I seldom meet a golfer who is not familiar with Forsgate Country Club in Monroe Township, N.J., a course that has hosted many corporate outings. Since it’s conveniently located just off Exit 8A of the New Jersey Turnpike, it’s a favorite among golfers who live in New Jersey, New York or Pennsylvania. And though it’s a private club, there’s such a vast number of corporate members that it’s likely you’ll be invited to play the course if you’re visiting the area on business.
Forsgate was established by John Forster, who, planning to leave the hustle and bustle of New York City behind, purchased a 50-acre parcel of land here in 1913. His goal was to start a self-sufficient community, with a farm where he could entertain friends and relatives. In 1929, Forster changed his plans and hired famed architect Clifford Wendehack to design a clubhouse and Charles “Steam Shovel” Banks to build a golf course. The design was to mimic courses Forster had played in Europe.
Today, Forsgate Country Club is home to two fantastic and challenging courses. The Banks, opened in 1931, ranks No. 2 on New Jersey Monthly magazine’s list of the top 20 private courses in the state. (Pine Valley is No. 1.) The Palmer was built in 1961, based on a design by Hal Purdy, and was redesigned by the Palmer Group in 1971. The club’s colonial-style clubhouse is a full-service facility. Forsgate is not a long course, but the greens make it unique. (The pro told me the shop sells an awful lot of 60-degree wedges.)
Following are highlights of the Banks course:
Hole 3 (196 yards, par 3)
This hole is named after the 11th hole at St. Andrews (see “Grace on the Greens,” Global Traveler, February 2005, for a review of the St. Andrews Old Course). It’s a very difficult par three with two large, deep bunkers ready to take you off the green. So infamous are these bunkers that they are named: the Strath (on the right) and the Shelley (on the left). There is a ridge in the middle of the green that makes putting a challenge. Making a two putt on this hole is an achievement, and pin placement is key. If you are on the opposite side of the hump, you will have great difficulty making par.
Hole 5 (417 yards, par 4)
The third handicapped hole on the course, Punchbowl is a copy of Hoylake’s ninth hole in Merseyside, England. Its layout is featured on many courses designed by McDonald, Paynor and Banks. The tee shot is generous, with a penalty bunker at about 290 to 300 yards, which big hitters can reach on dry days. The key to making par and walking away with your head high is the green. During the ’70s, this hole had the largest putting surface in the United States, so you really need to know the pin placements. Those in the know will check out the pin’s location as they walk off the third green. There is a center mound in the green, and your second shot is blind, so not knowing the placement may mean you have a monstrous putt ahead.
Hole 8 (570 yards, par 5)
Aptly named, this hole will surely demand all three shots to make the green. When the prevailing winds are up and in your face, the challenge intensifies. In this case, the designers looked to the Old Course at St. Andrews for inspiration — the 14th hole, to be exact. Here, the hole boasts the most severe fairway slope on the course. The fairway slopes the entire way from right to left, so you need to aim your tee shot well right, so that it doesn’t roll to the left. Another mound sloping to the left greets you at the green.
Hole 9 (506 yards, par 5)
Don’t like back-to-back par 5s? Then I suggest you drive right by Exit 8A and skip the Banks course. This is a rolling fairway with a double plateau. The first is on the fairway somewhere between your second and third shot. Big hitters can carry this plateau and roll down for an easy shot to the green. If you have to lay up, you will need a long iron or fairway wood to carry the upward s lope. The green is protected by two bunkers: one in the front and the other to the right. Hitting these can make a difficult up-and-down, but the green is relatively flat by Forsgate standards.
Hole 10 (416 yards, par 4)
Featuring sets of typically Scottish cross bunkers on its fairway, this hole takes its name from the opening hole at the National Golf Links and the second hole at Carnoustie in Scotland. Again, the tee shot is crucial. A 230-yard tee shot will take your ball to the top of the hill and roll it to within iron distance. Missing the long drive off the tee increases the challenge. You will need a fairway wood or long iron to reach the green, which is pitched on a severe shelf that drops off to the right.
Hole 16 (404 yards, par 4)
Continuing the theme of borrowing names from legendary golf holes around the world, this multi-tiered hole is named for the 16th at North Berwick, Scotland. It was designed to resemble C.B. MacDonald’s version, which he created as the 11th hole at the National. The greenskeeper wreaks havoc with his nasty pin placements. The tee shot is relatively easy, and scoring well is a direct result of your second shot into the challenging multi-mounded green.
Hole 17 (239 yards, par 3)
This long par 3 is patterned after a par three at the Biarritz in Aquitaine, France, with a long, narrow green divided into two levels by a deep swale. It was designed by Willie Dunn of Scotland, who also designed the original course at Shinnecock, Long Island. Most golfers are going to need a fairway wood to reach this green, which has two large bunkers right and left, with a depression in front of the green composed of rough. It is believed that this depression was once part of the green, as the bunkers extend its entire length. In Scottish tradition this makes sense, as shots would then be able to roll onto the green. Now they are hung up in the depression.
Hole 18 (450 yards, par 4)
Say your prayers on the tee box. That’s your only hope of getting out of Purgatory. This is a devilish par four with a steeply pitched green and a trap at the right front of the green, the deepest on the Banks course. The tee shot is to an uphill fairway. Unless you are a long-ball hitter, you are again left with a long iron or fairway wood for your second shot. There is a huge fairway bunker on the right, which you may need to avoid. The green slopes from back to front, so a ball landing toward the rear will make for a very difficult putt to the pin, if placed toward the front.
FORSGATE COUNTRY CLUB
375 Forsgate Drive
Monroe Township, NJ 08831
tel 732 521 0070, fax 732 521 6118
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