The Barclays: Ridgewood CC, hole by hole

The 13th hole at Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J., host of The Barclays in the PGA Tour's 2014 FedEx Cup.

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PARAMUS, N.J. – The FedEx Cup opener returns to Ridgewood Country Club in northern New Jersey, where it was held in 2008 (won by Vijay Singh) and 2010 (Matt Kuchar).

The 7,319 yard, par 71-championship course (74.9 rating, 145 slope) comprises a composite layout drawn from the club’s three nines. The ingenious routing makes use of the club’s stronger holes, all of them on the perimeter of the property, while leaving its unused and relatively less engaging holes on the interior of the grounds. Luckily, or by design, the composite course also has short green-to-next-tee walks. The sequence of the layout is as follows:

  • First through fourth: East Nine's Nos. 1-4;
  • Fifth-eighth: Center Nine's No. 6, Nos. 3-5;
  • Ninth-11th: East's Nos. 5-7;
  • 12th: Center's No. 2;
  • 13th-18th: West Nine's Nos. 4-9.

Got it? Good luck and don’t get lost out there. In any case, it’s a helluva layout by A.W. Tillinghast, opened in 1929 and rated No. 61 on the Golfweek’s Best Classical list. Cool clubhouse, too, an English Tudor revival by famed architect Clifford Wendehack, who also designed the clubhouses at Winged Foot (N.Y.) and Mountain Ridge (N.J.) and who literally wrote the book on the subject, “Golf & Country Clubs” (1929).

The golf course, until recently pretty heavily treed, has been getting the obligatory restoration treatment that it seems almost all great Northeast courses are getting. The result is an opening up of the interior land, with viewscapes across the site that are far more interesting than anything that can be spotted on the outside of this suburban outpost. Ongoing restoration work by Gil Hanse and Jim Wagner has helped position bunkers closer to the (expanded) putting surfaces.

The club’s longtime certified superintendent, Todd Raisch, is one of these greenkeepers who feels bored if he isn’t working on a 20-page spreadsheet list of items to improve the golf course. The restlessness works, as evident in the high quality of the bentgrass/ryegrass/Poa annua fairways and the bentgrass/Poa annua greens (average size, a modest 4,800 square feet) that make golf here at Ridgewood such a joy for its members. It’s also one of those places were the transition from everyday play to championship play does not require a big adjustment.

Between the green contours and the newly recaptured angles of play on tee shots and approaches, the course requires something rarely seen on the PGA Tour these days – intelligent shot-making and a regard for position. While length is always an advantage, at Ridgewood, it’s at least as important to keep the ball in play off the tee and to hit crisp iron shots that hold these well-sloped greens.

• • •

Hole No. 1: Par 4, 380 yards

A short opener, strictly lay-up off the tee for these guys, thanks to a cross bunker 300 yards out on the left, a heavy tree line down the entire left side and the right side fairly well protected by overhanging hardwood that limit access to the green. Tree removal behind the green has created a kind of infinity edge to the putting surface that makes the back of this green look (from the fairways) as if it’s suspended in mid air.

• • •

Hole No. 2: Par 3, 190 yards

Too bad wind is not usually a factor on this golf course. The area is simply on the quiet side, as measured by such standard industry data sources as windfinder.com. This hole, however, is tough enough in a dead calm, thanks to a green that sits below the tee and slides ever so steadily from left to right. As with most championship set ups, the hardest hole location is front left, which leaves precious little room for a faded middle-iron.

• • •

Hole No. 3: Par 5, 588 yards

Hard to reach in two, given how the fairway runs out at 320 yards off the back tee – though surely a few folks will manage it. A lengthy lateral hazard looms left, and at the end of the first fairway Tillinghast adroitly dropped a pile of mounds just to play with golfers’ heads. But the real headache is that the green is perched above an explosion of sand – eight bunkers in all, which hide the putting surface and make an approach from the right virtually impossible to hold. The ideal play for that rare smart golfer in the field is to hit less than driver off the tee, keeping it left. From there, a middle iron short left, from which position the green opens up visually and topographically for a well-struck short iron/wedge. Here’s one of those holes that rewards cautious play.

