GRADE “A” ARCHITECTURE
Crystal Springs Resort
Ballyowen Golf Club
Hamburg, New Jersey USA
18th Hole / Par-4 / 416 Yards
Architect: Roger Rulewich (1998)
A top tier closing hole is one where outcomes are settled. The hole should be strong enough to differentiate indifferent play but not so stout as to reduce all efforts to a foregone conclusion where luck and divine providence supersedes thoughtful execution.
Roughly 35 miles northwest of New York City, located in neighboring New Jersey in Sussex County, is a vast multi-course complex called Crystal Springs Resort.
When the golf building boom was going full tilt in the 1990’s it was Crystal Springs leading the way on the golf front in the New York / New Jersey metro area. In 1998 architect Roger Rulewich, for many years the right hand man under the legendary architect Robert Trent Jones, Sr., was called upon to provide a layout that would add considerable heft to the reputation of the comprehensive facility.
Ballyowen uses an Irish name for its title and theme and there are similarities at times in how the fescue roughs blow from side-to-side when the daily winds pick up speed. But it would be a major stretch to say Ballyowen is a mirror image of what vintage Irish links golf is all about. It is more of an American approximation than clone. The course sets on 250-acres atop a plateau providing 360-degree views of the surrounding countryside.
The 18th commences from an elevated tee with several pads available. The clubhouse is easily in view right from the start of the hole.. Rulewich built up a wall of mounds all along the left hand side and the insertion of fescue grass adds to a visual component quite striking when in full bloom.
The closing hole is a dog-leg right and it’s up to the player to decide how aggressive they wish to be. Often times the 18th plays into the prevailing southwest wind so if the breeze is blowing especially fierce it’s likely that all but the longest of long hitters will opt away from the two fairway bunkers rigorously guarding the inside corner of the hole. The carry over the edge of the right side is 270 yards.
Those opting to play further left encounter a much longer approach. The putting surface is elevated and has a steep drop-off along the entire right side with several bunkers awaiting misplays. The lone major concerning item is the shape of the bunkers on that side. It’s too bad they’re not more natural looking in keeping with the Irish motif.
They are functional in purpose but hardly fitting in presentation. The green is also very deep — 53 yards. Selecting the right club is clearly a big time consideration item. If the pin is near the rear area the hole length can extend to just under 450 yards.
For those steering approaches away from the more threatening right side — be forewarned recovery from the left side is anything but guaranteed. The putting surface moves away from that side at a brisk pace and a quick three-putt can never be ruled out.
Ballyowen’s closing hole combines scenery as well as strategic choices which must be weighed carefully. During the playing season as the sun is setting you’ll hear the harmonious nature of bagpipes playing as a lone musician walks the grounds.
Crystal Springs Resort marked a clear addition to the overall local golf scene and much of that came from the vision of its former leader and founder Gene Mulvihill.
Ballyowen remains one of the Garden State’s top 2-3 courses open to the public. The 18th provides a final moment where strategic calculations need to be weighed with the utmost care and attention.
Photos Courtesy: Brian Walters Photography