By Kevin Casey
In December, 2015, two of the finest clubs in the region made a decision that will eventually prove to be a boon for all regional golfers. The Rock Spring Club and Montclair Golf Club have united into one 54-hole club that synthesizes the rich histories, excellent courses and, of course, fine membership of both institutions.
This merger is important to the Red Hoffman Cup Matches.
Rock Spring was the first club to entertain the idea of a men’s annual, scratch competition for several northern New Jersey clubs. In 2004, I was still new to the region and had recently joined Rock Spring. Knowing that I couldn’t expect acceptance from other clubs if my own club wasn’t interested, I proposed the concept of the Hoffman Cup Matches to the Rock Spring Board of Governors with little assurance of buy-in, much less success. But the Board quickly took a leap of faith and agreed to let me say that Rock Spring was “in.”
Armed with Rock Spring’s backing, I enlisted the counsel of Bill Frese, Rock Spring’s many-time club champion and a well-known regional player. Deciding to start small with four clubs in our first year, we laid out a plan. Bill made a few phone calls of introduction to key members at prominent clubs in the area, and I set out to get three more clubs to take that same leap of faith.
While Bill’s contacts all liked the idea, they shared a reluctance to volunteer their club to be a test subject. “I’m not sure I can come up with the players for this event,” they would reply. “Let’s wait and see how it goes,” became a common response. We were having trouble getting out of the starting blocks.
One of Bill’s contacts, Bill Hoatson, is a 10-handicapper at Montclair. While making it clear that he’d never be able to play in the event, he still thought he could sell his club on the idea.
The two Bills’ reputations carried the day. A few days later, Montclair became the second club to join the Hoffman Cup. Montclair’s involvement rapidly inspired two more clubs to jump in. Current NJSGA president Dan Meehan championed the idea at Spring Brook Country Club, while multiple-time NJSGA Senior Amateur champion Allan Small led the charge at Fairmount Country Club. Both clubs signed up.
That initial Hoffman Cup competition was won by Fairmount, and set the stage for the following year, when Echo Lake, Essex County, Mountain Ridge and Plainfield country clubs joined the competition. With those eight clubs on board, the value proposition of the Matches became clear. The Hoffman Cup was underway.
Today, in our 12th season, the Hoffman Cup boasts 32 clubs and sports a waiting list.
None of this would have happened if it hadn’t been for the willingness of two grand old clubs to innovate and take a chance. With their recent merger, Rock Spring and Montclair displayed not only these qualities, but a sense of service to the game.
(Kevin Casey is a member of the NJSGA Board of Trustees and Director of the Red Hoffman Cup Matches)