• • •

Hole No. 4: Par 4, 444 yards

Your basic solid dogleg-left par 4, with dense trees and a lateral hazard the entire left side and the right half disarmingly open – except that it offers a less-than-ideal angle into a green that falls away from the approach line.

• • •

Hole No. 5: Par 4, 291 yards

Ridgewood’s famous “Five and Dime” hole is one of the original great little drivable par-4s before that it became a de rigueur addition to any championship set up. The name derives from how Byron Nelson, the club’s assistant pro in the late 1930s, used to play the hole: a five-iron off the tee and a ten-iron (pitching wedge) to the green. The hole is set on a diagonal tee shot, to a fairway flanked by sand and then, up another level, to a tiny sliver of a green that’s garroted with a total of six steep bunkers. This is probably the tiniest putting surface in American championship golf, no more than 2,200-square feet, sloped across its thin waist from high left to low right. The green is eminently drivable, and if the tee shot winds up among the low-side bunkers (on the right) that’s fine. The problem comes with an approach or drive that hangs up on the left and leaves an incredibly delicate downhill recovery. The week of The Barclays will see these players hit everything from a six-iron to a driver off the tee.

• • •

Hole No. 6: Par 4, 471 yards

A steady dogleg left around towering hardwoods on the left, downhill off the tee and then back up partly to a green that is heavily defended on the low side. The view from the tee makes it look wide open on the far right side, but in fact the second shot gets cut off quickly by canopies that crowd the approach zone.

• • •

Hole No. 7: Par 4, 447 yards

Ridgewood’s “Cemetery” hole takes its name from the adjoining property to the immediate south of the tee. And indeed, the hole can be a killer if you carry the drive to the top of the hill, 285 yards, and hold the left side. From there players get a great look into the tiny, well-protected green. From the right half of the fairway or from the rough this is one of the hardest greens on the course to hit and hold.

• • •

Hole No. 8: Par 3, 217 yards

A bit of an anomaly at the course, given the elevated tee and the flouncy, mounded greenside bunkering. PGA Tour players will be hitting middle irons here, which makes holding this green easier than for everyday golfers playing lower-trajectory clubs.

• • •

Hole No. 9: Par 4, 440 yards

A relentless demanding hole that calls for a fade but which severely punishes a shot that leaks just a touch too far right. The hole climbs steadily from tee to green along a fairway that cants right while it makes its way to the heavily defended green. A steep bunker on the left side, 270 to reach and 300 yards to pass, provides an ideal starting line from which to work the ball. But with the fairways firm the ball can easily run out too far, leaving an approach of 150-180 yards uphill and over a towering oak tree short left, in o a green draped on both sides with heavy sand. Recovery from an approach missed to the high side, left, is exceptionally tough given the fall-away slope of the green surface.

• • •

Hole No. 10: Par 3, 230 yards

A beautiful hole, though not exactly an ideal start for those who have to begin on the 10th tee. Here we see classical Tillinghast bunkering, starting (during the first two rounds) with a diagonal cross bunker well short of the green but protruding enough to make it look like it chokes off the entry – which for these players it doesn’t. The green is very demanding – perched up on the right and sloping left, with a back right crown that holds one of the most demanding hole locations on the entire golf course. Long right here is serious trouble.

• • •

Hole No. 11: Par 4, 467 yards

A golfer can’t win at Ridgewood without being able to work the ball both ways. The layout’s newfound width is ideally suited to smart shot shaping, and nowhere more so than at this elegant, double-dogleg par 4, which played as the toughest hole at the 2008 and 2010 Barclays. A towering oak beyond an imposing fairway bunker on the left looks like the ideal target line off the tee, and it is if you hit it long enough that the apex of your drive is 270 yards away – not to be confused with total carry, since that’s the equivalent of 300 yards in the air. That’s a very long carry, which is why most players play it to the right, with a draw (right-to-left, unless you're Phil Mickelson or Bubba Watson). They still have to avoid a haven of fairway bunkers in the deep elbow of the fairway, and from there the approach, 165-200 yards long, has to travel uphill about 15 feet to a very well defended green. Putting surface expansion to the back here has added a lot of character, as well as roll out over the green to a very tough recovery area. All in all, this restored hole shows off Ridgewood’s and Tillinghast’s flair better than any other on site.

