6,462 yards, 134 Slope from the Back Marker, East and Center courses
In Paramus, New Jersey, about half an hour northwest of New York City, is Ridgewood Country Club, 27 holes by A.W. Tillinghast, opening in 1929. The area of North Jersey/New York/Long Island is a treasure trove of Tillinghast courses. One of Tilly’s strengths was his diversity in design. Never falling into a pattern, each course stands on its own identity and for different reasons. Ridgewood is a stone’s throw from Bethpage Black, Winged Foot and Baltrusol, Tilly courses that have hosted majors and Ryder Cups, as well as Somerset Hills and Quaker Ridge. While it would seem that there would be a good deal of similarity amongst these courses considering they share the same architect and being in the same area, some modicum of terrain features, they are actually quite distinct. And even with these heavyweights in the park, Ridgewood stands on its own merits. It too sits high in most of the course rankings. It too has hosted PGA tournaments, most recently as one of the FedEx playoff venues (and has hosted a Ryder Cup). It too, is one of the heavyweights in the park.
Ridgewood’s identity is closely tied to the hilly wooded terrain on which it is set. The giant hardwood trees frame the holes, some times dictating ball flight, while the hills and well, ridges, are used splendidly for the fairways and green sites. Its members enjoy three distinct sets of nine holes, which provides numerous combinations for a round. The FedEx Playoff eighteen is a composite course that takes holes from each set of nine holes, creating even more combinations. I’m not sure I can hide my envy for this club that has 27 Tillinghast holes at their disposal. In fact, there’s a strong argument here lies the greatest 27-hole layout. The grand scale seen in many of Tilly’s courses is here, which ebbs and flows with the smaller scale finesse holes, adding to its versatility. Challenging without being overly penal, the routing of each nine flows well. It had a very sporty feel to it. Attractive, stylish, yet flowing in presentation and play. The greens were prominent, accentuating the subtle ruggedness of the terrain while strategically suggesting lines of play, either from the fairway or once you were near the hole, where you hope you remember what you learned for the next round.
Not to be outdone by the golf surrounds, the magnificent towering decor of the clubhouse contrasts well with the casual attractiveness of the course. While it would fit right in with the likes of the Black Forest of Germany, so it does at Ridgewood as well.
Ridgewood has been on my short list for quite a while. Getting to see the course on television the last few years has helped but it goes beyond that. The challenge of the course is what has appealed to me, as that component seems to elevate it to a heightened stature, distinct from others. Similar to the fairways and greens of Somerset Hills, yet fluctuating more in range of scale with more prominence of trees. I always wondered if the trees confined the strategy of the course and forced lines of play, or if it was possible to use the hills and slopes to invent options , where the trees were more of a quandary to ponder than simply something off the side to avoid. The configuration of the trees and hills indeed created all types of playing situations that I was hoping for.
I played the Center and East courses, in that order. With my swing in a bit of a transient state at the time of this round, I smoothed things out at the range, then met my caddie and we were on our way. After rattling my approach to 4 feet and making the birdie putt, I wondered it best to go out on top and head straight to the clubhouse, bragging about that opening birdie. Instead I trudged on, knowing even if there were no more birdies….I’d figure out some other shots to brag about after we were done.
THE CENTER COURSE
The First is a 365 yard par 4 (from the Back markers). The fairway perpendicular from the tee, the golfer must decide how much of the water to take on in setting up the approach. There are bunkers on the right that also come into play off the tee, along with a tree line on the left to protect the hole from those taking an overambitious line. The tee shot is one that must be thought out and shaped. Flailing away just won’t do. The approach is to a nice wide green running from back to front, bunkers on each side. At least for this nine holes, this shorter par 4 is a nice introduction.
The Second is a 556 yard par 5. An uphill par 5 that bends to the left, trees march along on both sides up to the greens and the fairway is narrower than the First. The approach shot is where this hole gets interesting. Set above the fairway, a centerline bunker forces one to the sides if they want to run the ball up, while most will opt for the aerial shot, which must be fairway precise to avoid the bunkers lurking on each side. Alas, the green complex makes it necessary for the first two shots to get into an ideal position. As the number one handicapped hole, the challenge ramps up here in a hurry yet remains strategic. The Manhattan skyline can be seen in the background behind the green.
The Third is a 441 yard par 4. Teeing off into a valley, which twists to the left around the hardwoods on both sides, the fairway then rises to the green, with bunkers on the left short of the green, then on both left and right green side. The tee shot is yet another that must be taken only after deliberation, negotiating the tree lines and trying to hit the hill side that will propel it significantly forward. Such a tee shot leaves you with a clear look to the green above, generous in size yet running well from back to front. Another nice par 4 with an emphasis on a well thought out tee shot.
