When contestants arrive at Arcola Country Club in Paramus for the 119th New Jersey State Golf Association Amateur Championship presented by Provident Bank, they will set foot on one of the area’s highly celebrated venues. The meticulously conditioned course, which has undergone major improvements in recent years, is well known for its championship pedigree – and stern test of golf.

Arcola, which last hosted a NJSGA championship when it hosted the 2015 Mid-Amateur, has also hosted the Stoddard Trophy invitational match (2018), as well as the 2018 Met Amateur Championship and the Carey Cup in October of 2019. The club has cemented its place as one of the area’s top championship venues, and the 2020 NJSGA Amateur is the latest in a long line of top events hosted by the facility.

“We love Arcola and feel like it has been selected to host the State Amateur with good cause,” club president Doug Kuiken said. “We’re confident that Arcola will represent itself very well as a very challenging and top-notch course. Our greens are what sets us apart. Every hole is different. Every hole presents its own challenge in a number of ways.”

The unique challenge presented by each hole is the byproduct of a major restoration and renovation initiative undertaken by the club, spearheaded by golf course superintendent, Paul Dotti. The Bergen County native, who arrived at the club in 2009 has had a hand in virtually every project undertaken at the club since his arrival. Between major drainage work, lengthening and re-shaping the course, rebuilding bunkers, removing trees, and expanding the practice range, Dotti – with the guidance and encouragement from the club’s leadership – has elevated the club into one of the most respected in New Jersey.

Working with the golf committee, it was Dotti who oversaw numerous projects, with nearly all of the work done in-house. He focused on bringing back the feel on some holes of the original 1950s layout, when Robert Trent Jones designed a new 18-hole layout following the state’s acquisition of land through eminent domain for the construction of the Garden State Parkway, which eliminated four holes. It was Jones’ that work followed previous architects, including original architect Herbert Barker (1912) and Willard Wilkinson (1928) who was retained due to construction of Route 4.

“The first thing we had to do when I got here was address drainage. Then it was lengthening the course, rebuilding bunkers and adding strategic bunkers. We’ve done a lot of tree removal to improve vistas and improve growth. All of it was to get the course to play and look better. That was our vision right from the beginning,” Dotti said.

The board members felt more comfortable doing those renovations in house with Dotti heading the projects.

“We can’t say enough good things about Paul Dotti, our superintendent who has gotten the course better and better. It’s always been a good course, if not a great course,” Doug Kuiken, Arcola’s president, noted.

One Dotti project that stands out was the expansion of the practice range, located between the left of the 18th fairway and length of the par-3, 11th hole.

“The range sat on an angle, so we were able to relocate the 18th tees and move them to right of 17th green. That freed up about 100 yards. Now members can hit 340 yards from one tee to the next,” Dotti said.

This winter, Dotti is in the process of expanding the range tee from 20,000 square feet to 40,000 square feet to accommodate a very active membership. Seemingly, the range is always in use.

“Paul’s mind is always spinning. Over his first eight years here, Paul himself basically redid the entire golf course,” said Jim Craffey, a 12-time club champion and winner of the past four senior club championships. “He’s made a name for himself, and he’s one of the best in the metropolitan area. Paul consults with some of the top guys in the business. And he’s not afraid to ask for advice. Paul has done a great job,” Craffey added. 

Incidentally, it was Craffey who was instrumental in bringing the Amateur Championship to Arcola. The longtime member is excited to showcase the outstanding facility.

Stated Craffey, “We have a fair golf course. It’s not too tight – but it’s very strategic, with fairway bunkers challenging shots off the tee. We have some of the fastest greens, if not the fastest greens, in the area, day in and day out. They are the No. 1 challenge here.”

The course plays to a maximum distance of over 7,300 yards and presents varying tee options which allows for interesting course setup options. Players can expect a different test each day throughout the competition, which is one of the many alluring aspects of the golf course.

Golfers should focus on the par three holes on the front, the 241-yard No. 2, which is well-bunkered with a large green, and the 205-yard No. 7, which plays downwind, but offers bunkers on the left and water on the right.

The short, par-4 third hole, at 361 yards, demands accuracy with the driver, but the smart play is a moderate drive that is placed before the bunkers on either side of the fairway. The slightly uphill second shot must avoid a deep bunker on the left and the three deep bunkers to the right of a sloping green. The best angle for a birdie putt is from below the hole.

The 400-yard, uphill par-4 fourth hole plays to a small green that pitches back to front. The emphasis is on the second shot where hitting the green can result in a birdie, but missing the green often results in bogey.

Craffey admitted that the four par five holes, Nos. 8, 9, 12 and 15, are good scoring holes. “But it’s easy to make bogey because of the greens which mainly slope from back to front. With differing hole locations and the green speed, they present a lot of different looks for the golfers,” Craffey said.

“The big concern here is going over the greens, because if you do, it’s nearly impossible to get up and down,” said Craffey, pointing out that holes 4, 5, 8, 9, 10, 15 and 17 are the ones to avoid in that category. “You’re much better off being short, because if you have to pitch coming back, most of those greens are severely sloped and many have undulations. Players who are here often know that.”

A year ago, architect Steve Smyers was called in to work on the 18th hole. He moved the practice putting green to behind the 18th green, opening up a large lawn pad near the clubhouse which can be used for functions. At last year’s Morgan Hoffman Celebrity Pro-Am, it accommodated 600 people.

“When Smyers redid the 18th hole, he changed the angle of the tees which made the hole more of a dogleg right. He also addressed the fairway bunkers and the greenside bunkers. It came out great and it’s a great finishing hole,” said Craffey.

As usual for any event hosted by Arcola, the 119th NJSGA Amateur Championship presented by Provident Bank is certain to be a must-play on the local competitive circuit for 2020. Entries for the Burlington qualifying round close on June 16; entries for exempt players and the qualifying rounds at NJ National, Lake Mohawk, and Quail Brook close on June 25.

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