Forsgate Country Club
Monroe Township, New Jersey
United States of America

Tenth hole, 415 yards, Valley; Given the rectangular shape of the property, a fair number of straight playing corridors were mandated but this hole exemplifies how life can be brought to such holes. Here, the fairway resembles heaving waves where valleys cross perpendicular to play, both off the tee and on the approach. Where you position your tee ball in the fairway depends on the day’s hole location as well as the importance you place on gaining a level stance.

Out in the hitting area, the fairway is a flat shelf that provides level lies until 160 yards to the green. Thereafter, ….

... the fairway twists and weaves to a plateau green that was benched into the hillside.

… the fairway twists and weaves to a plateau green that was benched into the hillside.

Twelfth hole, 165 yards, Horseshoe; While Short holes typically exhibit large built-up green pads surrounded by (therefore) deep bunkers, that’s not what defines their defenses. The very best Short holes (e.g. the sixth at NGLA, the seventh at Saint Louis Country Club) feature wicked green contours and many include a thumb print or horseshoe indentation. This horseshoe is the most audacious and surely affords a dozen plus interesting hole locations.

A thing of beauty – the Short green complex is the very metric of massive, yet lies peacefully upon the ground. Note how the right bunker is three feet lower than the left. A flag tucked far right is a scary proposition, much more so than …

…  today’s which is both fun and favorable toward the golfer as it is within the horseshoe imprint.

Fifteenth hole, 330 yards, Chocolate Drop; How nice it is to find a two shotter of  modest length late in the round. Many of the great courses – Pine Valley, Rock Creek, Cabot Cliffs, Oakmont, Inverness – feature one but few courses built between 1950 and 1990 are as fortunate. During that period, golf was more about a stern examination than something multi-dimensional and satisfying. Banks’s brazen greens and deep bunkers might suggest that his courses are just for the tiger but the opposite is true: they possess a full range of holes that will appeal to all.

Situated 100 yards from the green, this bunker is at grade with the level fairway. Given the clay soil, digging down wasn’t a prudent option, so this chocolate drop creates hazard.

Sixteenth hole, 445 yards, North Berwick; Schiavone appreciates what he has and wants the course to play as Banks intended. Hence, length has been picked up where possible and one of the best examples occurs here. The sixteenth measured 400 yards when play commenced in 1931 and today it is 445 yards. This is important on two fronts: first, the beautifully devised diagonal fairway bunker is again relevant.  Second, the design merits – and fun –  of Double Plateau greens are most appreciated with a running shot. If the hole is too short, a short iron aerial approach snuffs out the joy of seeing the ball interact with the ground.

Courtesy of the tee being moved back and left, this diagonal bunker is once again the dominant feature off the tee.

Courtesy of the tee being moved back and left, this diagonal bunker is once again the dominant feature off the tee.

The moniker ‘Steam Shovel’ was one that George Bahto did not approve of as he felt it connotes a lack of artistry. Look at the visuals here to appreciate how Banks finessed bold features that appear tranquil with the general surrounds.

This closer view confirms the high right front shelf, the lower mid section and high back, left shelf. Everything seems to be at grade with the land and yet …

… as seen from the left, the sixteenth green is actually another tall green pad that features a precipitous drop both to the left …

… and right! Go back to the first photograph armed with this knowledge and you realize the approach to a back shelf hole location is anything but straightforward.

Seventeenth hole, 240 yards, Biarritz; Architecture, like most art forms, invites criticism. Mess up a great piece of land and the critics howl! Yet, one way to judge the true meddle of an architect is to see what he conjures up on modest property where nature wasn’t in a helpful mood. Look no further than this hole to appreciate Banks’s artistry. It is audacious, full of great golf, incredibly flexible and a blast to play day-in, day-out. According to Green Keeper Donald Asinski, whose job it is to present these powerful features, ‘The Biarritz is my favorite hole because of  its massive green with such severe contouring and my next favorite is the Horseshoe 12th. You just don’t see green contouring like this anywhere else and best yet, it doesn’t feel gimmicky. Rather, it’s straightforward and traditional feeling, just great design. When I walked the course for the first time I was so impressed with the layout that I knew I had to part of preserving such a phenomenal design.’ Asinski’s gut reaction to the two sparkling one shotters on the back is the norm, not the exception. Indeed, for a set of the classic four Macdonald one shotters –  Redan, Short, Eden, and Biarritz – the only Macdonald/Raynor/Banks course in the same class as Forsgate’s collection might be Camargo outside of Cincinnati.