The Fourth is a 510 yard par 5. Another uphill par 5 greets us, this one running along the perimeter of the course. The tree line on the right signifies the boundary, so by all means stay away from that side. A bunker on the left defends that side from an all out assault away from the right tree line. The green is on the right side, again keeping that out of bounds relevant, with a bunker on the front and rear sides. It’s more of a 4.5 par hole but strokes can accumulate easily if one even gets slightly out of position.
The Fifth is a 191 yard par 3. A longer par 3 that’s a bit shorter than its stated yardage because of the elevated tee. There’s an apron leading up to the green that can be used as a bail out area, while bunkers are on the left and right sides. Bunkers are absent from the back side, but a hard slope is inclined to kick balls into the long grass for shots carrying the green altogether. The green moves from left to right with a few slopes around the outer edges moving towards the center. Again, a nice challenge and the course continues its sporty challenge.
The Sixth is a 275 yard par 4. The famous, “Five and Dime” hole. Named because most will ever get a 5 or 10 on it and count me among the latter. A short par 4 that hides its fairway from the tee. The green sits above, goading those from the tee that dare take it on. Decisions abound from the tee. A simple mid iron gets you to the fairway for a wedge into the green, but it’s tough to gauge where the best place to be is from the tee. Those that hit their tee shot too far end up on the bunkers on the left, or worse, above them. The green is small, narrow yet deep, running quick from left to right. Bunkers dot its perimeter and with its sharp ascent, lots of tricky lies are stances are likely if off green. It’s a brilliant short par 4, full of options and while simplistic on its face, shows just how challenging and interesting a short hole can be while using the natural roll of the terrain. Many invariably walk off of it swearing they would use different clubs and shots to score better next time. That’s a mark of a good hole for sure.
The Seventh is a 388 yard par 4. The fairway gently cascades downhill to the green, dog legging left around a crook of trees on that side while a bunker on the right guards the fairway on that end. Leading up to the green, there are bunkers on the left side. The fairway feeds right into the green, which moves from left to right.
The Eighth is a 125 yard par 3. Bunkers surround the front right and back sides of the green while the left side is spared, yet the tree line on that side limits attacking the green from that side anyways. The green is raised and well-sized but not landing on it means you’re probably in one of the bunkers. The shaping of the bunkers probably save the hole from becoming fairly pedestrian.
The Ninth is a 377 yard par 4. A gentle dog leg right where my favorite feature is the tilt of the fairway from left to right. Using the sides of the fairway to advance the ball in a nice position off the tee and approach is a lot of fun, and necessary to some extent to avoid the trouble lurking on the right. The green likewise tilts the same as the fairway and as a result, the bunkers on the right side of the green are way below it. A nice closer for this set of nine holes.
The Center Nine has a definite cadence. A nice opener, followed by the challenge and tumult of the middle holes, the crescendo of the Sixth, then the calm after the storm of the closing holes, settling you back down to the clubhouse. The variety and challenge of the par 4’s are impressive while the par 5 Second has one of the more challenging green complexes of the course. I would rank them 6, 9, 3, 2, 1, 4, 7, 5, 8.
THE EAST NINE
The First is a 348 yard par 4. An elevated tee shot with a forced carry over a center line bunker just before the fairway with water on the extreme right for those who really mess up their tee shots. The bunkers on the left help frame the hole and while they may deter some from advancing down that side, your line into the green is much better over there. The green is large and feeds directly from the fairway, so a well hit tee shot should make for an easier approach. But as we’ve seen thus far, Ridgewood likes to challenge off the tee and that is the case here.
The Second is a 161 yard par 3. I really wish I took more photos of this green, as it was really interesting, sloping and ramping very much in spots. The back side of the green falls off considerably. The hillside upon which the green is set moves from right to left, so those on the right side off green will be left with a delicate downhill shot while those off to the left have a daunting recovery shot back up the hill. A great par 3.
The Third is a 546 yard par 5. Now on the perimeter of the course, the left treeline is the boundary, with the fairway canting to that side. The fairway ends into rough before picking back up and turning right back into the hillside, where the green is located. The green is brilliant, narrow yet deep, with bunkers on each side – those on the left below the green and to the right above. The angle of the green with respect to its orientation to the fairway utilizes its full depth, which makes the hole so good. Those who can get the ball far enough down the fairway open up the options of the green, with those able to access rear pin positions on the ground or aerially. Yet those who are off line will likely miss in the bunkers and those trying to be conservative by shorting themselves are faced with a difficult putt uphill and amidst multiple undulations. It’s a great par 5 and might have been my favorite hole played here.
