New Jersey is no stranger to USGA competitions. From the 1896 U.S. Women’s Amateur at Morris County Golf Club to the 2009 U.S. Girls’ Junior and U.S. Junior Amateur at Trump National Golf Club in Bedminster, the Garden State has seen its fair share of competitive golf.
Since hosting its first USGA championship 116 years ago, New Jersey has been awarded the opportunity to showcase 19 golf courses throughout the state, including such well known venues as Baltusrol, Plainfield, Pine Valley and Somerset Hills.
This year, however, New Jersey will be showing off three hidden gems that will enjoy the spotlight as first-time USGA championship sites.
“I think people on the East Coast know the great courses that are here, but someone from California or the Midwest has never heard of Mountain Ridge, for example, and these kinds of events will let people know that we have a great golf community here in New Jersey,” said Steve Wolsky, general manager of Mountain Ridge Country Club in West Caldwell, which is slated to host the USGA Senior Amateur beginning Sept. 29.
Neshanic Valley Golf Course in Neshanic Station, N.J., will be the first of the three courses to get a taste of the limelight, when it hosts the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links from June 18-23. Neshanic Valley hosted the New Jersey State Golf Association (NJSGA) Women’s Amateur in 2009 but has never accommodated a championship of this magnitude before.
“We are honored to host a national championship. We’re going to try to make it a memorable event for the players; I think that’s what it’s really about,” said Robert Ransone, deputy director of the golf division for the Somerset County Park Commission.
On Sept. 19, New Jersey will usher in its second USGA event of the season when Galloway National Golf Club hosts the USGA Men’s State Team Championship. Galloway National G.C. has played host to four NJSGA Mid-Amateur Championships, as well as the 2012 Ivy League Men’s Championship.
“This is all very new for me,” said Mike Killian, Galloway National’s director of golf. “I’ve played in many championships but have never run one. So I’ve had a lot of experience with the USGA but never the privilege or pleasure of running one.”
If anyone knows the importance of USGA championships, it’s Killian, who has appeared in seven, including the 1967 U.S. Junior Amateur at Twin Hills in Oklahoma City; four U.S. Amateur championships (’69, ’70, ’72, ‘73); the 1973 Walker Cup Match at The Country Club in Brookline, Mass.; and the 1975 U.S. Open at Medinah (Ill.) Country Club.
Mountain Ridge C.C. hopes that hosting a USGA championship will get the Donald Ross design some much deserved recognition.
“Mountain Ridge has always been – I don’t know who originally quoted it – the best-kept secret in New Jersey and we decided as a club that we didn’t really want to be a hidden gem anymore, we wanted to come out,” said Wolsky.
“We have one of the finest golf courses in the country and people should know about it. It’s a piece of history and the club made a conscious decision to host this event in our 100th year to show off a little bit, if you will, and to let the rest of the country know there’s great golf here in West Caldwell and in New Jersey in general.”
While the New Jersey courses are excited to host high-profile competitions, a lot of planning was required to prepare for the championships.
“We formed working host committees; it’s been a real team effort,” said Ransone. “You need that, there’s so many logistical things that need to be put into place.”
“But here’s where we’re unique: our course is owned by Somerset County Parks, so it’s a government-owned entity, and we’ve been lucky to have such overwhelming support from our freeholders.”
As a private course, and a proclaimed hidden gem, Mountain Ridge had to tackle a different kind of obstacle.
“The first hurdle was convincing the rest of the membership to come out of our shell. We had to do a little bit of salesmanship to some members and really educate them on the good things that will come out of hosting this event,” said Wolsky.
Bringing three USGA competitions to New Jersey will undoubtedly impact not only the courses but also the game of golf in the Garden State.
“It gives the residents of New Jersey a chance to see the best players in the world, and see an event run in a first-rate manner,” said Ransone.
Added Killian: “We’ll get a lot of people out that are not normally golf fans to see this. I’m hoping it will grow this area in golf. Golf seems to be on an upswing down here [in South Jersey] and I’m hoping this will bring us into the spotlight.”
These three golf courses certainly share similarities but among their differences, one is quite prominent – their membership. With two courses being private and one open to the public, which venue will benefit more from the publicity that comes with hosting a USGA competition?
“How do you measure that?” said Steve Foehl, the executive director for the New Jersey State Golf Association (NJSGA). “The private courses use memberships, are they looking for more members? The public course, I guess you’d measure how many rounds they have.”
“I think a private course will benefit more because the people who may not have known about it in the past will know about us and they’ll see what a great golf course and clubhouse we have,” said Wolsky. “I think that could help with membership, as opposed to a place like Neshanic, I think we’ll get a little more bang for our buck here at Mountain Ridge.”
Ransone added, “From my perspective, as a public course, it will really help players to see this course is available to them. I think it’s going to bring golfers from the surrounding areas to us.”
No matter the benefit, one thing is for sure: the competitors will enjoy a first-class experience in a national championship. “We … are certainly proud and honored to be hosting this event,” said Wolsky. “We’re excited, we’re ready and we’re anxious to welcome everyone.”
Kelly O’Shea is a communications intern for the USGA. Email her at email@example.com.