The kick-off event to this year’s FedEx Cup will showcase the essence of Golden Age architecture. The Northern Trust (formerly the Barclays) brings the PGA Tour back to Ridgewood Country Club; a classic A.W. Tillinghast course in a busy New Jersey suburb 15 minutes outside of New York City. Sometimes overshadowed by his other championship layouts in the area at Winged Foot, Bethpage Black, and Baltusrol, Ridgewood holds its own near the top of Tilly’s portfolio and is widely considered one of the two or three best 27-hole golf courses in the world. It is the type of place that looks and plays like it could host the U.S. Open pretty much any day of the week. Members enjoy 3 truly equal 9-hole courses (East, Center, West) all relatively similar in difficulty and architectural interest. Accomplishing this was no small feat for Tillinghast, “The Dean of Golf Course Architecture”, especially when considering that each nine starts and ends at the iconic Clifford Wendehack Clubhouse. The rest of the holes negotiate the broad ridge that bisects the big property. In the latest Championship Routing, Ridgewood will showcase 18 of its 27 holes, made up almost equally from each nine. The Center may come up 1 or 2 holes shy of the East and West in this 18-hole loop, but it makes up for it by contributing Ridgewood’s most famous hole, “Five and Dime” #12 this week, and #6C most days.
One of the true hallmarks of Tillinghast’s craft was his ability to change styles from course to course, yet simultaneously offering a familiar feel. At Ridgewood, you will find not one, but two classic Tillinghast Great Hazard Par-5s (Holes #3 and #13 this week). The template “Three Shotter” features a long carry over a gruesome hazard in the middle of the hole and puts a lot of pressure on the player as they weigh their decision to go for it, or lay up on their second shot. However, what makes Ridgewood unique among the top Tillinghast courses is the flashy bunkering with wispy fescue eyelashes, and lots of narrow, almost pointed tongues and fingers. These hazards create an interesting challenge as the fingers can make for difficult lies and some unusual swings. The serpentine bunkers vary greatly in shape and size. One of the wildest complexes is shared between two holes (#3 and #7 this week, both on the East), and others, like the bunkers on “Five and Dime”, can be seen from halfway across the course thanks to years of tree clearing and a restoration by Hanse Golf Design focused on bringing back Tillinghast’s flair for these unique bunkers.
The work didn’t stop there though. The architecturally savvy golfer will take note of the elegant grasslines at Ridgewood. With clean horizon lines, more width than ever, and no step-cut, the uncluttered look of Tillinghast’s features will be on full display. The greens have all been expanded to their original shapes and sizes, and the fairways have been pushed out to the edges of the bunkers. Superintendent Todd Raisch and his staff have done an incredible job since the big restoration project in 2015 introducing even more fescue to the majestic property and continuing the selective tree removal process started by Hanse.
Ridgewood Country Club, Tilly’s “Local” club, has played host to many notable tournaments over the years. Now fully restored using photographs from the 1935 Ryder Cup, the vaunted Tillinghast layout will hold its 4th FedExCup Event, and welcomes the PGA Tour with its Golden Age charm.