Paramus, NJ—One of the most interesting aspects of the PGA Tour’s Fed-Ex playoffs being played this week at The Ridgewood Country Club is that the sites for the playoffs rotate from year-to-year—therefore the host sites may not be as totally familiar as other Tour locations generally used year after year.
Ridgewood CC was founded in 1890 but the present site—designed by the legendary architect A.W. Tillinghast—dates back to 1929. Tillinghast was famous for other metropolitan New York area courses most notably Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, NY and Baltusrol in Springfield, NJ, to name just two of his many works. Ridgewood CC may not be a household name to many but in hosting its 3rd Barclays event since 2008—the players have nothing but rave comments for what this classic designed course provide.
The 18-hole layout played this week by the top 125 players on the PGA Tour is one that demands the wherewithal to consistently work-the-ball from the tee—shaping shots that provide the right angles into the vexing putting surfaces often well-protected and quite sloping to one side or the other.
Four holes this week will be among the most challenging. How they are collectively played will go a long way in determining what player adds their name to the solid roster of champions who have won on one of Tillinghast’s most underrated courses.
Par-5 3rd / 593 Yards (Gorilla)
This par-5 will be a three-shot hole for nearly all in the field. The key is deciding how aggressive to play off the tee. Those opting to hit down the left side will face a never ending wall of trees plus an out-of-bounds area near enough play for those with faulty execution. The fairway features mounds Tillinghast inserted into the middle of the hole which should not prove an issue for the caliber of this field. Even those few players who hit 300+ yards from the tee will need to hit a stellar fairway metal club to get somewhere near the green. The hole turns right at the 470-yard area and the green is angled so that shots played towards the left side will allow for a more open approach to any pin location. Look for the pin placement to be in the most rear position at least for two of the rounds.
Par-4 5th / 291 Yards (Scoonie)
Nothing makes a world class player sweat more than having the opportunity on a short par-4 to strut his bravado. The 5th—known as the ‘five and dime hole,” is merely 291 yards—but all of it climbing uphill to a green perched on a plateau and favoring a high left-to-right shot from the tee. The strongest of players can give thought to driving the green but the execution must be flawless for the reward to occur. For those players looking to make a move on the leaderboard the 5th presents a golden moment to get into gear for the holes that follow. The yardage says it’s a short hole but pity those who let their guard down for even a moment. Miss the green left and you’re first name will need to be Houdini to have any hope in escaping with a par.
Par-4 14th / 412 Yards (Nub)
Flawlessly beautiful the 14th turns left slightly in the drive zone—most players will opt for fairway metal clubs to secure the wider portion of the fairway. There is a cross bunker on the right and the hole does narrow considerably when going even further down the fairway. The approach is central to scoring here. The elevated triple-tier green has a severe slope from back-to-front and left-to-right. Putt too hard and one’s ball will quickly gather pace and finished far from the hole. Birdies are possible but thoughtless or those lacking sound execution will see a bogey or more on the card here.
Par -4 18th / 470 Yards (Gabriel’s Horn)
The closing hole at Ridgewood is a classic—marrying shot shaping and sufficient distance. Giant oaks stand guard on either side of this dog-leg right long par-4 of 470 yards. In the 2001 Senior PGA Championship contender Jim Thorpe opted to play a high draw tee shot which was able to fly the trees leaving him a short pitch to the green. The more preferred route is a slight left-to-right ball movement. No one player performed better on this hole than Lee Trevino when winning the 1990 US Senior Open. The Merry Mex routinely played his bread-and-butter fade tee shot as the hole was tailor-made for him. The putting surface is elevated above the fairway with two large and very deep bunkers hugging the left side of the green. The green moves right-to-left and for those players missing the green to that side the likelihood of a par recovery will be tested to the max. A fine closing hole on a course of true character and timeless appeal.
M. James Ward, a member of Golf Writer’s Association of America (GWAA) and past member of Met Golf Writer’s Association (MGWA), has reported on golf’s grandest events since 1980 in a variety of forums.