• • •

Hole No. 12: Par 4, 475 yards

This hole is a foreshortened version of the Center Nine’s second hole, normally a par 5 but in this case a long par 4. Forget about a run-up approach here for players who miss the relatively narrow, unbunkered fairway. The small, perched green is girdled by sand on all four sides as if it were the putting surface for a par 5 (which it is).

• • •

Hole No. 13: Par 5, 626 yards

Too bad these guys hit so far that they don’t worry about the kind of things that drive everyday golfers crazy. Case in point: this long par 5 with a classical Tillinghast “great hazard” between the second and third shot. The expanse of broken, heavily mounded and grassed ground is modeled after the “hell’s half acre” on Pine Valley’s seventh hole. Tillinghast did versions of it at Baltimore Country Club-Five Farms (fourteenth hole) and Philadelphia Cricket Club-Wissahickon Course (seventh hole), and like those versions, this one is basically out of play for Tour-quality golfers. Unless they really miss their drive and have to pitch out way short, they’ll hardly notice or simply skip around this wondrous acre-large semi-hazard that stretches from 150 to 250 yards out where fairway “should be.” The play here is a long drive, then usually a mid-to-long-iron past the dead zone but plenty short of this extremely well-bunkered green. Its low profile is not receptive to bold, long shots, though no doubt a few of the very longest hitters will manage to get home in two. But it’s not receptive to the kind of low-running, 283-yard 3-wood from the deck that Rory McIroy hit on the 10th hole Sunday at Valhalla Golf Club to seize the day at the PGA Championship. There’s no room here for that kind of shot. It’s aerial launch (and land) on this hole.

• • •

Hole No. 14: Par 4, 412 yards

Great par 4 here, one that rewards smart play to a fairway at its widest about 250-260 yards out from the tee, then necks down to nothing as it gets pinched by a steep bunker right and dense rough left. From there, it’s an uphill short iron to a very well sloped, triple-tier green that tumbles from back to front.

• • •

Hole No. 15: Par 3, 155 yards

You have to admire the pacing of a course that can confidently downshift to a delicate little short-iron par 3 like this. The green, the second smallest on the course at only 3,200 square feet, appears entirely engulfed by sand – mainly because it is, with the four surrounding bunkers occupying twice as much area as the putting surface. Even for Tour pros, they’d be well advised to toss the pin sheet here and simply aim four days at dead center. Pin hunting when the hole is cut left or right can lead to a very troublesome up-and-over, short-sided recovery shot.

• • •

Hole No. 16: Par 4, 422 yards

The hole looks at first glance to be inviting and wide open, but in fact it’s the narrowest fairway landing on the course. There’s a slight fold across the landing area that renders downhill second shots basically blind. For players who try to force their tee shots into a more comfortable zone closer to the hole a newly added fairway bunker 310 yards away on the left ends up restricting their freedom off the tee. The approach shot is made tougher because the green falls away behind, right into bushes and OB ground.

• • •

Hole No. 17: Par 5, 594 yards

It’s great to see a par 5 like this at the penultimate moment in a round when you have to commit to a path. This powerful dogleg left, slightly uphill, is reachable in two for players who pull off a bold, right-to-left shot that hugs the left tree line (without going in). The problem from the tee is that those deep, dark woods look very scary, and for good reason. You’d be lucky to find your ball and chip it out. The ground that’s not marked as lateral hazard is virtually unplayable, which is why a bailout tee shot to the right, often with a three wood, is not a bad play. Though it turns out the apparent safety is short lived – given the awkwardness of a reverse-camber second shot up hill, swinging left of a towering tulip tree at the corner but not so far as to turn out along the ground slope through the far side of the fairway. And there’s nothing simple about the approach, not to a green whose front half slopes precipitous left and whose back deck rolls out away from the line of approach.

• • •

Hole No. 18: Par 4, 470 yards

For all the elegant bunkering at Ridgewood, this is the sixth full-drive hole where sand is not in play off the tee. And yet the fairway contour does all the work, thanks to a gentle fade slope and massive oaks that line both sides of the landing area. Like so many subtle holes, it calls for ambidextrous play: a fade drive and a draw approach. The green is perched and tilted left ever so slightly, with the front left protected by a steep greenside bunker that cuts of the entry on that line. Whoever ends up triumphant on this green will have played a full repertoire of shot shapes.

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