Ridgewood CC hosts opener for 4th time

PARAMUS, NJ. Tucked discretely away from the daily incessant chaotic commotion — known to all as Route 17 — is an oasis free from the frantic pace. It is hard to conceive such a total disconnect from the constant beat of daily life is so near but far enough away.

Nestled in a bucolic setting is The Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus. Bergen County’s finest golf facility boasts 27-holes. How good is Ridgewood? The club has consistently been rated among the best 5 courses in the Garden State and is a member of the top 100 courses in America by Golf Magazine and the top 100 classic designs by Golfweek. Ridgewood CC has played a pivotal role not only in the development of golf in New Jersey but also in America through its ongoing contributions as host to a number of the sport’s premier events.

Ridgewood once again serves as ground zero for the return of The Northern Trust Championship — marking the 4th time the club has hosted the opening leg of the FedEx Cup Playoffs conducted by the PGA TOUR. Starting today 122 players begin their quest to advance through the three-stage playoffs culminating with The Tour Championship in Atlanta in mid September.

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Interestingly, Ridgewood CC’s genesis did not begin in the Village of Ridgewood. The beginnings can be traced back to a rudimentary two-hole course started in nearby Ho-Ho-Kus in 1891. This two hole effort is often cited as the first golf holes in New Jersey. In 1893 the Ho-Ho-Kus Golf Club was formed and expanded first to six and then nine holes in 1897. With the need for more holes the club eventually left for Ridgewood in 1901 and the opening of a 9-hole course. In February 1910, a consolidation of the Ridgewood Golf Club and Ridgewood Country Club took place with the existing name Ridgewood CC being chosen. But even that move was short lived.

Another move was put into motion — also in Ridgewood – this time going to the southwest corner and in 1911 work began on 18 holes. That course opened in 1914. With encroachment from housing squeezing in a final move to a heavily wooded area of 257 acres of land in Paramus was decided upon in August of 1927. Course construction started in August of 1928 with 27-holes created by the accomplished architect A.W. Tillinghast a resident of nearby Harrington Park. Tillinghast’s golf prowess as an architect can be seen with such iconic designs as Winged Foot, Quaker Ridge and Bethpage Black in New York and Baltusrol and Somerset Hills in NJ leading the way. The regal Norman Revival clubhouse was designed by Clifford Charles Wendehack and both opened on Decoration Day — now called Memorial Day — in 1929.

Tillinghast’s design came during the Golden Age of Golf Architecture in the 1920’s when other courses of note opened and the growth of golf was clearly on the fast track nationwide. The holes at Ridgewood work their way around stately maples and oaks serving as towering sentinels guarding the fairways. The putting surfaces — as Tillinghast eloquently described — are like human faces. Each uniquely different with a slew of vexing twists and turns.

The ascension of Ridgewood early on was greatly assisted by the involvement of long time head golf professional George Jacobus. Born in the Brookdale area of Bloomfield, NJ, Jacobus was hired at age 21 to become Ridgewood’s head golf professional in 1919.

His leadership skills were instrumental both in the Garden State and in becoming the first native born American elected president of the PGA of America. He remains the youngest person selected for the position and served an unprecedented seven years from 1932-1939. It was Jacobus, in concert with the generosity of members from Ridgewood, that the club hosted the 1935 Ryder Cup Matches during the lean years of The Great Depressions. The USA squad would prevail and was captained by the renowned Walter Hagen. Jacobus had a sharp eye for talent and brought on staff a young talented Texan named Byron Nelson who would go on to achieve a Hall-of-Fame career. Sadly, Jacobus at age 67 suffered a major heart attack and passed in 1965. He was elected posthumously to the PGA Hall-of-Fame in 1983.

Ridgewood’s hosting of the 1974 US Amateur was a major event in elevating the awareness level of the storied layout to a new generation of players through the Tillinghast connection. In 1990 the club hosted the US Senior Open — won by Lee Trevino in epic fashion down the stretch over the great Jack Nicklaus. Eleven years later Ridgewood would host the US Senior PGA Championship won by Hall-of-Famer Tom Watson.

Even with all of these clear previous successes the involvement of Ridgewood on a rotating basis when serving as the opening event for the PGA TOUR’s FedEx Cup Playoffs became the catalyst for even greater attention and acclaim. The first event happened in ’08, the second in ’10 and the last visit in ’14. The finest players in golf hailed the traditional layout for its timeless qualities and the manner by which the Tillinghast design blends vintage shotmaking and natural beauty in a seamless manner.

The Northern Trust event also means the return of Tiger Woods to Ridgewood. The former world-number-one ranked player did play at Ridgewood but that was during the ’10 event — eight long years ago. His return to competitive golf this year has been heightened by his quality play at both The Open Championship and recently at the PGA Championship where he finished solo second. There’s also fan favorite Phil Mickelson. The 48-year-old star won earlier this year in Mexico and his presence has always been warmly received by golf fans in the New Jersey / New York metro area. Most notably, highlighted by Phil’s ’05 win in the Garden State at the PGA Championship at Baltusrol Golf Club in nearby Springfield. Players are also battling for the remaining four Ryder Cup positions on the USA squad by attempting to draw the attention of American team captain Jim Furyk.

The routing of the 18-hole layout has been altered slightly this time around. All three nines will have select holes included. The routing includes holes 1 thru 7 from the East Course; holes 2 thru 6 from the Center; and holes 4 thru 9 from the West will once again bring the event to a grand climax.

There are several holes of note at Ridgewood, however, the most intriguing from a design perspective is the 12th on the Championship 18-hole layout. The hole plays 291 yards and the par-4 on first appearance would seem to be easy fodder for the world’s best players. Called the “five and dime hole,” because players would normally hit 5-iron and then pitching wedge, the hole plays uphill and turns gently to the right. Players will be tempted to fire away with driver and hit the distant target. But the green can prove elusive — less than 3,000 square feet of putting surface available. The most prudent play is an iron or fairway metal club leaving a short pitch to the elevated target. The hole has been moved in the rotation this time around and will be featured in the 12th hole location in order to play a more pivotal role in the event.

This year’s tournament marks the end of the contractual arrangements between the club and PGA TOUR. The next opening for the event will not be till ’23. In addition, the Boston event — traditionally the 2nd leg will be merged with the NY/NJ event starting in ’20. Recent rainfalls have made the course more receptive to low scores but the rough just off the fairways is especially dense and quite thick. Record crowds are expected given the quality of the overall field and the participation of Woods.

All in all, The Northern Trust adds another high profile golf event for the Garden State and another enduring contribution from Ridgewood CC.

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