The New York and New Jersey metro area surrounding New York City has quite a few golf courses on the Top 100 list so I’ve made numerous trips to the area over the last 5 years as I’ve been plugging away at my Top 100 quest. Plainfield Country Club is one that had eluded me for quite some time. I’d tried to include it on several trips over the last few years, but never could quite come up with a connection to a member. Luckily, I asked the right person earlier this year and I finally got a chance to visit Plainfield.
Before I get on to my experience at Plainfield here are a couple little bits of history from the club. Founded in 1890 Plainfield Country Club was then known as the Hillside Tennis Club. The name was officially changed to Plainfield Country Club in 1904 and the Donald Ross designed golf course opened for play 17 years later in 1921. Another interesting piece of club history that has had an impact on all golfers is that Plainfield Country Club is the birthplace of the USGA Handicap System. Next time you lose a hole to an opponent that you had to give a stroke to you can curse Plainfield Country Club and Leighton Calkins!
OK, back to the present time . . . a few of you may remember having seen some press back in 2010 on two crazy Kiwis, Jamie and Michael, who were on a mission to raise money for the First Tee New Zealand. These lads were bouncing around the globe with the goal of playing golf every single day of the year. Tough duty, but I suppose someone’s got to do it. Well, when the lads floated through Virginia I extended an invitation for them to stay with me at my house and play golf with me at my club in Richmond which they happily accepted. We crazy golf people have to stick together and help each other out you know!
Since the Kiwis finished their great 365 day golf adventure we have stayed in touch and they have always offered to help me with my quest if possible. On an off chance that they might know a member at Plainfield I fired off an email to them and received a response shortly thereafter that not only did they know a member at Plainfield, but as Jamie stated it – he is “one of life’s best humans”. Jamie sent an email introduction to John, the Plainfield member, who I spoke to on the phone and graciously invited me to join him for a game any Thursday or Friday afternoon. He said to just get in touch with him when I wanted to come. Wow, Jamie was right about this guy!
A couple of months later I was setting up a trip to spend a day playing golf at Merion Golf Club in Philadelphia and I happened to notice that the day in question was a Wednesday . . . how convenient that John usually plays on Thursdays. I shot him an email and next thing you know we had a game set up for a day after my trip to Merion.
John and I planned to meet at 1:45pm and would be teeing off shortly thereafter. Upon arrival I met up with John in the locker room, hit a few balls on the range and then strolled over to the 1st tee where we met our 3rd player . . . also conveniently named John. It was quickly decided that we would play the 6,616 yard Plainfield tees and once the group in front of us cleared the fairway John put a ball in the air to get us started.
Hole 1 – 421 yards – Par 4
Here we start out with a stout par 4 that requires a good drive down the middle.
I hadn’t watched the television coverage of 2011 Barclays when it was held at Plainfield so I didn’t really know much about the course at all. What immediately caught my attention was the tremendous undulation in the first fairway. Below is a photo walking up to the green which shows a little bit of the undulation, but it was far more severe further back in the fairway.
The 1st green was quite an eye opener for what to expect at Plainfield as well. With a severe tilt from back to front it is highly recommended to leave your approach shot below the hole for an uphill putt.
Hole 2 – 437 yards – Par 4
We get another lengthy par 4 at the 2nd hole which plays just a little bit downhill and features bunkers on both the left and right of the fairway. The photo below was taken from the tee.
Below is a look at the approach shot into the green. Note the series of bunkers coming in from the left side of the green. Balls that end up here will be faced with what is my personal least favorite shot . . . the 30-40 yard bunker shot to a green.
Hole 3 – 164 yards – Par 3
Here we come to the first par 3 on the course which is a mid-iron shot for most players with water along the right side of the green. Slicers beware here and take note that there is plenty of room on the left side of the hole.
Hole 4 – 295 yards – Par 4
The 4th hole is a charming little short par 4 that runs uphill and plays a little longer than the yardage would indicate. Players who take a rip at the green with their driver will have a wedge into the green and those lay back will likely still have just a short iron into the green.
Below is a look at the green from the fairway. Note the deep bunker fronting the green that will cause trouble for approach shots that come up short.
Hole 5 – 509 yards – Par 5
The first par 5 on the course is of moderate length and long hitters will likely go after this one in two. The hole plays uphill, but it didn’t really seem to play any longer than one would expect. As illustrated in the photo below the drive is to a blind landing zone.
Hole 6 – 141 yards – Par 3
This cute little par 3 is a nice little short iron for most players. There are numerous bunkers around the green it is best to hit the green on the tee shot here.
Here is a look at the 6th green from the 7th tee.