The mighty Biarritz at Forsgate – give Banks credit for creating something so bold and compelling across fairly ordinary land. One of Kay’s first tasks was to restore the front half of this mammoth green in 2009.

It takes a commitment from the owner and a talented green keeping staff to present this 73 yard long green day-after-day. Asinski mows this green last so two workers can perform the task. Even double-teamed it takes twice the time to mow compared to the other greens.

Looking back toward the distant tee, the sight of the flag in the swale begs applause. How Banks brought such joy to his courses is a subject hugely worthy of study.

Eighteenth hole, 455 yards, Purgatory; This hole parallels the tenth, heading toward the clubhouse and plays similarly, across a valley to the fairway and then over another to the green that rubs against the clubhouse. The clubhouse has been expanded over the years but the core structure was built by Clifford Wendehack, the renowned architect of some of the region’s (and game’s) most noteworthy clubhouses including Ridgewood, Winged Foot, and Mountain Ridge. Today’s structure stands today as testimony to the fact that Forster spared no expense in getting his club and course going.

Lush topography carries the golfer home, right up to the famed clubhouse which is a scant nine paces off the back right of the Home green.

Warga sums up the unique experience of playing here when he said it is the only course where a golfer can hit a putt fifty feet, only to have it return to his feet! That reminds the author of a Banks joke that Bahto enjoyed telling. It went something like, ‘How did I just take a 7?’ ‘Easy,’ the playing partner remarked, ‘You were on in 2 and 5 putted!’

You can appreciate the scope of Banks’s bunkers by laying a rake on the grass face of your course’s tallest bunker wall and consider that the typical  Forsgate greenside bunker is three rake lengths tall! Yes, the face of such bunkers are labor intensive to maintain but one of the author’s contentions is that the better the hazards, the better the golf and that certainly applies to Forsgate.

George Bahto articulated so well in his book, The Legend of The Knoll, ‘Banks’s architectural philosophy seems very fair. Unlike many of the architects of that day, he did not approve of blind shots and included them only when the topography dictated. His greens always have a slight tilt toward the fairway. The shot values on his courses were balanced and, as much as possible, he tried to have golfers use their entire set of clubs while playing a course he designed. Fairway bunkers were fair, although negotiating their lips required thought in club selection. More than anything else, he was a firm believer in a tee box elevated enough so that the golfer would be able to view the problems of the hole presented before he teed off.’

Playing a Banks design is akin to a chess match with a grand master. What you need to accomplish is laid before you but the price for failure is ‘steep’! Accomplished players relish the opportunity to use their minds and clubs to overcome the heroic challenges before them. When the LPGA held a tournament at Forsgate in the late 1970s, the event was won in successive years by Amy Alcott, Kathy Whitworth and Nancy Lopez. Not too shabby – the three events crowned three Hall-of-Famers!

Raynor’s accomplishments have been properly glamorized in recent times, and without taking anything away from him, the author feels strongly that Banks exhibited a similar talent for routing, engineering, problem-solving and design that Raynor so readily grasped from Macdonald. Banks once commented that Raynor told him, ‘I used to think my ears would grow to be like asses’ ears, for I was always stretching to take in every word that Mr. Macdonald uttered on the subject of golf.’ The three of them formed the bedrock for the Macdonald school which is responsible for some of North America’s landmark designs. To the author, Banks played a more central and vital role among that triumvirate than perhaps he has been here-to-date received credited.

This gorgeous hole diagram occupies a prominent spot inside the Wendehack clubhouse. The sight of so many closely bunched, parallel holes is deceiving. The course actually occupies over 200 acres and as we have just seen, the land and the architecture combine to render compelling golf.

Bahto notes in regards to Banks that ‘The courses that he designed from 1928 and 1931 were undoubtedly his finest. From his earlier works with Seth Raynor to the later works of his own, Banks’s own personality and personal philosophy began to manifest themselves in the courses he designed.’ Even though there is tantalizing golf of a high order throughout central and northern New Jersey, Banks’s architecture at Forsgate has a loud voice that makes a powerful statement of its own. Don’t miss it.

The End