Historic Morris County to host Women's Amateur and Mid-Amateur Championships
When the first NJSGA Women’s Amateur Championship took place in 1923, Morris County Golf Club was already celebrating its 29th anniversary as a club founded by women.
In 1894, 24 years before women were given the right to vote, Morris County became the only club in America organized and managed by women. Two years later, in 1896, it hosted the second USGA Women’s Amateur Championship, the first national championship ever contested in New Jersey.
This July 27-30, the 95th NJSGA Women’s Amateur Championship returns to Morris County for the first time in 30 years. It will be played alongside the 7th NJSGA Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship, which takes place July 27-28. The Mid-Amateur Championship is for players age 25 and above, and contestants are eligible to compete in the concurrent events.
“The NJSGA is very excited to be returning to club with that has such a long history with both women’s golf and the NJSGA as one of its original 10 founding clubs,” said NJSGA Board of Trustees member Lisa Lifer.
“It is an excellent venue to host these championships, as well as many other NJSGA events, and is known as one of the premier golf courses in the state. The Women’s Amateur brings out the best golfers in the state.
“Morris County is a challenging course. It is a Seth Raynor design, and it provides sloping terrain and differing shapes of holes. We’re confident both champions that week will have played very well.”
Back in 1990, a 22-year-old Morris County member named Karen Noble won her third NJSGA Women’s Amateur title – part of the same summer when she starred for the U.S. Curtis Cup team and reached the semifinals of the U.S. Women’s Amateur. She would later spend eight years on the LPGA Tour, along the way finishing second in the 1992 LPGA Championship.
Noble, after a storied competitive run, is now the Director of Instruction at Fairmount Country Club in Chatham. She is pleased the Championship is returning to Morris County, the club at which her family were long-time members.
“It’s exciting that the Women’s Amateur is coming back to Morris County after all these years. I grew up on the course,” said Noble, whose mother, Rie, is a six-time club champion as well as the 1971 NJSGA Women’s Amateur Champion. “It teaches you the entire game of golf. There are short holes. There are long holes. You have crazy uphill, downhill and sidehill lies – and the greens are small and undulating.”
Noble believes her life lessons at Morris County helped prepare her for the LPGA Tour.
“Growing up at Morris County helped me have success on tour. I was never intimidated no matter where I went. I got used to hitting different golf shots and was able to acquire feel and imagination just because of the way the golf course is laid out.”
“Morris County is a very traditional Seth Raynor, old school, golf design that has stood the test of time and challenges players of all skill levels,” Noble stated. “The scorecard is deceptive because the course plays so much harder than the length on the card.”
Morris County has hosted many NJSGA championships, including four men's Amateur championships (1906, '14, '97, 2015), the 1984 State Open, two Four-Ball championships (1983 and '96), and two NJSGA Women's Amateur Championships (1973 and '90).
It was just last year that Morris County hosted the 98th NJSGA / William Y. Dear Junior Championship, won by Dean Greyserman of Crestmont. Dear, a Morris County member and NJSGA Hall of Famer, was a huge proponent of youth golf.
Said Brad Bardon, NJSGA Director of Championships: “Morris County is an ideal championship venue. It is a great championship test for any caliber of player – and the course especially lends itself to match play, because of the wide variety of holes."
“The history and tradition of Morris County Golf Club is well known. Our membership celebrates the fact that this club was founded by women, a first of its kind in this country. We have a lot of old photos hanging in our clubhouse dating back to the founding ladies in the 1890s. In fact, when the club first opened, women played in the morning and men could only play after 3 p.m.,” said Morris County head PGA professional Craig Smith.
In 1894, the women of Morris County played on a seven-hole course. Within a year, Paul Revere of Morristown – great grandson of the American patriot of the same name – was named the new president and held sway over a men-only slate of new officers. The women were none too happy about the coup. Nina Howland, the first president of the club, refused Revere’s offer of honorary past president of the club and never again played at Morris County.
In 1895, Morris County joined the fledgling USGA. By June 8, 1895, an 18-hole course at Morris County was ready for play and the U.S. Women’s Amateur, won by Beatrix Hoyt of Shinnecock Hills, was played there in 1896. In 1905, it again hosted the U.S. Women’s Amateur, this time won by Pauline McKay over Margaret Curtis, who along with sister Harriot Curtis, began the Curtis Cup matches.
Just two years later, Morris County was selected to host the 1897 U.S. Men’s Amateur, and in 1900, it was the site of the first Women’s Metropolitan Golf Association championship. The course was redesigned in 1916 by Raynor, protégé of noted golf architect Charles Blair MacDonald who utilized replicas of famous Scottish links holes.
Bobby Jones visited the course in 1920 and teamed with U.S. Amateur champion Chick Evans in a match against the British duo of Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, the 1920 Open champion. Jones and Evans won in a rout, 10 and 9.
About 10 years ago, the club hired modern golf architect Ron Pritchard to recapture lost areas of greens dating back to Raynor while also rebuilding many of Raynor’s original bunkers. New forward and back tees were added to present different looks and provide more possibilities on certain holes. The driving range was renovated at that time.
It is said that Morris County never plays the same due to topographical features and infinite hole locations on its outstanding greens. A number of the greens have been restored in the past decade, including most recently, the par five holes Nos. 7 and 9, as well as the par-four No. 16. Golf Course Superintendent, Jonathan Heywood, has overseen the project which has led to very impressive results.
The seventh green was restored to its original Raynor-designed, punch-bowl shape, with the intention of it better receiving shots rather than deflecting them.
“The previous green had become like a table-top where if you didn’t you didn’t hit the ball into the center of the green, it would funnel off,” Smith said. “Now with the edges leading to the punch bowl, shots remain on the green.”
On the ninth green, the framework of the green was expanded and the front extended. The green still contains two shelves, back left and back right, but shots that land on the front area of the green remain there. Balls that land short of the green, however, will roll back down a very severe false front.
The renovated 16th green, which will be completed this spring, is considered a dome-shaped “Gibraltar-style” green. A 12-yard extension to the back of green will allow shots that are played to the middle of the green to stay on the green instead of going over.
According to Smith, “Morris County will generally play longer than its yardage on the score card, due to elevation changes and forced carries on some holes. But, on some fairways, if a player’s shot is hit to the right spot, it can get an extra 30 to 50 yards of roll.”
In addition to the magnificent renovation work on the golf course, the clubhouse has been enhanced over the past few years, adding a 60 square foot covered patio as well as an inside bar and dining area.
“Members are excited about the new facilities here. It’s truly the type of club where people come and stay for the day,” Smith said, “Morris County is a great destination to play golf, hang out, and have a meal.”
Registration for the Women’s Amateur and Mid-Amateur Championships will be available on Sunday, March 1.