Essex Fells Country Club set to host 120th Amateur Championship
Essex Fells Country Club will be the site of the 120th New Jersey State Golf Association Amateur Championship presented by Provident Bank July 6-8, 2021. The NJSGA’s oldest championship will be part of Essex Fells’ year-long celebration of its milestone 125th anniversary.
Over the decades, Essex Fells Country Club has been a familiar site for NJSGA championships, including the 1946, ’82 and ’96 Open Championships, the 1963 Amateur Championship, the 1976 and ’94 Women’s Amateur Championships and the 1936 and ’43 Four-Ball Championships.
A Rich History
While the club was originally formed in 1896, the current golf course, credited to legendary Seth Raynor, is closer to 100 years of age. In 1924, Raynor, the Princeton graduate and understudy of famed designer of Charles B. MacDonald, oversaw a major renovation and re-routing of the original course that golfers are familiar with today.
Raynor was engaged in the early 1920s to survey the terrain and prepare a distance and location map of the layout. Two par fives were eventually substituted for the Golf Road holes in the area of today’s third, fourth and fifth holes, stretching the total yardage to 6,144 yards. Raynor never completed his working, dying of pneumonia in January, 1926.
At that point, Essex Fells Country Club flirted with the idea of hiring A.W. Tillinghast to continue with Raynor’s plan, but members were not pleased with the proposed expense for his services. Instead, they turned to William Braid, the superintendent of nearby Upper Montclair Country Club.
Braid oversaw the construction of new tees, greens and bunkers under the Raynor plan. By 1929, the new layout officially came into play with the first and second holes located where they are currently located. The biggest change surrounded the old 12th and 13th holes, which were combined into today’s long par-4 16th hole that stretches across a brook. According to the book “Up On The Hill” by Marty Parkes: “The 17th remained about the same as the 14th hole from 1916 although a new green was built for it, while the finishing hole assumed the basic dimensions of the original 15th hole. This routing proved a successful one.”
Recent Changes and a Bright Future
The contestants will find the course in superb condition, as usual, and will also be privy to the state-of-the-art practice facilities that were installed at Essex Fells C.C. just three years ago.
“Since new superintendent, Mark Miedler, arrived three years ago, the condition and the quality of the greens are better than almost any other club in New Jersey,” said PGA head professional Brian Gaffney about Miedler, who previously worked at Maplewood Country Club and Canoe Brook Country Club.
“We’ve removed many undesirable trees, and Mark’s maintenance practices have ensured consistency and pure rolling speed on the greens. He’s done a phenomenal job and the membership is just thrilled to show off the club,” Gaffney stated.
“Players will be pleasantly surprised at the overall condition and attention to detail,” concluded Gaffney.
The Golf Course
“While it’s true Essex Fells is a shorter course at 6,531 yards, there’s trouble waiting for those who try to overpower the golf course. Tee shots in the fairway will be paramount,” said Gaffney, who years ago was a young assistant pro under the club’s pro emeritus Russ Helwig before returning to Essex Fells in 2018.
The opening hole is a 519-yard, downhill par five. The tee shot must carry a bunker on the right side of the fairway while also avoiding the pump house on the left. A longer drive of 300 yards or so leaves a long iron or a hybrid into the green.
“The tee shot must be in the fairway in order to get on the green in two. Starting off with a birdie could set the tone for the rest of the round,” Gaffney said.
The 193-yard and downhill sixth hole presents its own challenge. The tee shot must carry the bunkers in the front of the green, and it is difficult to hold the green as the surface connects to a runoff in the back of the area.
Golfers who miss the green long will have a difficult pitch shot back up onto the green from a tight lie in the runoff area. A creative chip shot must be employed to save par.
The toughest hole on the front nine is the 458-yard, par-4, eighth hole. It requires a tee shot over a hill to the right side of the fairway, allowing for an optimal view of the green. The putting surface is tricky and slopes from front to back.
Another outstanding par three is the uphill, 179-yard 12th hole. It demands an accurate tee shot as out-of-bounds looms close to the left side and bunkers surround a green that features a severe back-to-front slope. Golfers are cautioned not to hit the ball past the flag as a putt down the hill can roll off the green.
For players who may be under par to this point in the round, Holes 14, 15 and 16, all par-4 holes, are crucial.
“Those who avoid bogeys on these three holes should be in contention,” Gaffney said.
No. 14 is slightly uphill and plays 422 yards. The green complex, one of the best on the course, slopes right to left and back to front and is perfectly matched to the terrain.
“The fourteenth is special because it sets the tone for the three hardest hole. It will prove to be a pivotal hole for the state’s best amateurs,” Gaffney said.
The 15th hole, at 453 yards, requires a second shot in between two strategically placed trees, including a white old oak, 120 yards out on the left side, and another oak tree 60-70 yards short and right of the green where a creek also looms.
“Players must be very careful with the placement of their second shot on 15. The green runs away, so it is best to land on the front edge and feed the ball onto the green,” he said.
The 448-yard 16th hole is an uphill, dogleg right. The landing area for the tee shot is generous, but the fairway then narrows and doglegs right and uphill to an undulating green. For that reason, longer hitters may be unwise to hit a driver because of the narrowing fairway and out of bounds on the left. The green is steep from back to front and an approach to the green should come from below the hole.
A “Claim to Fame”
The story of Essex Fells Country Club includes a golfing custom; However, this one is not sanctioned by the USGA. Sometime in the 1930s the practice of awarding a bonus shot on the first tee, in honor of John “Buddy” Mulligan, began.
Mulligan, who worked at the club, often played with assistant pro Dave O’Connell and club member Des Sullivan, a golf writer for the Newark Evening News. While Sullivan performed his chores in the morning, his partners practiced. In order to even things up he demanded a second opportunity on the first tee and this new custom was aptly named in his honor -- a Mulligan!
Entry & Qualifying Details
Please visit NJSGA.org for updates over the coming weeks regarding the opening of entries and qualifying locations.