Appeared in September/October 2004 LINKS
When a blazer lapel slips to reveal the simple, prestigious logo of Winged Foot, when the links at Shinnecock Hills is declared the ultimate championship test, when a record book opens to that list of Baltusrol’s 11 U.S. Opens and Amateurs, the heart of a Ridgewood Country Club member scarcely skips a beat.
New York City is all about bragging rights and pecking orders. And private golf clubs are a common entry in the status contests. But spend a summer day or two at Ridgewood—amid the manorial beauty, the tradition and the warmth that pervades it—and you’ll understand why envy never enters the front gates.
This club that’s so comfortable in its own skin dates back to 1890 and the golf ambitions of William Rosencrantz. A well-to-do cotton mill owner, Rosencrantz lived in the village of Ho-Ho-Kus on an estate called the Hermitage, which had once been the home of Aaron Burr. After being exposed to golf in England, Rosencrantz returned to build, with the help of some neighbors, what is thought to be the first course in New Jersey, a two-hole layout across the street from his estate.
Two years later the Ho-Ho-Kus Golf Club was established, expanding to become a nine-hole layout by 1897. The club moved to the town of Ridgewood in 1901 and officially changed its name to Ridgewood Golf Club. It wasn’t until 1911 that members had their first 18-hole layout, when the club moved to a rolling piece of property—known as the “Billy Goat” course—in the southwestern part of town. Even revisions undertaken by Donald Ross couldn’t keep the establishment from moving in 1927, this time to its current Midland Avenue location in Paramus.
The club entrusted its 220-acre Paramus tract to Albert Warren Tillinghast, who had built his reputation in greater New York with triumphs at Baltusrol and Winged Foot. Tillie and the club decided on a 27-hole complex, consisting of East, West and Center nines.
Tillinghast did some of his best work here. Each of the three nines provides a distinct challenge that showcases his trademark course features—back-to-front sloping greens that ripple with undulation and deep, steep-faced bunkers, to name just two.
Center opens with a classic “Cape” hole design that demands precision more than power. The 536-yard 4th was named “Briars” by Tillinghast, but around the club it’s known as the “Cemetery Hole,” in reference to a graveyard that hugs the right-hand side. Ridgewood’s most recognizable hole is the 291-yard 6th, nicknamed the “Five and Dime.” (If you don’t get a five, you’ll make 10.)
No. 5 West is the best hole on the property. A framed tee shot to a bottleneck fairway sets up an approach to the most difficult green here. It’s essential to be on the correct level of the two-tiered, back-to-front sloping green, where no putt is ever a gimme. The East is likely the most difficult nine from the back tees, and contains the best two par 3s in the complex as well. Holes 4 through 7 are the toughest four-hole stretch at Ridgewood, certain to make or break your round.
In 1935 head pro George Jacobus hired a young Byron Nelson as an assistant. Nelson Nelson stayed on until the end of the 1936 season, when the Texan joined the PGA Tour.
Jacobus’ immediate successor was Harry Dee, who began his career working for the legendary Claude Harmon. When Bill Adams took over for Dee in 1982 at the age of 28, he sought to make his mark as a teacher. Adams achieved Master Professional status from the PGA in 1988—the highest level a club professional can reach—and served the club more than 20 years.
Today, Ridgewood’s golf program is in the capable hands of David Reasoner, who took over head-pro duties in 2003 after training under Adams for three years. There’s a symbolism in the tenures of this club’s golf directors. Dating back to Jacobus, each has served a new generation.
Class, comfort and continuity: These qualities are certain to mark Ridgewood for generations to come.