Golf The Way It Was Meant To Be Played
By Rich Bauer
As you stand on the 1st tee and look into the distance you see the Bowling Green mountain range looking back at you filled with a sea of trees that change colors with the seasons. What a wonderful view! The anxiety of everyday life slowly begins to leave your body as you look down the perfectly groomed tree-lined fairway. You are about to begin the adventure of a round of golf at Bowling Green Golf Club.
The club is nestled in the woods on the boarder of Morris and Sussex Counties in Oak Ridge, NJ. Albert Riggs had a vision to build a golf course in 1965 that still stands today. He wanted a design that would highlight the beauty of the area and would offer an enjoyable round of golf to all no matter their skill level. The club remains as day one, memberships available but also open to the public.
Albert and his builder friends from the Salmon Construction Company teamed with golf course designer Geoffrey Cornish to turn the dream into reality. Cornish had a fabulous reputation throughout the Northeast who had no problem meeting Riggs’ orders. Preserve the land, work within the contour of the land and design a course that will be challenging to low handicap golfers and fun for the novice. The team turned a portion of a working dairy farm owned by the Riggs family into a gem of a golf course. The original barn still stands today between the 5th green and 6th tee box and is used by the maintenance team for storage of heavy equipment. Superintendent Ernie Headley and head mechanic Russ Selsor share the office once used to run the dairy when it opened in the 1930’s.
The goals were accomplished as the layout is friendly to all golfers and easy enough to walk if you choose. Not terribly long holes from tee to green but you need to think about club selection and you need to be accurate. Easy enough to keep moving from shot to shot no matter how many without losing your ball. The testament to the design over the years is the fact that numerous Met Open Qualifiers (the best golfers in the area) for both men and women have been held at Bowling Green as well as New Jersey High School State Sectional Championships. The club has established a history of giving back to the community by hosting golf outings to raise money for organizations like the Boys & Girls Clubs of Morris and the Oak Ridge Presbyterian Church.
(Fourth Hole at Bowling Green)
Every golf course has a signature hole and Bowling Green is no different. That hole is #18 but it is not the one most people remember and talk about. Hole #4 is and was redesigned in the 1980’s to accommodate the building of townhouses on the northeast corner of the course. It is a par 5 with a huge dogleg left that requires a 200 yard shot from the tee, then a 150 yard shot to a landing area that sits 100 yards from the hole. My suggestion is to play it like three Par 3’s. #18 is also a Par 5, known for its “Road of Honor” tee shot and its deceiving incline from 150 yards out up to a very large green. Par here is a true accomplishment and even a bogey results in a “that a boy!”.
(18th Hole At Bowling Green)
Holes 6 & 7, both Par 4’s are not necessarily long but epitomize the Bowling Green experience. You stand on the tee box and enjoy the beauty of 100 ft. plus red pines nestled with large oaks lining the fairway. The pines are estimated to date to the 1700’s. Deception comes into play as the fairways are much wider than they look so club selection from the tee is the key to a good score. There is a saying in golf that 90% of the game is mental and holes 12 & 13 are proof positive. You need to block out the water twice on 12 and club down on the 13th tee.
(7th Hole at Bowling Green)
I believe that Bowling Green’s collection of Par 3s bring a uniqueness to the round unlike any other course in the area. Each incorporates the beauty of the layout, downhill between pines on #3, #8 has deception in distance off the tee to an uphill green, #11 has a huge green that is not very friendly at times, and last, but not least, is #16, a tee shot from an slightly elevated tee box to a green protected by hills and bunkers on the left and right. If you par all four of these holes you have had a great day no matter what your final score is.
The golf staff led by Tom Bishop (who started there as cart boy at the age of 13 and a four-time club champion over three decades) and the founder’s grandson Will Riggs have done a fantastic job of maintaining Albert’s original vision of fun golf for everyone. By setting up five different tee shots on each box each golfer or group is able to align their skill set with distance and difficulty in order to maintain the pace of play and to keep the round enjoyable for all. Phone usage and music in your cart is allowed as long as the integrity of the game is maintained and other golfers are respected. Will has brought the club into the internet world with full use of social media and outlets for tee times and specials. Also the guys have updated the Grill Room restaurant with new a food menu, large TVs, high top tables and expanded the beer list with seasonal and IPA beers.
The pro shop is manned by three great guys: Ed Carney, one of Ithaca College’s finest baseball players ever, Pete Shapiro and legendary local high school coach Steve Naccara. They work wonders with the reservation system, check in golfers and do it with a smile and quick, humorous one-liners. No golf course is complete without a character such as your starter on the 1st tee box. For 20 plus years that was John ”Sarge” Williams and now Bob Ciampi fills that role admirably and professionally. Maybe with a little luck and more experience I can become as good as these guys one day.
Sean Roeser and Derek Bishop handle all types of golf lessons and they have done a great job in expanding the youth programs. Jen Bishop does a masterful job keeping an eye on the money and organizing all events and outings.
From day one Bowling Green was a family-run business but they have always treated members as extended family and the public as guests. That is half of their success. The other is maintaining the course to the highest standards as possible. The conditions are on par with, if not better than, many of the private courses in the area and much better than other public courses. Tom and Will are always working with the USGA agronomists to improve and preserve the beauty of the layout. Between Hurricane Sandy and the USGA’s suggestions, 400 to 500 trees were removed over the past few years for the benefit of the course and the enjoyment of the golfer. What is amazing is that in doing so they barely, if at all, changed the appearance from that first day back in 1967.
The future of golf has been a hot topic around the 19th tee and pro shops these days. Much of the talk centers around change. The game takes too long to play, it is too expensive, it is too difficult, all adding up to not enough fun. Well, guess what? At Bowling Green you do not have wait for the future, the future is now. You will find their pricing less than most with better quality. The course design and course management makes a four hour round very doable. The variety of tee box selections reduces the difficulty, helps with the timing and other than the Par 3s all greens are open in the front.
Spend a day at Bowling Green and I assure you that you will forget the everyday hassles in your life and you will be recharged to attack them the next day. Albert wanted fun 50 years ago and today’s Bowling Green family is still delivering.
All photos courtesy of Bowling Green Golf Club