My Baltursol experience began the day prior to my scheduled game. My host at Somerset Hills has a friend who not only graciously agreed to host me at Baltusrol but also made arrangements for me to spend the night in one of the rooms in the clubhouse. I was pretty excited about having the opportunity to stay in such a great club’s historic clubhouse.
Because I had been rained out earlier in the day at Somerset Hills I spent the afternoon visiting the USGA Museum in Far Hills, NJ. If you find yourself in the area this is well worth a hour or so of your time. Its great to see all the original trophies for the USGA tournaments and there is an exhibit that documents the history of U.S. golf that is top notch. After I finished up at the museum I headed over to Baltusrol to check in.
The first thing I noticed when I walked in the front door is that the clubhouse smelled like a roaring fire on a winter day. Between the great smell, the wood paneling and the elegant appointments visitors feel right at home within minutes of arriving. I asked my host the next day about the nice smell and he said they have lots of fires in the clubhouse and it always has that great smell. Nice touch!
I was assigned to room #2 which had a great view of the golf course. Unfortunately there was not much to see outside the windows on this day other rain pouring down sideways . . . I wasn’t so sure the course was going to be playable the next day based on what I was seeing now.
I had planned to eat in the men’s grill that night and then relax in the clubhouse in preparation for my 36 holes the next day. Once I settled into my room I walked downstairs to check out the locker room and grill. The locker room is virtually a museum in and of itself. I spent about an hour walking around and looking at the photos and reading their captions. Right outside the grill I found a very cool display of hickory shafted clubs that had been made at Baltusrol back in the 1920s. I also found a book published in the early 1970s about the great golf courses of the world, so of course I had to sit down and give it a look. I guess the classics never do go out of style because this 30+ year old book featured many of the same courses that are on the current Golf Digest Top 100 list.
I wandered around a bit more and then back to my room to watch some college football. The men’s grill closed at 7pm so around 6pm I donned my jacket (jackets are required in the Baltusrol clubhouse after 6pm) and headed down to get a bite to eat. There was no one working and I quickly learned they had sent the staff home early because the rain had kept the golfers away and therefore the grill had been dead all day. Time for Plan B. I hadn’t planned to eat in the dining room so I had not packed a tie with me. Why I didn’t throw one in my bag just in case I don’t know . . . that was pretty dumb. Have no fear, the very friendly and helpful Baltusrol staff produced a tie (one that matched what I was wearing no less!) and I was seated in the dining room in no time. The dinner was great and I was sacked out in my room early to get ready for the 36 hole day tomorrow.
After my round at Somerset Hills in the morning we arrived at Baltusrol around 12:30 and had a quick sandwich in the grill. Baltusrol has 36 holes between it’s Upper and Lower Courses. The Lower Course is the Championship course and the one we would be playing today. After lunch we went straight to the first tee. No need to warm up after playing 18 holes already . . . or so we thought. After 8 tee shots from our group on the first tee I suspect that our caddies were a bit concerned with what lay ahead of them.
The first thing I noticed about the course is that there was not a single sign of the torrential downpour we had experienced the day before. The bunkers had no standing water, were beautifully raked and the course itself was completely drained with hardly a trace of evidence of the weather from just 18 hours prior. The greens crew must have been at it early to get the course in this shape after such a strong rain.
Below is a photo of the 3rd hole which we played as a 436 yard par 4. Its a downhill dogleg left with a stream fronting the green and the number 1 handicap hole. After a not so stellar drive I hit the best shot of the weekend which was a nice 200 yard draw around a tree and onto the green. I was pretty happy. The photo below was taken from the fairway walking up to the green.
The 4th hole is probably the most recognizable hole on the Lower Course. Its a pretty one shot hole of 143 yards (pros play it from 199) over water to a green sloped back to front. The hole was cut in the front of the green and we watched a couple of balls in our group hit the green and nearly roll back into the water.
As we got into the course I noticed how enormous the course feels. I think that feel comes from the Championship set up with tees that play 7,400 yards. The Lower Course at Baltusrol has seen its fair share of championship golf. From the years of 1901 through 2005 sixteen majors have been contested over this golf course including nine U.S. Opens. Jack Nicklaus won the U.S. Open here in 1967 and 1980. We played from 6,600 yards which is 800 yards less than the pros do. That makes for an additional 8 football fields of real estate between the championship course and the the course we played. Surely that extra real estate is what creates the large scale feel.
I managed to get around the first nine holes in good shape with some pars and a birdie on the 7th hole which is a 494 yard par 5 that the pros play as a par 4. My enjoyment of the course was enhanced even more when it came time to make the turn and I realized that we were nowhere near the clubhouse. I don’t know why, but I always like it when you make the turn from the 9th to the 10th hole out in the middle of nowhere on the course. Somehow it feels like more of an adventure to me when you don’t go near the clubhouse again until after the game is over. The halfway hut had cool 1950s style bar stools in it that reminded me of an old fashioned diner.
Unfortunately for me my long day caught up to me on the second nine holes and I started to run out of gas. I don’t know if it was my physical state or not but the second nine seemed to be quite a bit more difficult than the first. The photo below is of the par 4 374 yard 13th hole which is a slight dogleg right. My playing partner you see in the bunker absolutely roped his drive right down the middle but went a bit too far and ended up in these bunkers on the far side of the fairway. Surely they were placed there with the long hitters in mind. Its pretty punishing to have to hit an approach shot out of a bunker with a lip like that after such a great drive.
The Lower Course at Baltusrol finishes with two consecutive par 5s. The 17th is a monster. We played it from a reasonable 543 yards but the pros play it from a outlandish 647 yards!! The photo below was taken from the championship tee and you can see the VERY narrow chute that the pros have to put their drive through.
Here is a photo of the much friendlier tee shot we played from our measly 543 yards.
After a pretty weak performance on the second nine holes I did manage to leave the Lower Course at Baltusrol with a respectable performance on the 511 yard par 5. I was on the green in regulation and 2 putted for a par to put a cap on my fantastic 36 hole day. By the way, the weather only got better as the day progressed. It was sunny and mid 60s the entire afternoon. Talk about great luck for late October!
Baltusrol is a serious golf club, there is no doubt about it. These guys do golf the old school way. From the jacket and tie dress code in the clubhouse, to the top notch caddie program and championship golf course it is clearly evident that Baltusrol is serious about maintaining the traditions of golf. As difficult as it may be for some to believe, its only been in the last few years or so that they’ve even allowed short pants on the golf course! As a lover of golf’s rich traditions, I can fully appreciate what they’re doing at Baltusrol and say keep up the great work!