6,579 yards, 133 slope from the Blues
The storm was brewing for quite some time. You could feel it building, with the dark shades of gray above that seemed to get thicker and shroud more of the blue until finally, it was as if we were in a foggy dream state. The wind started in spurts, gusting a little at first, almost a harkening of things to come. It became more assertive over time, the gusts now howls as the hills and trees of the landscape howled along with the rest of it. The clubhouse looked desolate. In fact, looking around the course, that was desolate as well save our group. I was waiting for one of those tornado warning blares from my phone that would raise some questions on what we should do. Something told me it wouldn’t matter. We were finishing this round. All other points of western civilization had likely found shelter against the tumult in the sky but not us. It just made it easier for us to finish.
The course was first designed by Isaac Mackie, a golf professional from Scotland who made some notable showings in famous tournaments of the day, including the 1909 U.S. Open. Mackie was a charter member of the PGA of America, was a club maker and was involved in the design of Canoe Brook, before Travis came along there as well. Mackie designed and supervised the construction of the course at its present location, which was the club’s third home. As I mentioned in my review of Deal Golf Club, which is across the street, the land comprising some of the back nine at Hollywood used to belong to Deal, so Hollywood was able to utilize that land in Mackie’s design. Opening for play in 1913, the membership was not all that satisfied with the course and shortly thereafter engaged Walter Travis in what became a total re-design. The mission of the re-design was to impart fairness of play to all classes of players and emphasize a premium on straightness and accuracy over length, as described by Frank B. Barrett, the greens chairman that worked with Travis on his design. The routing was mostly kept intact, however. Travis focused his work on the bunkers, greens and strategic playing angles. The Travis designed layout enjoyed national acclaim and hosted some of the more prestigious tours of the day. In their tour of America in 1920, the great Harry Vardon and Ted Ray proclaimed Hollywood to be their favorite course played.
The course underwent work by Dick Wilson in 1956, mainly to the bunkers and teeing ground, then by Geoffrey Cornish in the 1980’s. In 1998, Rees Jones performed a restoration project aimed at bringing back the Travis design. Importantly, however, the greens were unscathed from this work except for the Seventeenth. They remain some of the most preserved Travis greens you can find.
In 2013, Brian Schneider of Renaissance Golf Design began working with the club on restoration projects, initially focusing on the bunkering. The bunkering restoration was completed in 2014, using an overlay of aerial and ground-level photos from 1940 and handwritten notes from Barrett. These bunkers are typically turned perpendicular to the line of play instead of parallel, and are usually above ground as opposed to at grade level. This gives them a much more imposing, prevalent role. The course also underwent extensive tree removal. Greens were expanded and pulled back with the edges dropping and rolling off sharply in the midst of firm and fast conditions. Schneider’s work also included restoration of the entire Seventeenth hole, which had been re-built during the 1998 project. Schneider lengthened Seventeen to over 200 yards, installed eleven bunkers to surround the green (which is one of the largest on the course), maintained a fairway feeding into the green to allow low running shots and fused the tee with that of the Fifth so that both enjoy a wide assortment of placement options.
The bunkering is indeed brilliant, its vibrancy certainly prominent in artistic presentation and in structure of play. Each one seems to be a separate work of art with its own character altogether. The bunkering seems to influence mounding, which is used well in pulling and pushing the terrain for strategic considerations. The back nine transitions to more dramatic terrain yet remains with the consistent theme established at the front. It only feels like it should be a gentle stroll but the play is nothing but. The greens and bunkers are intricately placed and shaped in such fashion that the golfer must be much more thoughtful with his shots than it may look at first glance. This conjures much of the strategy. The routing is very good as well through land that has moderate yet interesting undulations, the course strikes an uncommon balance between elegance and ruggedness, which is mainly the contrast between those craggy bunkers and the silky sophisticated greens, where the golfer is likely to see a few different lines to the hole yet ends up on none of them.
There’s a vintage feel that stays with you the entire round. I seem to get some version of it every time I set foot on a Travis course. This is a classic course in every sense of the word. There are no modern components; there are no aspirations that require them. The golfer travels from hole to hole and plays against design tenets that have been sound for centuries. Well thought out and crafted, the rumples, contours and sand feel well-aged. At its core, the course allows the golfer a relatively similar experience as those generations before them. Now, just as it was then, we carried on through thick and thin, hell or high water, and certainly without regard for any silly old storm.
The rain finally came after the round, angrily yet mercifully as we headed to our cars on the way out. Like a lot of the round, the drive home seemed to be an eerily dream-like floating through the wet. The lights glaring and traffic all off to the sides, all of it fairly quiet except for the low volume jazz humming in the car. Comfort within through the combative elements outside. I parked my car at home and opened the door. The rain had stopped. The evening still pervaded, all quiet except for the occasional water drips making their way to ground from the leaves above. The warm glow of home before me awaited.
