ABOUT THE AUTHOR
: Tom Bohsen was born and raised in West
Orange on Blackburne Terrace just a few blocks west of Pals Cabin. He attented Our Lady of Lourdes Grammar School, Our Lady
of the Valley High School and graduated from Seton Hall University in 1965. The first job he had was at the driving range
next to Mayfair Farms on Saturday mornings picking up golf balls for 50 cents an hour. Bobby Brady was the manager at the
time. The Korvettes Shoping Plaza was constructed where the driving range was in the early 1960s. Tom is retired and currently
lives in South Carolina.
How many people think of golf
when you ask about West Orange? Probably no one and yet West Orange has five golf courses, one a 36 hole layout, and if you
wanted to count the Essex Fells Club where half the holes are actually in West Orange you could say there are five and a half
courses in the township.
In a town of 12.2 square miles that is one heck of a lot
of golf and although you may find more golf courses per square mile in Myrtle Beach or Orlando what would be probably impossible
to find anywhere else is that all of them were completed in basically their present form prior to 1930.
The other distinct accreditation is that virtually all these courses have a higher course rating than the par for
the course. That and the fact that what is called slope in the golf handicapping system makes all these courses very difficult
and an excellent challenge even for the best of golfers.
Present day courses include Essex County Country Club, Montclair Golf Club (36), Rock Spring Country
Club, Crestmont Country Club and Francis Byrne Golf Course. Two other courses have become
extinct that were also completed before 1930 and they were the Hutton Park Course which was the original Essex County Country
Club and the Mountain Ridge Country Club now occupied by Essex Green Plaza and Route 280.
So which is the oldest? It depends on just how you want to argue the particulars. In my opinion Essex County Country
Club probably gets the award for being the oldest country club and the Montclair Golf Club gets the award for being the oldest
golf club. The Montclair Club proclaims itself the 13th oldest golf club in America.
West Orange golf courses with a brief history and their addresses and links are as follows:
The Essex County Country Club (1887) was
formed in 1887 primarily as a fox hunt club and a social club with tobogganing in the winter. A clubhouse was established
by purchasing the Mansion House in Hutton Park. Hutton Park was accessed from Northfield Avenue less than a half mile west
of today’s town hall.
In 1895, construction was started on a golf course by golf pro, designer and greens keeper Alex Findlay who was paid a salary
of $10.50 per month. Eventually the course would encompass most of the land between Mount Pleasant Avenue and Northfield Avenue
up to and beyond Gregory Avenue with at least three holes north of Mount Pleasant Avenue and three holes south of Northfield
Road as well as the infamous 10th hole that ran directly north from Gregory Avenue for 505 yards.
It was written that the awesome view of the New York skyline from the 10th green
could hardly be appreciated after the exhausting climb even if the golfer were to make a score in less than double digits.
Hazards were tightly packed piles of stumps that would easily swallow any wayward shots. Other oddities were a 17th hole that
ended at the clubhouse with the 18th playing back to the west with a long walk back to the much needed 19th hole. I
can’t imagine how long a round of golf would have taken. The course was constantly being updated and changed through
1930. It sounds to me like this is the course where someone said that golf spoiled a nice long walk in the park or something
to that effect.
Before World War I, a new Essex County CC course
was started “on top of the hill” and 18 holes were designed and built by A.W. Tillinghast basically where the
East course stands today. The new course opened in 1918. At the time this was known as the “West” Course and the
Hutton Park course was the East Course. That would change 10 years later. Tillinghast was famous for building Shackamaxon
and later built Baltusrol, Somerset Hills, Winged Foot and many, many others.
In 1927 construction began on a second 18 hole course on top of the hill with golf architects Seth Raynor and partner Charles
Banks. Raynor passed away and Banks completed the project. Six of the Tillinghast holes were retained and the rest of the
course completely revamped so that the land could accommodate 36 holes.
