Orginally published Oct. 14, 2001
Every now and then, a new course comes down the pike that simply must be played - at least by anybody interested in sampling the latest, the different, the best.
Put The Architects Golf Club squarely in that category.
The Architects Club, just across the river from Allentown in New Jersey, it is a course that was conceived and designed as something of a tribute to the grand-master architects of bygone eras.
Designer Stephen Kay (who also did Scotland Run, Blue Heron Pines West and Harbor Pines) and consultant Ron Whitten, architecture critic for Golf Digest, have fashioned a novel 18 that pays homage to the styles of, among others, Old Tom Morris, Hugh Wilson, A.W. Tillinghast, Seth Raynor, Donald Ross, George Thomas, William Flynn, Alister Mackenzie and Robert Trent Jones.
The course, by design, is not a copycat, not an attempt to re-create golf's greatest hits. Rather, Kay and Whitten offer The Architects Club as a modern course, a jumping-off point at which their holes are merely inspired by the design philosophies, styles and techniques of their late, great predecessors.
The result is a 6,863-yard layout that's fun and challenging, yet a highly playable course for any golfer. With greens fees of $85 on weekends and $65 on weekdays - moderate by today's standards - I've got to believe it's going to be a smash hit from here to New York City.
|At a glance|
| Getting there: The Architects Golf Club is located at 700 Strykers Rd., Phillipsburg, N.J. The phone number is 908-213-3080. The Web site is www.thearchitectsclub.com .
Green fees (incl. cart): Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays, $85; $65 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.; $45 after 3 p.m. Monday through Thursday, $65, $45 from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m.; $35 after 3 p.m. Reduced winter rates take effect in November.
Walking: Walking permitted any time, but cart fees are included; pull-carts available.
Amenities: Clubhouse slated for 2004. Driving range and putting green.
Rating: Must-play. For anybody curious about the great architects of the past, this course is an introduction. It's well-conceived, well-designed, challenging, and fun to play for mid-handicappers and better.
Accurate as of Oct. 2001.
As I played a round there last week, I could not find anything not to like. The course itself is already in superb condition. And the concept is refreshing.
At hole after hole, I would stand there on the tee, study the hole ahead, then read about it in my yardage book, including details about that hole and the architectural influences.
"In the style of Donald Ross [1872-1948], the only architect to inspire two holes on our course," read the yardage book, referring to No. 9.
"In his day, he was America's best known and most active architect. He did Pinehurst No. 2 in North Carolina, Oakland Hills near Detroit and Plainfield in New Jersey. The putting surface is patterned from a genuine Ross diagram, with a deep trench running through its center."
Ross' career was so long, varied and distinguished, he is the only man to whom Kay and Whitten devoted two holes - the 9th from his early career, and the par-4 15th from his latter years. Before me at the 9th lay a long (447 yards) uphill par 4 with a troublesome fairway bunker on the right, a pond that posed problems around the green and a tricky, tiered putting surface.
I have played my share of Donald Ross courses, but I can't say that I found that Kay and Whitten had completely captured the essence of the man.
On the other hand, at the par-5 third, a lazy dogleg replete with grassy fairway bunkers and multiple attack options that was inspired by Wilson (1879-1925) of Merion East fame, I did feel a sort of vague connection to holes at his masterpiece. I found that feeling repeated several times during the day.
Of course, unless you spend your evenings studying coffee table books on architectural design from the golden age, which I do not, chances are that you, too, will not exactly appreciate Kay's interpretation of, say, C.B. Macdonald (1857-1939), Devereux Emmet (1861-1934), Charles Banks (1883-1931), and Seth Raynor (1874-1926).
Do you care?
But do you know a good golf hole when you see one? Yes, me too.
The Architects Club is going to appeal to two distinctly different types of golfers. One type is the ones who fancy themselves as fans and experts when it comes to classic golf course architecture. They will trek to The Architects Club , if only to weigh in with their own reviews of Kay's and Whitten's work. (I'm already seeing some critiques that the course falls short of duping the masters, that it should called Architects Golf Club Lite. Fine.)
However, the vast majority of golfers, who are only vaguely familiar with the names and works of the great architects, will be drawn to the course simply because it's well done, playable and, frankly, a novel concept. If they experience something new, or come to appreciate a little golf history in the process, all the better.
The idea for the course came about, ironically, after plans to build an executive course on the same rolling farmland fell through. The developer on that project lost his financing.
Two brothers, Dennis and Lawrence Turco, whose New York construction company had been hired to build that course, decided to try to salvage the project.
They contacted Kay, who told them about this idea he had been kicking around. When the Turcos were intrigued, Kay, in turn, contacted Whitten, who had never designed a course before but was a vast storehouse of historical knowledge. Turned out he, too, had been dreaming of just such a course.
The result is a winner. Even if you do not give a hoot about those old dead guys, The Architects Club offers a very pleasant round of golf.