Forsgate Country Club – Banks Course – Monroe Township, New Jersey Guru's Rating: N/A
Non-Resident Weekend Rate (with cart): N/A
I may be “The Golf Course Guru,” but before I rolled up to Forsgate Country Club in Monroe, New Jersey, I had never heard of a “Biarritz” or a “Redan.” I thought a “chocolate drop” was a topping at Pinkberry. And Seth Raynor sounded like someone that went to my high school. That all changed after a round at Forsgate’s Banks course with noted golf course architect Stephen Kay, the man responsible for restoring the 81-year-old layout, among 250 courses that he’s had a hand in (including Manhattan Woods with Gary Player, Architects Club, Links of Union Vale, Blue Heron Pines outside of AC and his newest, Willow Creek on Long Island).
If there is such thing as a golf course wonk, Stephen would be it. He’s a veritable treasure trove of information about the history of golf’s playing fields. As Stephen explained to me on the first tee box, Forsgate’s original designer, Charles Banks, was a disciple of and assistant to CB McDonald and Raynor, the minds behind America’s first golf courses – including Chicago Golf Club (the first 18-hole golf course in North America) and National Golf Links, among many others. McDonald’s ideas for design came directly from his mentor – golf pioneer Old Tom Morris in Scotland – and he imparted those principles to Banks, who applied those touches to Forsgate. Thus the course’s layout reflects the game’s origin and history…and for lack of a better expression, that’s pretty damn cool.
Forsgate is a special place- like fine works of art, each hole at the Banks course bears a story and meaning. Luckily, I had Stephen as a tour guide and teacher – a role he is more than slightly comfortable with (in addition to running Kay-Smith Golf Design, he teaches Golf Course History and Design at Rutgers). Along the way, Stephen pointed out Banks’ homages to National Golf Links, St. Andrews, Carnoustie, and Biarritz (more on that below) – and explained the significance of a chocolate drop – which, if you’re wondering, is a large mound surrounded by sand, also serving as a directional marker for a blind tee shot (and may or may not go with mango, my favorite flavor). The course tests you and impresses you, but is playable and fun, featuring five sets of tees; even the dauntingly deep bunkers are not impossible to escape. In addition to another 18-hole course (the Palmer), Forsgate boasts outstanding practice facilities, including a large grass driving range and excellent short game area.
Most Memorable Hole: #17, a par-3 that plays 239 yards from the back tees, features one of only thirty* Biarritz greens in the entire country, a signature of the Banks/McDonald/Raynor team. The idea comes from the Biarritz Golf Club in France, where in 1888, designer Willie Dunn introduced a green that contained two elevated plateaus separated by a large swale. Basically, there’s an enormous ravine in the middle of the green. Land your tee shot on the front of the green, and you’ll have to putt across that valley to the flagstick. The Banks course also features a unique “horseshoe” shaped green at the twelfth (pictured above), a 163-yard par-3.
*Obviously can’t confirm this number 100%, but I’d guess it’s still fairly accurate
Most Challenging Hole: The fifth, 400+ yards from any set of tees, is a winding, uphill par-4 with a green the size of New Jersey. If your tee-shot is not far enough to the right, you won’t have any kind of look at the stick. And getting on in two does not ensure a par. Tie goes to the eighth hole – the first of back-to-back par-5’s that close the front nine (the ninth, a 529-yard par-5 aptly named “Plateau,” for its roller coaster, undulating feel, is no picnic either). #8 is a bear – 603 yards, uphill to an elevated, well-defended green. It’s named “Long” after the marathon 14th hole at St. Andrews. Needless to say, this is a 3-shot par-5.
Guru’s Tip: A good excuse to check-out Forsgate comes on October 6-7th, with the charity “Battle of the Sexes” event. LPGA Star Paula Creamer will face off against CBS Sports’ commentator Gary McCord (they’ll play from the same tees) in a match benefiting the Make-a-Wish Foundation and other charities. David Feherty will “host” the event; no word on whether he’ll allow Creamer to hit a driver off a ball teed up in his mouth. For more info on how to attend, go to www.forsgatecc.com or www.forsgatefoundation.org.