Mercer Oaks Golf Club

Not too long on frills, but it offers challenge

The small clubhouse/pro shop looks more like the double-wide office for a construction site. The halfway house is actually a halfway trailer.

But so what?

At a glance
Getting There: Mercer Oaks Golf Course is on Village Road West in West Windsor Township, N.J. From Route 1, take Quakerbridge Road south; turn left on Village Road. The course is about one mile on the right. Phone: 609-936-1383.

Greens Fees: For Mercer County residents, weekdays, $18 to walk; weekends, $20 to walk. For nonresidents, weekdays, $35 to walk; weekends, $39 to walk.

Twilight (after 4 p.m.), residents, $12 weekdays, $13 weekends; nonresidents, $16 weekdays, $20 weekends.

Carts: Charge is $26 per cart, whether alone or split with another golfer. Walking is permitted any time.

Spikes: Nonmetal only.

Amenities: Fully stocked pro shop; restaurant; grass driving range. Outings welcome on Mondays.

Information accurate as of 8/22/2002

Mercer Oaks Golf Course in West Windsor Township, N. J., is a fine, fun course that is starting to turn heads.

The designers, Bill Love and Brian Ault of the Maryland design firm of Ault, Clark & Associates, created an enjoyable place to play for most golfers of any level.

Golf Digest's 4,200 Best Places to Play gives Mercer Oaks 2 1/2 stars, which is somewhere between, ``Good, not great, but not a rip-off, either,'' and ``Very good. Tell a friend it's worth getting off the highway to play.''

That's a fair assessment. Unless your current daily-fee course is a dog track, Mercer Oaks probably won't blow you away. But it's a solid, challenging course, and definitely better than several public tracks in the area.

From the tips, Mercer Oaks plays long - 7,017 yards - but it goes a much more manageable 6,305 from the whites, right at the national average. From the blue tees, the slope is a respectable 126 (and 120 from the whites).

The course is fair - no cheap or trick holes - and scenic in several spots.

What may be most appealing is that Mercer Oaks is quite playable, no matter what your level of golf. The fairways are for the most part generous and forgiving, many offering mounding to help keep errant tee shots from bounding into the woods.

Even better, especially for higher-handicappers, are the clear openings to virtually every green, allowing approach shots to roll onto the putting surface. On far too many modern courses today, greens are guarded in front by yawning bunkers or wetlands that gobble approach shots without mercy.

That's fine for the low-handicapper who doesn't flinch at such hazards. But for lesser golfers, you're talking disaster. So credit Love and Ault with knowing their clientele and providing an option.

``When you're building public courses, your market is the middle of the road,'' said Frank Ragazzo, executive director of the Mercer County Park Commission and the man who oversaw the building of Mercer Oaks.

``You can't make it so difficult they become frustrated and don't come out to play. You want a course that's pretty, not boring, yet good enough that it's challenging.''

That's what they have in Mercer Oaks. It's one of three courses owned and operated by the Mercer County Park Commission - the others are Mountain View in West Trenton and Princeton Golf Club in Princeton. Mercer Oaks is newer and the only course the county built on its own.

Mercer Oaks first opened for a month in the fall of '91, but the first full season was '92. It could use a few more years of maturity, but its youthfulness isn't a real problem.

The most boring hole is probably No. 1, an ever-so-slight 375-yard plain-Jane dogleg that starts you off nice and easy.

Things pick up after that - there are doglegs, water holes and fairways with huge fairway bunkers.

Although the front side boasts a 600-yarder (No. 7) from the blue tees, the best hole going out is probably No. 9. It's a short 365-yard par 4, dogleg right, that will require most players to hit a long iron or fairway wood from the tee, then fly their second shot over a small lake into a green nestled against the water.

The best holes at Mercer Oaks, however, are probably the three finishing holes. No. 16 is a long par-3, 240 yards from the blue tees, into an elevated green guarded by bunkers and mounding.

No. 17 is perhaps the most picturesque. It's a 405-yard, par 4 with a lake all the way up the right side that squeezes the fairway at about the point a good tee shot would land. Again, like No. 9, the second shot is a testy shot over water, if your tee shot has hugged the right side of the fairway. The 18th, a long par 5, is another nice hole that wraps up a nice round.

If there's a gripe to be lodged against Mercer Oaks, as well as the two other county courses, it's that credit cards aren't accepted. But Ragazzo said that, too, will change with the installation of a new computer system.

Mercer Oaks is not to be confused with a ritzy country club. But if you take the plunge once, there's a good chance you'll go back.

Orginally published April 20, 1997