6,645 yards, 143 slope from the Blues
In Galloway Township, NJ, just northwest of Atlantic City on the other side of Reeds Bay, is Galloway National, designed by Tom Fazio in 1994. The course is set on extraordinary dunes land of evergreen, which flirts with the marshes of Reeds Bay, then back into the hills and ponds of the dunes before out again, in then out. The setting and its routing were impressive and while the course emphasizes challenge, it is the kind that wears several hats, making it intriguing and intricate.
Tom Fazio was one of the most sought after designers in the late twentieth/early twenty-first century and is still going strong. I foresee a bourbon chat on the Faz because there’s a lot of interesting things to discuss about his career, his work, his ideals and yes, his critical reception over time. His uncanny ability to deliver the client’s vision and the era in which he rose to fame have led to some unfair exaggerations of him in my opinion yet some of his design philosophies are at odds with recent trends and succumbing to the client in many instances have led to visually flashy courses that have little substance. And his record on restorative work is very different than what is popular as of late. Regardless, you’re doing yourself a disservice to outright dismiss Fazio and there’s no denying he has tremendous talent and ability. I often wonder whether the courses I really enjoy of his were projects where he had more creative freedom. Or maybe it’s courses where he derived inspiration from Pinehurst. Galloway and Congaree are on that list and those are my two favorite of his I’ve played thus far. It’s the Sixth best course in New Jersey on the Golf Digest list, 32 on Golfweek’s best modern courses and is one of the host courses for an annual LPGA tournament.
As for Galloway National, Fazio proclaimed it would be one his best courses, ever. It’s an interesting endorsement and again, I wonder how much of it has to do with whether he had more control here than other projects. It’s certainly one of his more well regarded, especially with the course design enthusiast set. The routing stood out in more ways than one, laid out over the setting impressively and fluctuating in width, so the round is a well orchestrated symphony with striking visuals. Lots of sharp shaping at the greens and bunkers adding to its character and strategic notes as well. While I touched on the setting, Fazio has ample knowledge of Pine Valley, which likely helped him here with similar terrain. In fact, Pine Valley is the second course Fazio drew from for this design. So what we have is a course on fabulous terrain inspired by Pinehurst and Pine Valley by one of the most famous course designers at the height of his popularity. The result is a much more complex and intimate course than I anticipated, becoming one of my favorite plays of the year.
I found myself here in late November, starting to think of how the decade of golf would close out. This last decade is when I started to look at golf more substantively than a casual activity and more specifically, began my adventure into course architecture. Some times the mind clears, you enjoy the moment, appreciate the beauty and splendor around you, and before you know it the game becomes easy. After struggling mightily the last couple rounds before this, it wasn’t even a passing thought as I warmed up on the range. Those crisp early winter days, with the sun out and not a cloud in the sky, are my favorite times for a round. Everything seems quieter, more peaceful. It wasn’t on the range, but on the putting green, watching ball after ball dutifully roll into the hole, no matter from how far or at what slope, that a quiet confidence washed over and assured me, today was going to be a good day.
The First is a 375 yard par 4 (from the Blues). A dog leg right, the fairway careening to that side, to the bunkers on that side sitting below. The high left side is the place to be but the well placed bunker on that side keeps you tempered some what. Clearing the dog leg, the approach is to a clearing in the trees. The fairway gently ascends to the green and spills on, yet the bunker on the front left and along the right and deep below. The green is deep, allowing for an array of pin positions, and approaches. Beyond the green are a sea of reeds and Reeds Bay. Maybe those reeds are the bay’s namesake. A great opening hole and gradual presentation of the bay, revealing itself over time.
The Second is a 151 yard par 3. Running with parallel with the bay, a sea of reeds separates us from the green, which seems to be hiding a bit. There’s a lot more room to the left than it appears from the tee. An entire level of short grass below the green, which serves well as a bail out area but a sharp short game is needed to get close to the pin from down there. Wind can also be a culprit with the hole exposed completely away from the refuge of the evergreen. Take in the serenity, knock it close and onward.
The Third is a 345 yard par 4. We now enter the pines and things tighten. The fairway runs between tree lines on both sides with fairway bunkers on the left running up to the green. Getting to the fairway from the tee is of paramount importance. The fairway eventually ends so the approach will be aerial to a green that runs away from us, but there is an apron short of it that helps us deal with that movement.