With the depression the new clubhouse was not completed
until 1942. In the meantime much of the land of the Hutton Park course was sold off and eventually the clubhouse and the land
that was left was taken over by the town to pay tax liens. The club in the 30’s decided to make the new West Course
public so as to raise revenue. It remained so until 1979 when sold to the Essex County Park Commission which operates the
facility today as the Francis A. Byrne Golf Course.
County Country Club has an excellent website with a very detailed history of the early life of the rich and famous living
in West Orange and of golf in those early days. The Essex County Country Club is by many considered the third best course
in the state after Pine Valley and the Plainfield Country Club.
County Country Club
350 Mt. Plesant Avenue
West Orange, NJ 07052
973 731 1400
ESSEX COUNTY COUNTRY CLUB
Francis Byrne Golf Course110 Pleasant Valley Way West Orange, NJ 07052973 736 2306
FRANCIS BYRNE PUBLIC GOLF COURSE
Ridge Country Club (1913), like the Hutton Park course is the other 18 hole course that has
become extinct. The first nine holes were completed in 1913 and located on Prospect Ave. where you find the present day Essex
Green Plaza. These first nine holes were designed by golf professional Dave Hunter. The second nine holes were designed by
A.W. Tillinghast who was working at the same time he was building the new Essex County CC course in 1917.
My cousin and long time resident of West Orange, Tom Fennell remembers the following about the course:
“Yes, I played that course many, many times. It was a very tough course, built on a hill
and extended downhill to the next main street whose name I cannot remember. When I played it (1940s) the course was
owned by a Scotsman about 60 years old. At some point he sold it to a couple of men, one of which I knew, and they ran
it for a couple of years before selling to the developers (about 1953). He told me later that not only did they make
a nice profit on the sale of the course, but then sold the greens separately for thousands per green. Let me say again,
this was one tough course; I remember almost every hole and the hazards each had. I was unconscious one day and shot
a 78, which I will remember forever. Ahh! the good old days.”
myself was too young to play the course but lived nearby and remember being chased off the course by the greens keepers
and seeing the two and a half story clubhouse up on the hill overlooking Prospect Avenue (pictured above). Remembering
it now the clubhouse came right out of the Alfred Hitchcock movie Psycho. Mountain Ridge was constructed in 1913 and was scheduled
to open in May of that year as indicated in the newspaper article from the same year seen below.
Essex Green was constructed on the former site of the Mountain Ridge Country Club. Two aeriel views are
from 1957 with Prospect Avenue as indicated.
Golf Club (1893) today is the only 36 hole course among the five existing courses. The club was established
in 1893 but was located in Montclair in the “Edwin Park” residential area and the current Edgemont Park. In 1899
the current location was estlabished with an 18 hole course designed by Tom Bendelow.
In 1920, Donald Ross designed
a 27 hole course to replace the original course and during that year playing privileges were given to the members at the Essex
County Country Club courses. By 1928 work was started on the fourth nine designed by Charles Banks. Banks the same designer
that had completed the work at the Essex County CC East and West courses the year before.
Montclair Golf club is unique in that all four nine hole courses start just outside the clubhouse and there is the possibility
of playing some 12 different combinations of 18 holes of golf. Montclair also has the reputation of having the most difficult
greens to master with both the undulations and speed adding to the difficulty of coming home with a score to brag about.
Their website has a much more detailed history and is worth exploration.
Montclair Golf & Country Club25 Prospect AvenueWest Orange, NJ 07052973 239 1800
MONTCLAIR GOLF CLUB
Rock Spring Country Club (1927) is located at 90 Rock Spring Road on the south side of Northfield Ave. The course was
originally contracted to be a nine hole layout however golf course architect Seth Raynor convinced them to make it an 18 hole
tract. The first nine holes were completed in 1927. Raynor Rd. named after the designer is just off the golf course.
