WEST CALDWELL, NEW JERSEY | If your study of golf history is on the Mountain Ridge terrace, the architecture in the valley below may move you. A prolific genius, Donald Ross designed more than 400 courses between the late 19th century working with Old Tom Morris and the completion of the Raleigh Country Club in North Carolina, Ross’ last work in 1948.
Mountain Ridge Country Club has the look of some of its most classic designs. Most of Ross’ work prior to World War II was done by hand. There were no industrial earthmoving machines; no large-scale logging work, at least not in golf. Architects were given pastures or arable land and offered a warm “happiness”. In the following century, trees were added to many courses that grew and spread according to the laws of nature. Over the past few years, clubs like Mountain Ridge have restored their facilities to the original Ross look by removing trees, reconfiguring bunkers and rebuilding greens to Ross specifications.
The Inverness Club in Toledo is another example. The course on which the Solheim Cup teams competed against each other is nowhere near the one on which Paul Azinger won his PGA championship in 1993. However, it’s almost exactly what got Ross off the ground.
Other classic clubs run similar restorations. Baltusrol Lower, about 20 minutes north of Mountain Ridge and home to the KPGA Women’s PGA Championship in 2023, commissioned Gil Hanse to restore the AW Tillinghast masterpiece, which was originally built in 1922. These greens are now 25% larger and the bunkers have more movement, definition, and native grass islands. The square also has a few thousand fewer trees, although the exact number is a mystery.
All of the players in New Jersey this week love the look and feel of Mountain Ridge. They talked to a gamer about this being a big caliber venue.
But when it comes to architectural appreciation, there are cultural differences. As in the history of art or music, some players know a Vermeer from a Rembrandt and can single out Mozart in three or four tones. You can also tell a steed apart from a tilly and name Seth Raynor’s stencil holes. Others just look at the course and appreciate it for what it is.
Since golf is newer in Korea than it is in the United States, South Korean players are expected to be less in tune with the Golden Age of Architecture. But that doesn’t mean they don’t like it.
“To be honest, the first time I took the LPGA Tour, it really was a shame to say this, but I had no idea about golf architecture,” said the former Rolex No. 1 leaderboard, said Yeon Ryu, after playing Mountain Ridge. “Since I met Michael Clayton, one of the best golf course architects (and a former European Tour player from Australia), I began to learn a lot about (design history). It was then that I began to appreciate the Donald Ross style golf course.
“I’m enjoying playing Seaview (another Ross design at) last week (in Acer’s ShopRite LPGA Classic). To be honest, I never played really well at Seaview. But I always found it very well thought out. This golf course is the same. I guess because Ross made his greens really hard. But he made really wide fairways. I think he always thinks about giving us good chances, but not easy.
“So I feel like I’m still learning about architecture. In all honesty, we don’t have a lot of opportunities to play really nice golf courses. This week we can play a really nice golf course with a really good budget.
“Hopefully (we have) many more.”
Whether you know Betsy Ross’s Donald Ross or not, it’s hard not to leave Mountain Ridge without feeling the greatness of this place.
“I like Donald Ross very much,” said Nelly Korda of the current Rolex ranking. “I like the way you really have to think about the design, especially with these big greens. They’re very wavy so be sure to cut them off where the pen is. You have to think a lot. And it sure is longer so I like that as a longer player. And it’s in great condition. The putting green is really nice. Just the whole golf course. There is a mixture of hard and lighter holes. “
Inbee Park indicated that the Koreans appreciated the depth and detail of the design, even if they didn’t know the story.
“I can’t speak on behalf of all Korean players, but I think Korean players definitely appreciate the (architecture),” said Park. “I have no idea how other people do this, but I think I appreciate the design of the golf course and the shape of the golf course how they thought of each hole.
“I mean, I love to see these types of courts and to play on such courts.”
“Great golf courses are just a pleasure for us,” said Australian Minjee Lee. “I’ve played a lot in Melbourne so a lot of the golf courses I’ve played have really great bunkers. Maybe not the longest course, but I definitely like a good architectural golf course. “
Chella Choi definitely loved this particular Ross design. The 31-year-old made a 50-foot for birdie on her final hole on Friday to score 68 and climb into the top 5 at the end of the game.
“This is definitely a great golf-caliber course,” said Choi. “Conditioning is so important to me and this course is in perfect shape. I appreciate good architecture. But I don’t know if I can tell you what year a course was built. For (Mountain Ridge) it’s just an added bonus that being over 100 years old is so good. ”