The Fourth is a 437 yard par 4. A longer par 4 that dog legs to the left after the tee shot, with a massive bunker on the left taking over most of the fairway after the turn. The bunker guards the long hitters from cutting the dog leg while the for the rest of us, ensures a longer approach to the green, which is wide open. Most of this hole is wider than its predecessor, except for the area between the turn and the green where that massive bunker encroaches. Lots of room near the green to work with and Reeds Bay once again comes into view.
The Fifth is a 178 yard par 3. We come to the outskirts of Reeds Bay once again, this time looking out to the opposite direction of the Second, with Atlantic City in view. A longer par 3 than the first one, the forced carry is shorter because of a larger bunker short of the green hidden from the tee and the green is larger, moving from right to left. More flexibility here because the whims of the wind are in play as well, the course swinging through varying degrees of elasticity in more ways than one. In challenge, in forgiveness and in setting, adjusting to the natural conditions each endures.
The Sixth is a 531 yard par 5. Deeper into the evergreen, the fairway is lined with trees on both sides while a “bunker creek” starts just after the tee area and runs along the left side of the fairway. The fairway widens to receive a good deal of tee shots but then narrows just after, where another longer bunker starts along that left side. At its narrowest point, the fairway immediately widens sensibly so that by the time you reach the green, there’s a lot of room to maneuver even with the large green side bunker off to the left. A bunker on the right is between bunkers on the left, so charting your path to the green is important, especially since there are several ways to get there.
The Seventh is a 393 yard par 4. Straightaway and uphill, the fairway tilts right to left and a menacing lone tree on the left await at the tee. Water is further to the left, in hiding. Driving it out to the fairway, the green is above, surrounded by what I’ll call bunker rapids. The tumultuous and heaving bunker scape is well short front of the hole, then moves along left. The approach must at least carry the front portion but there is plenty of room short and even right of the green to work with.
The Eighth is a 179 yard par 3. A forced carry over water, bail out area short right. The green runs towards the water and is set at an angle from the tee, moving away from it.
The Ninth is a 515 yard par 5. Kicking myself because I forgot to take a photo at the tee, as it’s a challenging shot, bunkers starting from the tee and running off to the right, very much in play and adding contour to that side. The hole alternates fairway bunker position as well as canting direction as you advance to the green yet while we saw the area of the green increase in width, things narrow here, with trees and bunkers converging on both sides. There is still lots of room to engage the ground game as you wish (which I did) to a green moving back to front and left to right.
The front nine takes what the land gives and adjusts the routing accordingly. The rhythm is in sync and balanced, so the tighter more demanding holes are complimented by those facilitating more creativity. My ranking would be 1, 7, 4, 2, 6, 5, 9, 8, 3.
The back nine starts with the 421 yard par 4 Tenth. The tee shot over water to the fairway that climbs to the green, it’s a demanding hole with the bunker placement, fairway width and contours. As has been the case thus far, however, the green complexes become the refuge, at least in terms of more openness and versatility when the tee shots and fairways are more biting. That’s certainly the case here. The green is a wide open affair, with the slopes on the right joining from behind to move towards the front, bringing an entirely different aspect of the game than we see tee to green. Very multi-dimensional and part of what makes this course so engaging.
The Eleventh is a 508 yard par 5. A suggestive fairway leftwards with the imposing tree line on the right but the bunkers on the left tighten things a little. Perhaps a fade over the left bunkers to a high draw over the trees will come to mind, take solace that the fairway opens up for the second and approach, although take heed of the hidden gouge in the fairway just at the start of the water, which is at the end of the trees on the left. The water opens up the hole even more, the fairway bulging off to the right while the green is to the left on the far side of the water. The carry may be tempting for those who gave their tee shots a good lashing but all the room you can want is off to the right. Choose wisely.
The Twelfth is a 363 yard par 4. A dog leg left where the temptation of cutting off the turn on the inside means gambling with the unseen beyond the tree line and the expansive bunker tundra on that side. The cushy landing area is the outside of the turn which means a longer approach but you’re in a good position to use the high front right of the green to feed the ball on to the green. More inside the turn off the tee translates to a shorter approach but a deep green side bunker must be dealt with. And there’s a bunker way off to the left of the green, hidden among the trees. Like an octopus in waiting, striking those overaggressive approaches that fall or roll off the left. Lots of fun here.