Hole 7 – 457 yards – Par 4
The best way to describe the 7th hole at Plainfield Country Club is that it is a beast. At 457 yards it requires two excellent shots to reach the green in regulation. It does play a tiny bit downhill, but it is still a very long hole. The photo below was taken from the tee box.
Here is a look at the approach into the green. Again, it is a tiny bit downhill, but not so much that it makes a difference.
Hole 8 – 495 yards – Par 5
Below is a view of the 8th hole taken from the tee box. Again we are going back up the hill with the tee shot but the hole levels out as it rolls into the green. This hole is certainly reachable in two for longer hitters, but with a blind second shot I decided to lay up rather than going for it.
After a layup the approach into the green is likely just a short sub-100 yard shot.
Hole 9 – 356 yards – Par 4
The 9th hole is a short par 4 that many of the pros at the Barclays took a rip at with their driver. Phil Mickelson drove his ball into a greenside bunker one of the days. Note in the photo below how deep some of the bunkers around the green are.
The green here is a tricky little affair. It has a severe tilt from back to front and there are some hole locations that can really make this hole very difficult for a short par 4. Unfortunately the photo below does not really illustrate just how severe this green is.
Hole 10 – 353 yards – Par 4
This hole is a shortish par 4 that plays down the hill and then back up for the approach shot into the green. Below is a shot of the approach into the green. Note the hazard marked with the yellow stakes that must be avoided on the drive.
Hole 11 – 136 yards – Par 3
I loved this short par 3. It’s just a pitching wedge or a 9 iron, but it is no push over par 3. As can be seen in the photo below there is a false front on the green which will repel balls that come up short right into the front bunker.
Here is a look from the middle of the green that shows how severe the false front is.
Hole 12 – 555 yards – Par 5
Here we have a lengthy par 5 where something in the fairway is ideal for setting up the second shot.
This hole is tough to go for the green in two, not only because of the length, but also because of the water hazard that runs down the middle of the hole near the green and along the left side of the green.
Here is a look at this very interesting green. The spine at the back becomes a significant factor with hole locations at the back of the green. It is not advisable to be on the wrong side of the spine.
Hole 13 – 411 yards – Par 4
Here we have a lengthy par 4 that favors a cut off the tee. A drive up the left side of the fairway that fades back to the right is the ideal shot here.
A good drive here will leave a short to mid-iron shot over water to reach the green. Drives that stay on the left side of the fairway will result in a longer approach than those that fade back to the right.
Hole 14 – 186 yards – Par 3
This is a tricky par 3 that requires a mid to long iron to carry the water. Its not visible in the photo below, but the green rolls off a the back and shots that go long will make for a tough up and down.
Here is a slightly different angle from the water’s edge.
Hole 15 – 357 yards – Par 4
Here we have a another shortish par 4. Its a little difficult to see with the camera pointing into the sun, but there are some bunkers on the left side of the fairway that are in play from the tee.
Below is a look at the approach shot into the green.
Hole 16 – 554 yards – Par 5
Pictured below is the tee shot at this lengthy par 5. Something down the middle will do the trick nicely here.
Below is a look at the second shot. These bunkers cross nearly the full length of the fairway so players will need to decide if they want to carry them or lay up short.
Below is a look at the green from the left side of the fairway. Note how the back of the green rolls right into the 17th tee box. A pretty cool feature. The green is two tiered and hole locations at the back are very difficult to reach.
Hole 17 – 409 yards – Par 4
Here we have a dogleg right par 4 where the ideal tee shot is a cut. A tee ball that carries the bunkers while moving to the right will set up the best approach for the severely uphill shot into the green.
Hole 18 – 380 yards – Par 4
The finishing hole is a medium length par 4 that plays uphill. Longer hitters can flirt with carrying the bunkers on the left side of the fairway.
Below is the view of the approach shot into the green.
After we finished our round and had a cold beverage on the patio I had to hit the road and get back to Virginia. It was a long drive and I had plenty of time to think about my game at Plainfield Country Club. I didn’t have to think very long about it to come to the conclusion that I loved it. I didn’t have any knowledge of the course prior to playing so it was nice to come in without any expectations or preconceived notions. I was really taken with the undulations of the land and the incredible greens that Donald Ross put on this golf course. As a matter of fact I’m willing to go on record saying that this is my favorite of all the Donald Ross courses I have played. Yes, I’m being blasphemous and saying I enjoyed this one better than Pinehurst No. 2!
In addition to the excellent property and fantastic greens Plainfield features a wide variety of different types of holes that keep the course interesting and make it the type of place you can play every day without ever growing tired. I think my feelings about Plainfield Country Club can be summed up by the text I sent to one of my friends when I stopped for gas on the drive home. That text said – “Plainfield Country Club . . . sleeper hit of the season”.