GOLF in New Jersey
The definitive history...
Golf arrived on the shores of North America in the 1870s, first in the British confederation of Canada and later in the United States. The first golf club in New Jersey opened in 1887 at the Essex Country Club in West Orange. Several more courses opened over the next decade in the countryside east, west and north of New York City. The sport became popular with both men and women of the privileged classes. Club pros and course designers were typically “imported” from England and Scotland.
In late 1894, the United States Golf Association was formed in New York City to oversee the official formation of a national championship. In 1895, the USGA held the first U.S. Open, in Newport, Rhode Island. The USGA is now headquartered in Far Hills, along with a museum that is open to the public. The museum opened in 1972.
Also in 1894, a group of female golf enthusiasts formed the Morris County Golf Club in Convent Station. It was the first all-women golf club in the country. The second U.S. Women’s Amateur tournament was held there in 1895. The tournament was held at the Essex County Country Club the following year. Teenager Beatrix Hoyt (right) won both events. The women’s championship was held at a third New Jersey location, the Baltustrol Golf Club in Springfield, in 1901.
The term “birdie” originated in New Jersey in 1899. During a round at the Atlantic City Country Club, Ab Smith described a great approach as a “bird of a shot.” His foursome agreed that they would call any hole completed under par a birdie. The nickname stuck, and soon a holed completed in two under par became an “eagle.”
In 1903, the U.S. Open, in its ninth year, was held at Baltustrol. The club was also in its ninth year, having been established by Louis Keller, publisher of the New York Social Register. One year after Scotsman Willie Anderson won the tournament, Keller established the Rahway Valley Railroad to transport people to Baltustrol. It grew to be one of the country’s most successful short-line railroads. The Open returned to New Jersey in 1909 at the Englewood Golf Club. Englishman George Sargent won the tournament with a record-setting score of 290. A half-century later, Englewood went out of business when the Port Authority needed its land to build a new approach ramp for the George Washington Bridge.
The U.S. Open visited Baltustrol again in 1915. For just the second time an amateur, Jerry Travers (right), won the American title. He had already claimed the U.S. amateur crown four times. Travers retired from competitive golf after edging fellow American Tom McNamara by a stroke. Travers received no prize money for his victory; McNamara pocketed the $300 first-place purse.
The next significant men’s event held in New Jersey was the 1935 Ryder Cup, at the Ridgewood Country Club. Walter Hagen captained the U.S. team, which included all-time greats Gene Sarazen and Horton Smith. The Americans won with relative ease and Hagen—who was instrumental in starting the competition—retired from Ryder Cup play after the victory. It was the only time the Ruder Cup was held in the Garden State.
The 40th U.S. Open was played at Baltustrol and won by little-known Tony Manero (below). Manero shot a course-record 67 in the final round. His 286 was also a U.S. Open record. Ironically, he had nearly missed qualifying for the tournament. In the sectionals he needed a chip-in on the final hole to make the opening field. Manero was high-strung and unused to leading the field. During the final round, his friend Gene Sarazen asked to be paired with him. He was later accused of giving Manero advice while they played, a violation of USGA tournament rules.
The PGA Championship came to the Garden State for the first time in 1942. Sam Snead won the tournament at the Seaview Country Club, located north of Atlantic City in Galloway Township. Snead would go on to win six more majors, but not until after he served in the Navy. He reported for duty right after the tournament. Snead defeated Jim Turnesa in the match-play final. One year prior to Snead’s triumph, the 1941 U.S. Open had been held in Denver. That year, Vic Ghezzi—the pro at the Deal Country Club—defeated Byron Nelson on the final hole Like Snead, Ghezzi went into the service in 1942.
After World War II, the U.S. Women’s Open was established. The tournament came to the Atlantic City Country Club in 1948. Babe Didrikson Zaharias won by eight strokes. It was the first of three U.S. Open titles for the former Olympian.
The men’s Open was played again at Baltustrol in 1954, 1967, 1980 and 1993. These events were played on the lower course, whereas the 1903, 1915 and 1936 tournaments took place on the club’s upper course. There was one notable “exception” when Ed Furgol held off a late charge by Gene Littler and Dick Mayer in 1954. In the final round, Furgol was up by a stroke when he blasted his tee shot into the trees at 18. He hit his escape shot onto the 18th fairway of the upper course, and was able to rescue par. Mayer, who was tied for the lead, double-bogeyed the hole to finish tied for third.
The next major to be played in New Jersey was the 1960 U.S. Women’s Open at Baltustrol. Mickey Wright (left) won easily ahead of Betsy Rawls to capture the third of her four Open titles. In 1965, the tournament returned to the Garden State, as Carol Mann won at Atlantic City.
Jack Nicklaus bested Arnold Palmer by four strokes to win the 1967 U.S. Open, setting a new tournament record by shooting a 275. Amateur Marty Fleckman created a stir when he finished the third round as the leader, but he folded on the final 18 holes. Lee Trevino, a club pro from Texas, finished fifth and earned enough money to continue playing on the PGA Tour in 1967, which enabled the future Hall of Famer to get his tour card. He won the U.S. Open the following year at Oak Hill in Rochester.
Nicklaus (right) returned to Baltustrol to win the 1980 U.S. Open . He and Tom Weiskopf set a blistering pace on the first day, shooting 63s. A pair of Nicklaus birdies on 17 and 18 in the final round gave him a one-stroke win over Isao Aoki. The Golden Bear broke his own U.S. Open record with a 272, putting to rest any doubts that he was fading at age 40. In 1979, he had failed to win a tournament.
Between 1975 and 1987, the U.S. Women’s Open was played in New Jersey three times. Sandra Palmer won at Atlantic City in 1975, Kathy Baker won at Baltustrol in 1985, and Laurie Davies won the 1987 tournament at the Plainfield Country Club in Edison.
The last U.S. Open played in New Jersey, at Baltustrol in 1993, saw Lee Janzen tie Nicklaus’s tournament record of 272, which good for a two-stroke victory over Payne Stewart. Janzen’s final round included a 30-foot chip for birdie and a tee shot on 17 that hit a tree but bounced back onto the fairway.
The Baltustrol Gold Club also hosted the 2005 PGA Championship, which saw Phil Mickelson win his second major with a clutch chip shot on the 18th hole for a one-stroke victory. The $1,170,000 winner’s purse was the largest ever for a New Jersey golf tournament. In 2008, the Ridgewood Country Club hosted the prestigious Barclays (formerly the Buick Classic). The PGA highlight event, which dates back to the 1960s, had traditionally been held at the Westchester Country Club prior to 2008. Since then it has also been played at Plainfield Country Club and Liberty National in Jersey City.