Wild Turkey Golf Club – Hamburg, New Jersey Guru's Rating: 8.8
Non-Resident Weekend Rate (with cart): $125
How far does one have to drive from Manhattan to find quality golf? Well, on my way to play Wild Turkey Golf Course at Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg, New Jersey, I had to jam on the brakes to allow a black bear to cross the road. Yes, a bear. Not many of those wandering around the Upper West Side. In other words, when you drive the nearly 90 minutes from Manhattan to visit the renowned resort (which features six courses in addition to Wild Turkey), you’ll be teeing it up far far away from the concrete jungle. They’ve even got different wildlife! Is Wild Turkey worth the trek and encounters with dangerous animals? This guy gives an emphatic Marv Albertesque “Yesss!”
We were able to lock-in a weekend afternoon time at Wild Turkey for $100, which included a cart and range balls. The course normally charges $125 for such a time, but last-minute bargains can be found on the Crystal Springs website. The first thing you notice when you arrive at Crystal Springs are the breathtaking views –notably the mountain setting. The rustic resort is full-service and first class, featuring a helpful staff, stocked pro shop and clean locker room facilities. You’ll likely pass non-golfing guests of the resort in the hallways, as lots of conferences and weddings take place here.
The course itself does not fail to disappoint. Wild Turkey is the second Roger Rulewich design under the Crystal Springs umbrella, next to the highly regarded Ballyowen. Rulewich has taken full advantage of the gorgeous natural landscaping provided to him at Wild Turkey, carving a layout that truly mixes it up. One hole, you’ll be forced to calculate and strategize, wondering how many yards your ball will drop down steep elevation changes. The next hole, you might feel like the fairway is hovering in the clouds. And lots of twists and turns meet your path along the way. The course does not play overly long and driver is often unnecessary to hit off the tee, but fear not: Wild Turkey is fairly open and eminently playable. While you’ll find your share of challenging situations (including a stream of par-3’s that require carries over water), large carpet-like fairways will save you from you speeding back to the Pro Shop to reload.
Wild Turkey is consistently ranked among the best public courses the Garden State has to offer – and for good reason. It’s not quite on Ballyowen’s level, but its setting and fun design make it a must-play for those within striking distance.
Most Memorable Hole: You’ve just made the turn, thrown down a couple of plump, juicy hotdogs (as you might be able to tell, I really, really enjoyed them), when your cart creaks to a stop at the 218-yard par-3 10th hole. The panoramic might lead you to lose that lunch. A ridiculous view allows you to see for miles – but it’s the steep drop to the green that is truly shocking. Take about three (seriously) clubs off, and play it about 180-185 to the middle. Enjoy that 10-second hang time as your ball drops about 75 degrees downhill.
Most Challenging Hole: While Wild Turkey has challenging par-5s (the 11th is particularly nasty), its signature par-3 7th Hole (pictured above) stands out as particularly inspiring of quivering legs. 181-yards over a “quarry lake,” – all carry. Miss long and you’re in a bunker. Short, and well, your ball is sleeping with the fishes.
Guru’s Tip: If you encounter a bear on the course, retreat slowly, climb a tree, and/or use pepper spray. If all else fails, grab your sand wedge and run like hell.