With the passing of Mr. Raynor, his partner Charles Banks who had worked the Essex County CC and the fourth nine at Montclair
is responsible for the construction of the course. The Rock Spring website refers to Mr. Banks as “steamshovel”
Banks based on how he tooled the design of his greenside bunkers.
Rock Spring Club occupies approximately 174-acres uniquely situated atop the first mountain. The clubhouse overlooks the five-acre,
spring-fed Cable Lake, which adjoins the first and second holes of the golf course. The view to the East presents a panorama
of the Manhattan skyline. The view to the West overlooks Cable Lake and the vista of second mountain.
The course made considerable improvements in play with an eye toward the new and improved golf technology in 2001. They also
have an excellent website where photos of clubhouse and each hole are available for viewing.
Rock Spring Country Club90 Rock Spring RoadWest Orange, NJ 07052973 731 6464
ROCK SPRING COUNTRY CLUB
Pins issued by the golf course and worn by caddies seen above in West Orange circa 1930s. These pins
belonged to James Fagan Jr. WOHS Class of 1939. As a young man Fagan caddie at both these golf courses. (Joseph Fagan Collection)
Country Club (1923) had a strange start with 13 holes of golf
being built by August Sipple on part of his grandfathers farm. There is no explaination why only 13 holes since it was well
established this was either a nine or eighteen hole game. At any rate it was sold in 1918 to Andrew and Agnes Force who retained
the property until 1923 when it was sold again to the Newark Athletic Club.
At this point the famous Donald J. Ross golf architect was brought in and he established his own 18 hole course leaving little
of what preceded him and it was completed by 1924. An athletic field was
also built for track and field events by the club and used for International Track and Field events in 1924 and Olympic Trials
in 1926. The famous Jesse Owens was one of the qualifiers. The Athletic
Club lost the facility to bankruptcy in 1932 and it found several more unsuccessful owners until it was taken over by some
248 of its members in 1955 and has remained in that form of ownership since.
Personally I used to caddy at this course each summer
from 1957 through 1959 and was able to save almost a thousand dollars to buy my first car. The caddie master at the time was
Billy Lynch and he was a character who lived on Johnson Rd. off Eagle Rock Ave. Lynch always made sure his drinking buddies
from the local tavern in Plesantdale were the first to get out each day first but after the first 20 loops were assigned Billy
took care of the kids that showed up every day. I began to think my name was “Hey You Blondie” over the three
summers and it used to annoy me since after only a few weeks one of my best friends Bob Smith was being called Smitty. We
both received the same amount of work but I doubt I was called by my correct name more than once a year.
One of the neat things was that the course was closed on Mondays
to regular play and while the greens keepers were doing repairs the caddies would be allowed to play the course for free.
My mother took me down to Bambergers in Newark when they advertised a golf equipment sale and I was able to purchase a whole
set of Spalding irons for $1.00 per club. My mothers cousin Tom MacInerney of Elm Street, West Orange gave me his old set
of woods and a puter and my golf career started. Fortunately I never tried to make a living from it.
So why with so many golf courses available why doesn’t anyone think
of West Orange and golf at the same time. The reason is probably that all but the Francis A. Bryne course are for the most
part and always have been private golf courses. The only other public course was the Mountain Ridge Course but that was sold
off to “progress”. The good thing is that if they were not private, they would probably too have all disappeared
to that ominous word “progress” too. Because they were private,
they had a membership of successful businessman and politicians who were able to keep their clubs alive through the good and
bad of the economies.
Crestmont Country Club 750 Eagle Rock AvenueWest Orange, NJ 07052973 731 2060
CRESTMONT COUNTRY CLUB
Now, how do you get to play some of these courses without
being a caddy? It is my understanding there are a few golf organizations particularly open to seniors and juniors where some
of these courses are on their annual schedule for play. Perhaps some residents can use our comment section to enlighten today’s
West Orange golfers.
RELATED LINKS WEST ORANGE HISTORY
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