The First is a 408 yard par 4 (from the Blues). An unassuming opening tee shot lies wide open before us. A couple bunkers on either side set an angles are in the distance. The theme is established form the get go; inviting tee shots and as you move towards the green, the screws start to tighten ever so slowly. The right bunker is larger and the one we come upon first, then the one on the left a little further up but both are short of the green. The green moves back to front and there are a number of interior undulations within. One must study the movement carefully.
The Second is a 343 yard par 4. We switch back to the direction within which we came but at a different angle that follows the perimeter of the property on the left. A bunker on the left greets us at the start of the fairway as well. Further up, there’s one on the right. It bears mentioning these first two bunkers will be tough to try and go for the green with how high the faces ramp up. Most will be wise to pitch out sideways to the fairway. There are bunkers on each side of the green as well and a second guiding principle becomes evident. Missed shots horizontally with likely meet a bunker. Most of these are magnificently sizable and well placed. Those who stay straight and perhaps short or long have a much better chance of avoiding them. A back to front green where the left portion seems to reverse course on some of it yet staying below the hole is a good rule of thumb.
The Third is a 400 yard par 4. More width comes our way as the fairway moves right to left towards the trees on that side. We also move downhill to the green, which is set at the base of a hill. This makes the green move back to front while bunkers are along its right and front left. This is another where any approach ending up above the hole makes the ensuing putt full of dread.
The Fourth is a 135 yard par 3. It looks like a saddle of bunkers from the tee below. Hitting up to the top of a hill where bunkers prominently guard the green in a flank formation. The golfer must float his tee shot over them to the green set in the hollow on the other side, which widens towards the rear. A great looking par 3 that plays just as splendidly.
The Fifth is a 370 yard par 4. The teeing area is that of a small airfield, allowing this hole and the Seventeenth wide latitude as to where those opening shots should originate. We are on the left side, the fairway some what below us and dog legging to the left. The dog leg must be in the equation off the tee while the trees on the left are steadfast in protecting that side. Going straight out means less than driver for most, unless the ball moves from right to left. After the turn, the green is before us. Bunkers are off to the sides and there’s a curious strip of rough between the fairway and green. Would love to see that gone to allow that ground game to flourish. The greenside bunkering on the right is impressive.
The Sixth is a 395 yard par 4. Heading straight out, an artful array of bunkers is off to the right and even though the fairway is wide as anyone could want, those bunkers seem to attract an inordinate amount of tee shots. The green is ahead. A long bunker is on the left, which stretches to the green and has fescue running lengthwise in its center while a smaller one rests at the front right of the green. This is a prime example of how the bunkering and green provide all the character needed for even the flattest and straightest of the holes out here.
The Seventh is a 520 yard par 5. We immediately switch back and go back towards the Sixth tee. That bunkering on the right we admired on the hole prior gets to be admired some moron the same side. The rest of the bunkers leading up to the green are not be to be trifled with for those desiring par or better here. The fairway narrows and turns a little closer to the green, crooking to the left at just the last second. This crook, however, lines up the green at that angle so it sits diagonal from the fairway. The greenside bunker to the left has its own zip code. The green has a couple tiers and in general moves from back to left.
The Eighth is a 365 yard par 4. The out and back nature of the routing continues as we now move in the direction of the clubhouse. The tee shot is elevated a bit, with a Principal’s Nose bunker in front of us to the right. The fairway is narrower than we have seen up to this point but other than the Principal, there’s nothing else presented to the golfer until we reach the green. The sand near the green covers a lot of area around it while the entry point is tightened just a smidge.
The Ninth is a 356 yard par 4. Moving back out from the clubhouse, the perimeter line hugs us tightly on the right. It appears the bunkers have finally taken over as they’re lined just before the fairway, then the right then left. The smaller fairway makes it seem like a lot of sand is out there from the tee. The green is on a small hill, which the fairway tips up to slowly. It’s an impressive green, where the sides drop off slowly then suddenly and the interior undulations have the left rear as precarious as any where else on the course.
The front nine is impressive in how it wrings every drop of interest from the mild terrain. There is only one par 3 and par 5 but they are both glorious. I would rank them 4, 9, 7, 3, 1, 6, 8, 2, 5.
The back nine starts with the 493 yard par 5 Tenth. On the same line as the Ninth, it’s straight away as that tree line on the right remains rigid. A larger bunker on the right grabs our attention from the tee and a decision must be made whether to take it on or go by its side. A more dramatic bunker complex is further up a bit on the left, which rises up from the fairway a good deal, a smaller bunker complex across the way on the right. The green lays before us after these tumultuous bunkers, the fairway running right into it. The tumult continues at the green with its contours writhing this way and that as bunkers on each side are pits of despair, below.
The Eleventh is a 381 yard par 4. Still on the perimeter with the trees on the right but a little further over than the last couple holes, a small town of bunkers appears off in the distance. The fairway turns left and the green is beyond these bunkers, which the golfer is able to discern a little more clearly as he advances to the fairway. We then see how this large expansive bunker covers most of the right side while one on the left leaves a fairway cutting between diagonally to the left before a slight turn to the right to the green. Most are wise to play their tee short of the bunkers, then hit their approach to the green.
