USGA Senior: Mountain Ridge up for challenge

Mountain Ridge C.C. steps into the national spotlight by hosting the 2012 USGA Senior Amateur Championship, which begins Sept. 29. (Russell Kirk/USGA)
West Caldwell, N.J. – Louis Lee made an impressive debut at the 2011 USGA Senior Amateur, held at Kinloch Golf Club in Virginia. Proving that golf is a lifetime game, Lee won the championship less than two months after turning 55, the minimum age for eligibility.

One year later at Mountain Ridge Country Club, many Senior Amateur rookies will be looking to match Lee’s feat. The most notable first-timer is Randal Lewis, who won the 2011 U.S. Mid-Amateur at the age of 54, becoming the oldest winner of the championship.

After playing in the Masters and the U.S. Senior Open this year, Lewis will end a memorable year-long in the national limelight by playing in his first USGA Senior Amateur, which begins Sept. 29 and ends with the 18-hole championship match on Oct. 4. He is one of 19 exempt players who will be joined by 137 qualifiers determined at 52 sites around the country starting Aug. 27.

Of all the new faces, no rookie in the 2012 USGA Senior Amateur had to wait longer for a USGA championship debut than Mountain Ridge, which is celebrating its centennial this year.

Widely regarded as one of the best courses in the state, Mountain Ridge has hosted several regional and state events. This year, a wider audience will be exposed to Ross’ challenging design, marked by sloping greens that will require competitors to control their approach shots in order to manageable uphill putts.

This is a momentous year not just for Mountain Ridge but also for the entire golf community in New Jersey. The Senior Amateur will be the third USGA championship taking place in the Garden State in 2012, following the U.S. Women’s Amateur Public Links at Neshanic Valley Golf Course and the USGA Men’s State Team at Galloway National Golf Club.

While Neshanic Valley and Galloway National are relatively new, the century-old Mountain Ridge exemplifies New Jersey’s long history of championship golf, which dates back to the second U.S. Women’s Amateur, held in 1896 at Morris County Golf Club.

The Mountain Ridge course, which was built in 1931 when the club moved to its current location, has undergone a recently completed restoration by Ron Prichard, a specialist in Ross designs whose credits include Aronimink Golf Club near Philadelphia and Minneapolis’ Minikahda Club, site of the 2017 Senior Amateur.

Prichard removed hundreds of trees that had been planted over the decades, enlarged greens that had shrunk due to mowing patterns, moved bunkers to their original locations and widened fairways to bring fairway bunkers back into play and restore strategic angles into Ross’ fearsome greens.

At 6,838 yards, Mountain Ridge will be the longest course in championship history. But the keys to tackling the course are not power and distance but course management and precise execution, the qualities Ross wanted to test.

Thanks to Prichard’s work, those are the skills that Lee, Lewis and the rest of the field will have to display to win the 58th USGA Senior Amateur.

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