Galloping Hill Golf Course – Kenilworth, New Jersey Guru's Rating: 8.4
Non-Resident Weekend Rate (with cart): $76
At first glance, Galloping Hill looks more like a construction zone than a golf course. Men on bulldozers and engineers donning hard hats serve as your gallery on the first tee. The clubhouse? A trailer in the middle of a dirt parking lot. You half expect Johnny Cakes to be somewhere in the vicinity, sitting on a folding chair reading the newspaper.
But don’t judge Galloping Hill by its cover – or its location (within a pitching wedge of the Garden State Parkway). The cranes, shovels and orange cones disappear as you get out into the course, which is beautiful, well-maintained and challenging. Plus, there’s a method to the construction madness and the finished project will ultimately make Galloping Hill one of the area’s premier public courses.
When the dust literally settles around this Kenilworth facility – the latest projection for completion is January 2013 – a majestic 40,000 square foot clubhouse, complete with a restaurant, pro shop, outdoor patio, and banquet hall, will stand behind the eighteenth green and first tee box (photo above is Union County’s proposed rendering). It’s the final piece in a $17 million project (funded by Union County) that has already produced a state-of-the-art driving range, practice area, and Learning Center. The clubhouse will serve as the new headquarters of the New Jersey Golf Association (NJGA) and Galloping Hill will host the 2016 New Jersey State Open, the first time that the tournament will be played at a public course in the event’s 112 year history. In preparation for 2016, the county has inked esteemed architect Rees Jones to add his deft touch to several of Galloping Hill’s greens and tee boxes. In short, if Galloping Hill was a stock, you’d be smart to buy now.
In the meantime, what you’ve got is a solid, well-run course just thirty minutes from Manhattan. We’ve recently been disappointed with the poor pace of weekend play and conditions at similarly accessible courses (Saxon Woods, Meadows, Dyker Beach, Dunwoodie, etc) – but Galloping Hill proved to be a pleasant surprise with its brisk pace (4:30 on a Saturday), above-average maintenance, and quality layout.
Flat ground is not on the menu here: the “Hill” part of the name is no joke. Big elevation changes and undulations exist on just about every hole, from dips and drops where you’re simply hoping you calculated right, to steep inclines that hulk above you and force an extra club (or two) into your hands . One hole is up, the next hole is down. And an improper club choice can leave you buried in Galloping Hill’s bunkering, side hills, or gnarly rough. The course isn’t overly long (we played the middle tees, which clocked in at around 6200 yards), but the hilly challenges can leave you mentally drained by the time you pull up to eighteen.
Most Memorable Hole: I’m no psychologist, but Galloping Hill’s par four eighth hole will offer some insight into who you really are. Gambling man? The green is drivable for the low-mid handicapper at just 250 yards to the front – but a wide bunker has been placed in the perfect spot to deter you – not hugging the green, but about thirty yards short of it. If you end up in that bunker by trying to “run one up,” you’ve got an incredibly awkward sand shot upcoming to a large, uphill green. Playing it safe off the tee and laying up with a mid-iron is probably the way to go – if you can stand the heckling from your playing partners.
Most Challenging Hole: The third hole – 454 from the tips – is no fun, starting with its daunting elevated tee box, set back amidst the trees. The fairway is seemingly wide, but each member of our group found a way to wind up in the trees on the left hand side. Your lengthy approach to a two-tiered green needs to carry a creek, and depending on your angle, sand traps. Your drive here is key – it needs to stay on the right for the most mentally comforting second shot.
The Bottom Line: Easy to book on-line, close to the city, quality golf. Need I say more? Stay informed on the progress of Galloping Hill’s clubhouse; this place is about to make the leap from good to great.
Guru’s Tip: Both Union County residents and non-residents can purchase a “Players Card” – $45 for residents, $100 for non-residents – that enables preferential tee-times at both Gallping Hill and Ash Brook Golf Course in Scotch Plains. The card also enables you to pay 50% less in greens fees per round ($31 on weekends vs. $60). If you’re planning on playing Gallloping Hill and/or Ash Brook more than a few times in a season, it would seem worth it to invest in a Players Card.