dog leg right that moves uphill from tee to green. The tee shot is blind and trees are on both sides of the fairway, but getting it out there is vital since the hole plays much longer than the stated yardage. Just like the Seventeenth, the trees make way for the approach and it can be attacked any way you see fit. One of the better green complexes has bunkers running on either side, is narrow in the front yet widens towards the back. Another very solid par 4 to close things out.

The Eighteenth
Approach shot territory
A closer approach
From the right side

The back nine is a stronger set of holes with a very good closing stretch that starts at the Fourteenth. I’d rank them 11, 10, 16, 18, 17, 15, 12, 14, 13.

Generally, Trenton Country Club is an under the radar classic design with a lot of refreshing quirk. The character here is evident, which makes it shift from challenging to fun several times throughout the round. The bunkering and greens stand out, with the side flat surfaces of the bunkers and the greens varying in undulations and canting. The sand area and tee/green configuration of the Fifteenth and Sixteenth enhances its identity and is yet another feature that makes this course stand out. TCC isn’t trying to become a modern tournament venue but seems to be comfortable in its own skin. That’s a good thing, as a big part of classic design was asserting an identity that set the course and membership apart from others. This was before any set of architectural norms or trends for the most part and as a result, there was a focus on how to make the course play most interesting for the membership. There are some holes that are more or less saved by the green complexes, but from a larger perspective, the quirks of TCC that have remained through the years make it a solid classic design.

Clubhouse/Pro Shop: In a separate house on the property and well stocked. The clubhouse is undergoing some construction but is sufficiently sized with outdoor areas overlooking the front nine.

Pro shop in the background
Clubhouse
Men’s locker room
Grill

Practice Area: Driving range and putting green.

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