The Fourth is a 408 yard par 4. Still going along the perimeter of the course, the left side remains the dead zone while trees on the right bring trepidation to the tee. The hole is straight but based on the tee position, presents as a slight bend to the left. A steely tee shot is necessary to thread the trees yet if successful, the approach shot is to a large green that feeds completely from the fairway. A reprieve hole of sorts after the Third, this hole can get vexing for those who get tangled up in the trees on the left.
The Fifth is a 371 yard par 4. From the lowest point of the course means the only way to go is up, which is what this hole does from tee to green. Incidentally, the Five and Dime hole runs parallel to you on the left so for us having played it on the front nine, I felt it was taunting us, asking “why don’t you try your luck again?” then laughing hysterically. As for this hole, the hole bends to the right, around a few trees that block the green if you get too far over to the right. And go course, the fairway moves from left to right as well, pushing all shots over in that direction. The green, perched above the fairway, is guarded on all sides by bunkers except the front, where the severe slope uphill is its effective defense. Again, the bunkers on each side vary in difficult based on where they are in relation to the hillside, utilized well. A sneaky difficult hole where even two well hit shots doesn’t necessarily mean par is within reach; placement above all else.
The Sixth is a 204 yard par 3. A longer par 3 that’s made a bit shorter from the elevated tee, the green moves from right to left with bunkering short right, then on both sides of the green. Hidden from the tee is a ridge that runs left to right short of the green, which kicks shots forward and left, towards the left green side bunker. Going for the right side of the green is a good play and if you get close enough to the front of it, the ridge will spur balls on in that area. A nicely done longer par 3.
The Seventh is a 430 yard par 4. The closing stretch is comprised of three varied par 4’s starting on the hillside before coming down and finishing on more level ground near the water. The fairway snakes its way uphill to the green; right, left, right, left. It cants from right to left and there are bunkers on each side. The hole is uphill from the tee and its tilting nature makes it tough to determine a good line but there is a strong suggestion for left center based on its movement. The green also moves from left to right with bunkers on its left (high) and right (low). A much longer hole than it appears and knowing where to miss is half the battle. This nine does not leave without a fight.
The Eighth is a 396 yard par 4. Coming down from the hills, the fairway is straight with trees on both sides and the hillside on the left. Bunkers are on either side short of the green, with the green moving from left to right. The bunkers are large and imposing, complicating things quickly if hit into them. Otherwise, straight and true here works well.
The Ninth is a 370 yard par 4. Running between two bodies of water, with the one on the right more relevant for this hole, the fairway turns left a bit just before the green, as the clubhouse looks on from behind. Aiming towards the water on the right is not the worst idea, provided it is not overdone. Like the Eighth, the trees on the left are fairly rigid, not allowing any play over on that side. The fairway constricts just before the green, which is unusual here, but makes the final approach likely an aerial one. Well guarded by bunkers on the left and front, also remember the most prominent hazard is just inside the clubhouse looking at you through the windows, judging every movement and stroke. Or so the golfer projects. Yet another end to a set of nine holes here, finishing steps from the bar.
The East Nine varies in terrain in how it loops from the clubhouse, to the lowest side of the property, then climbing the hills before coming down again to the water. The par 3’s are stronger than the Center Nine, the par 5 glorious while the par 4’s range in interest. Ranking them for me would be 3, 2, 5, 6, 7, 9, 1, 4, 8.
Generally, the two sets of nine holes I played at Ridgewood certainly included lots of varied interest and challenge while each set had its own personality. The Center Nine’s par 4’s really shined, as did the Second par 5, while the par 3’s changed the rhythm of the round and gave it flexibility I playing style. The East Nine started out very strong and didn’t seem to let up until the Seventh, before ramping up yet again at the Ninth. The par 3’s and par 5 shined here while the different par 4’s seemed to set those holes up. The interplay of the different nine holes gives the course and entirely different perspective than other courses, yet each hole can stand on its own and most are very strong. This is due in large part to great use of the terrain, including incorporating the trees. Indeed, Ridgewood is a great example that trees are not the enemy, but instead when used smartly, enhance the character of the course. The greens are a prominent component of Ridgewood as well, shaped to meld into the natural terrain yet at time undulating against its inherent movement. Oh how it must be to belong here and canvas the countryside, deciding to play this or that hole in an endless journey of options.
Tilly lived nearby and it is said that Ridgewood was among his favorites. I imagine that’s due in part to the terrain and that it was possible for him to always adjust and tinker with what he felt needed it. I came away thinking it was another impressive collection of holes I have played of his, likely just behind Somerset Hills. I always had a feeling I would really like it here.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: I fawned over the clubhouse above. The pro shop is nicely stocked on the ground floor.
Practice area: Full range, short game area and putting green.
And some looks at the West Course during the walk to the practice area.