The Thirteenth is a 453 yard par 4. The number one handicapped hole, for good reason. All uphill, trees calling upon a straight tee shot and an intricate bunker system off to the right. Steering clear to the left is a good idea, which sets up the approach nicely. Consistent with what we’ve seen thus far, the green opens up, the fairway leading into it, nice and wide.
The Fourteenth is a 203 yard par 3. A downhill par 3, the first of the back nine. The first bunker off the tee is more aesthetic but it keeps downhill to and through the green, on the right. The green is deep yet on the narrow side with room short left.
The Fifteenth is a 409 yard par 4. The large bunker vortex on the left is the main attraction. The fat parts of the fairway are before or after it while a narrow strip of fairway is beside it. Before the bunker means a much longer approach to the uphill green while after the bunker means a nice little pitch to the green, the fairway curving up to it on the right side. Beside that bunker gets you on the right side for the approach to engage the ground game, one of the cooler shots on the course from there. And the bunker vortex cool in its own right.
The Sixteenth is a 525 yard par 5. Having spent the majority of the back in the dunes away from the bay, we start the march back to the water. The closing three are 5-3-4 so time to let it fly a bit with this elevated tee shot. Water on the left, trees on the right yet with enough room to favor one side over the other. Heading forward, the fairway starts to narrow before widening around the water again, incentivizing to get as far down the fairway you can off the tee to make getting to the second wide area easier. While the bunkers on the left near the water may seem overkill, they actually have the opposite effect; stopping balls from going in. The second wide area moves uphill all the way to the green, which is wide in its own right, melting into the hillside and moving left to right. Lots of room and area to coordinate your plan of attack and more forgiving off to the right than it seems, the green is pure joy.
The Seventeenth is a 231 yard par 3. The bay and Atlantic City skyline in sight from the tee, the clubhouse to our back as those in the grill watch on. This hole comes at the right time during the round. Long and possibly longer if the bay decides to blow, a moderate size green masked by a false front, which certainly lulls into a false sense of comfort that you can hit well short of the hole and have it run on. While there’s room to miss short, reaching the green is still paramount. For those that miss, creativity and resourcefulness will serve you will for the next shot around the shaped short grass areas or bunkers off to the left. A thrilling par 3.
The Eighteenth is a 428 yard par 4. A dog leg right fraught with paths high and low to the green, leveling the playing field and allowing each golfer to rely on his strengths in finishing out the match. A wide fairway just about anyone can hit but the adventurous among us can flirt with the bunker on the right to set up a short approach. Others may prefer a better angle and line to the green, further out to the center of the fairway. In that position, the aprons short of the green can be utilized and the bunker before the green is less of an issue. The green is tiny compared to what we’ve seen, making that tee shot all the more important for a shower approach in. The sun dances off Reeds Bay in the distance as the closing putts bring things to an end.
The back nine showcases the higher inland dunes of the property. The sandy soil gave way to impressive bunker shaping and green complexes where strategy seemed to come to the forefront more often than not. Not a weak hole. I’d rank them 15, 12, 18, 17, 11, 16, 10, 14, 13.
Generally, Galloway National is an impressive display in a terrific setting. A smart design and routing that in many respects demands off the tee then allows creativity to flourish around the greens. The greens are immense while the smaller among them have run off areas sloping this way and that. While I was expecting a rigid aerial game, the ground game here is alive and well, providing some of the most fun shots on the course. While every bit of a challenge for those looking for battle, it’s possible to navigate the course to a golfer’s respective strengths, rewarding resolve and ingenuity. This is the mark of a great match play course as well. Each hole is also isolated from the other but not at the expense of routing. This certainly adds to the round considering the setting, the problems set before you on each hole and again, an ideal arena for match play.
As the decade was quickly coming to a close, I found exhilaration here in both the spectacular setting and riveting design. Like meeting a new friend you look forward to getting to know better, such was the case here. Excited to become acquainted, anticipating when we meet again.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Perched above the course and overlooking our friend Reeds Bay, a modern clubhouse by most standards with great views.
Practice area: Range and putting green. Great places to get situated.