The Twelfth is a 435 yard par 4. This is the “Heinz 57” hole because of the 57 bunkers the golfer encounters here. The elevated tee ensures they are all on full display as the trees continue to hug the right. The tee shot presents a dual fairway dictated by the bunkers. The left side is the easier and more logical yet the riskier right side allows a closer approach and a favorable angle in that takes advantage of the green movement. Those that suffer the unfortunate fate of getting out of position will start to appreciate the dimensions to those 57 bunkers, which present every awkward lie and stance that could be dreamed up. Positional strategy is the way here.
The Thirteenth is a 321 yard par 4. The green of the hole prior buts up against that of the Fifth, but we turn to the right and continue on that perimeter. This turn marks a transition in the property, as the width seems to double and the conifers dazzle from a distance. A shorter par 4 that dog legs left as trees on the inside of the turn defend those considering going for the green from the tee. Amidst all the newfound width is a small trio of bunkers right in the center of the fairway, enough to tighten the corridors in our mind. The green is well bunkered off to the sides in large jagged strips and the green runs back to front.
The Fourteenth is a 397 yard par 4. The transition is now complete and the trees have yielded to a more airy feel. The tee shot is blind as the start of the fairway ramps uphill before moving down towards the green at a 1:00 angle. Bunkers are visible from the tee and are on either side of the fairway. It’s a tee shot where those with more familiarity have the advantage as those who pull it off have the green below them on the approach. A creek cuts in from the right just before the green, so all approaches must carry. I actually was able to hit my ball out of that creek, so I suppose that option is available as well. The is a nice size, widest at its middle, and of course there are bunkers on either side of it.
The Fifteenth is a 163 yard par 3. The right side is once again no good and up against the side of the hole. A bunker guards the reverse L shaped green while a bunker sits at the left and right of the green. There is width to the green but otherwise the hole calls for precision and those out of position will likely have their hands full.
The Sixteenth is a 455 yard par 5. A treasure trove of bunkers are on the left side, their random placement, shapes and sizes a pleasant scene so long as you’re not in one of them. One of them is the top of a mound; not on the top, but is the top. It’s a fun collection and getting as close to them without going in off the tee sets up the rest of the hole well. Further up, cross bunkers set up a diagonal path through before straightening out and climbing to the green. One can’t help but notice the larger bunkers closer to the green, which could result in a barrage of strokes as the golfer attempts to extract oneself from the caverns. It is certainly a par 5 that one could play a number of ways and from various positions.
The Seventeenth is a 224 yard par 3. A long par 3 that excels in flexibility. The angle of the green to the tee is offset a bit so that a straight shot doesn’t seem to make much sense. Bunkers are scattered on either side but the more meddlesome are on the right, which cut into the line of play from the tee and demand to be carried on many of the pin positions, considering the right to left movement of the green. That green movement makes the bunkers on the left highly relevant, as shots off to the left side will likely bounce and roll in them. There’s open space between the tee and green, which allows those to hit a low runner the right way to stay under the wind and take advantage of the ground character. All of this is before the golfer on the tee and as many matches come down to the wire, every single one of those bunkers has likely played a role in them at some point in time.
The Eighteenth is a 418 yard par 4. An uphill fairway with bunkers focused on the left side initially. This allows a some what easier tee shot as the approach serves as a nice finale. A few large bunkers dot across the fairway diagonally while there is space between them and the green for those out of position off the tee looking for refuge and can’t reach the green. The green is a wonderful last stand. Well-sized and striking a nice balance between bold contours and some subtleties one doesn’t pick up on at first glance.
The sky was angered at our defiance of finishing the round as opposed to seeking shelter like the rest of the Mid-Atlantic seaboard. The wind boomed and tried to uplift the trees and structures we were near as we finally decided to head in to the locker room. Yet it was too late. We stared the forces of nature down and won the day.
The back nine comes upon a bit more rolling terrain which translates into boldness and excitement. I would rank them 12, 13, 17, 11, 14, 16, 10, 18, 15.
Generally, Hollywood is a resplendent classic with its graceful tapestry of bunkering interwoven with its waves of mounds, contours and greens. The design appeals to the artistic in all of us and its laissez faire structure of play allows the golfer to dictate his own style throughout. I can only think of one forced carry, which is the approach over the creek at the Fourteenth. This means most every shot is not commanded upon you. And those with a strong bunker game will delight in the wide range of shots awaiting them at each hole. There’s also a loosely sorted randomness to those bunkers that instills various dimensions to the course, ensuring the golfer faces a different arena each time he heads out. With its elegant character and artistry at every shot, Hollywood is among the notable greats when discussing the rich landscape of New Jersey golf.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: The pro shop is in a separate structure off the First tee while the clubhouse is a nice relaxed country style house.
Practice Area: Range, short game area and putting green are all here.