Jasna Polana, which means “bright meadows” in Polish, is the former estate of J. Seward Johnson (of the Johnson & Johnson family) and his wife, Barbara Piasecka Johnson. She was Johnson’s third wife — a poor chambermaid who came to America from Poland in 1960 and became the 49th-richest person in the world. After the death of her husband, Mrs. Johnson leased the estate to the Tournament Players Club in 1986 to turn the 230 acres into a fantastic golf course designed by our favorite “all-in-black” player from South Africa, Gary Player.
Wallace K. Harrison, who designed the United Nations building, also designed the sprawling mansion. The country home — boasting 32 toilets, 15 fireplaces and a wine cellar storing up to 10,000 bottles — cost $30 million to build in the 1970s and at the time was the most expensive home in the country.
Johnson was so concerned about the idea of kidnapping, he constructed the mansion with thick-poured concrete walls and bulletproof glass. To this day, you cannot make a cellphone call from inside, as this massive defense blocks signals.
The story of the Johnsons and how Basia, as she is called, ended up with nearly all his baby powder fortune would rival the plot lines on Boardwalk Empire. Mrs. Johnson still returns a few times a year to check on the place, and I am told she scolds employees over the number of light bulbs turned on and their wattage. She spends most of her time now in Monaco and is an avid art collector. The house still displays incredible and priceless art and tapestries that she and Johnson collected.
The private course is beautiful and a must-play; just be prepared for the $260 fee.
Hole 2 (145 yards, par 3)
This hole hugs the road leading to the estate at Jasna Polana and serves as a nice introduction to the course. It is more intimidating than difficult. The elevated tee box offers beautiful views of the hole below with a stream running in front. Several in our group came up short, causing disaster. I landed off the green on the left and was able to walk away with a bogey.
Hole 3 (534 yards, par 5)
This is another beauty — you can see the Annex (one of two places guests can stay overnight) just behind the green. The fairway runs a zigzag pattern, first slightly left and then a right to the green, which is elevated and flanked by a meandering stream. I slammed my drive way too left and ended up on the opposing hole’s fairway, behind a line of trees. Sometimes you have to risk it; remembering that trees are “80 percent air,” I took my 3-wood and aimed for the green. Clipping only some soft leaves, my shot made it through the trees and continued back to the fairway within 90 yards of the green. From here I took my sand wedge to the green to an easy two-putt par. My golf buddies, Rick and Bob, were another story, both finding the stream; their scores were all wet on this hole.
Hole 6 (452 yards, par 4)
This is the No. 1 handicapped hole on the course, due to a combination of distance and a multitude of bunkers. You can see the bunkers clearly from the tee box, and there is one hanging fairway bunker on the right. Any golfer wanting to cut the corner must clear the bunker on this dogleg right — a must if you are going to have a chance of reaching the green in two. Bob did just that. The balance of the team, including yours truly, took a more adventuresome approach, which led to a disastrous gaggle of bogeys. Bob triumphantly walked with par.
Hole 9 (491 yards, par 4)
Holes 8 and 9 are two beautiful back-to-back holes. The par-3 eighth has a stream running along the right side and partially in front of the green. If I were a duck, I’d want to live here.
The ninth is a great finish to the front nine, with an elevated vista overlooking the fairway beyond and a small valley and a pond in between. There’s a 220-plus-yard uphill carry to the fairway, and big hitters like our other golf buddy in the foursome, Tim, and Bob can actually clear the bunkers, taking advantage of the downslope at the crest. Mere mortals like me should try to stay right of the fairway but not too far right due to the high grass. Your approach might be a good distance away; there is a lot of trouble left if your mind gets the best of you and you pull a shot into the woods. Tim and I were able to secure a five, which was the best score.
Hole 10 (432 yards, par 4)
The No. 2 handicapped hole leaves you wondering why Gary Player does not like you. It is intimidating, and the shot from the tee box has a very narrow opening. We all tossed caution to the wind and slammed four decent drives, landing within 20 yards of each other on the fairway. Once you are out of the “shoot,” the hole plays straightforwardly with one bunker protecting the front right side of the green.
Hole 15 (440 yards, par 4)
This dogleg left requires a short carry over a natural hazard to the fairway. Those who can guide their drive slightly left have an advantage. I had a decent drive just beyond the traps and hit a fat shot short of the green. I took a 7-iron “bump-and-run” approach, which placed me two inches from the cup for a “gimme” par. Bob decided to take a shortcut in the wrong direction off the tee, sailing over the three fairway bunkers on the right and out of play.
Hole 17 (200 yards, par 3)
We got a kick out of this little par 3 that measures 200 yards from the tips. The wind had kicked up; Bob used his little yardage gadget; and from where the tee box was the day we played, we were far more than 200 yards. Some shots went in the water, which wraps around the front of the fairway and then around the green; others landed left. I struck a solid 3-wood and landed on the left side and three-putted for a bogey. Tim chipped his ball from the left side to the pin for a one-putt three.
Hole 18 (549 yards, par 5)
This is a hole that I would like to play again, as a little course knowledge would have been helpful. The hole runs downhill to the green that lies tucked in to the left; it is guarded by a stream that cuts across and wraps around to form a pond on the right. I drove my ball into the right fairway bunker for the first in a series of miscalculations. Once out of the trap, I decided to go for the green and sliced my wood over the pond, finishing with a double bogey. It is really a beautiful finishing hole on a spectacular course. Our foursome retired for a snack in the Johnsons’ library, now the 19th hole.
TPC Jasna Polana
4519 Province Line Road
Princeton, NJ 08540
tel 609 688 0500
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