By Rebecca Gaona, NJSGA
DENVILLE, N.J. – The New Jersey State Golf Association’s longest standing championship is set for July 11-13, as Rockaway River Country Club plays host to the 121st New Jersey Amateur Championship presented by Provident Bank.
The Amateur Championship is set for Monday through Wednesday when the 72-hole, stroke-play tournament is played over the par-72, 6,816-yard venue. The starting field consists of 98 amateur players, who are either exempt or qualified at one of four state-wide sectional qualifying sites. After the completion of 36 holes, the field is cut to the low 40 scorers plus ties for the final round.
Michael Brown hoisted the Edwin M. Wild Trophy in 2021 and looks to defend his title. Brown, who is coming off winning the Golf Association of Philadelphia (GAP) Amateur this June seized the 2021 title by shooting a 3-under par 32 on the back nine in the final round. He made the turn 1-over par for the round and 3-under for the tournament, tied for the lead at that point with two other players. Brown birdied the 11th, got up-and-down for par at No. 12 and No. 13, and then made back-to-back birdies at No. 14 and No. 15. By that point, Brown had grabbed a three-stroke advantage with three holes to play.
“I’m over the moon to be the New Jersey State Amateur Champion,” expressed Brown. “The history, the names that are on this trophy, it’s incredible to be a part of that group.”
The victory marked Brown’s second NJSGA title. He won the 37th Mid-Amateur Championship in 2020 at North Jersey Country Club.
Brown is a part of the NJSGA’s ‘Featured’ Group, which will highlight their 1st and 10th holes on Facebook Live. Follow @NJSGA1900 on Facebook to follow along. Brown, 2020 Amateur Champion Austin Devereux and 2021 Mid-Amateur Finalist and GAP Mid-Amateur Champion Troy Vannucci will tee off at 12:48 p.m. on No. 1.
Along with Brown and Devereux, Michael Stamberger is highlighted as the other former Amateur Champion in the field, winning it twice (2013, ’14). In June, Stamberger finished as runner-up in the 39th playing of the New Jersey Mid-Amateur Championship, falling short to Brandon Dalinka of The Ridge at Back Brook.
Qualifying medalists include Melan Dhaubhadel of the NJSGA E-Club (at Lake Mohawk Country Club), Cameron Bell of Knickerbocker Country Club (at Hawk Pointe Golf Club), William Huang of Springdale Golf Club (at Quail Brook Golf Course) and Brian Hart of Deal Golf & Country Club (at Rossmoor Golf Course).
Home to eight other NJSGA major championships, Rockaway River is set to host its 21st championship overall. The last NJSGA major held at Rockaway River was the 2015 New Jersey Open, when Tyler Hall captured his first of three Open titles.
The last time the New Jersey Amateur visited Rockaway River was for its 2007 Championship, where Bill McGuinness of Tavistock Country Club won the 106th edition.
At the start of the final round of the 2007 Amateur, it looked like it might belong to Tom Gramigna or John Lovett, who shared the lead after 36 holes. But Lovett faded quickly, and Gramigna struggled in the morning round, only to bounce back with a closing 75 to secure his tie for second place. Much of the fourth round seemed like match play between McGuinness and Vannelli. The players were tied for the lead through thirteen holes in the afternoon round, and the 14th hole proved to be the turning point, a surprising role for the 182-yard par-3. Vannelli´s pushed tee shot resulted in a bogey while McGuinness´ crisp 7-iron to three feet resulted in birdie and a two-stroke swing. McGuinness went on to win by two strokes.
The private Denville, New Jersey golf club opened in 1915 and owns a wealth of history. Esteemed golf course architect Devereux Emmet designed Rockaway River in 1922, establishing the framework for its unique layout and compelling green complexes. Emmet is well-known for his work at Congressional Country Club, Engineers Country Club, Garden City Golf Club and more.
J. Henry Bacheller, of Newark, along with a group of businessmen were responsible for the formation of the club. The original intentions of the club were to “operate a golf links, tennis courts, pool and billiard tables, bowling alleys and other athletic devices and to purchase or build a clubhouse or houses and other buildings for the accommodation and comfort of its members and to engage in games and sports which attend to physical development.”
Over the years, renovations and remodels to the course has allowed Rockaway River to evolve into a more demanding test of golf.
In the early 1970s, architect Hal Purdy was hired to create a plan that would resolve the effects of flooding and drainage issues due to the river which runs adjacent to much of the property and traverses the 18th hole. In 1985, Brian Silva put together a master plan that spanned over 20 years and was completed in the early 2000s, which was highlighted by lengthier championship teeing grounds.
Most recently, in 2019, Rockaway River completed a course enhancement project, which focused on installing a handful of new bunkers, adjusting others, and removing a few as well.
“The shape, design, and contours of all the bunkers have been redone,” said Greg Baker, Rockaway River’s PGA head professional for 25 years.
In addition, Rockaway River saw modifications to its chipping areas throughout the course. Where there once was rough surrounding the green surfaces now features fairway-height grass, aimed at altering playing conditions.
“It gives the player more options, whether to pitch the ball or putt it,” explained Baker. “In some cases, it also makes it more challenging, because the better players are more inclined to use a wedge and you take that risk of good contact or not.”
Rockaway River also made changes to its 12th hole, featuring a new teeing ground, adding about 100 yards of length to the hole.
Although Rockaway River is not a lengthy course, it requires accuracy off the tee.
“You need to be accurate off the tee and be patient, because we have a couple of short holes out here,” said Baker. “We have players that are inclined to go for those greens with their drive and subsequently make a big number. You need to be patient, put the ball in the fairway and give yourself as many chances at birdie as you can.”
The par-72, 6,811-yard course presents multiple routes to card low scores. Most notably, the par-5s at Rockaway River deliver multiple risk/reward scenarios, potentially allowing players to reach the green in two, or suffer a larger number on their scorecard.
“Most par-5s will leave you with 260 to 280 yards into the green, so it varies,” said Baker. “And, then there’s the par-4, No. 12 where you might want to try and drive it to get yourself right in front of the green and chip it up. But, if you miss, you may end up in the bunker or in the fescue areas.”
The field will be tested the entire 18 holes; however, Baker reveals that getting through the 12th hole will be critical to entering the clubhouse with a solid score. The 18th hole may decide the championship, as playing competitors will have to face the river that enters along the left side and crosses the fairway, with bunkers on the right.
“I always used to think when we hosted the (NJPGA Charity) Clambake all those years that if you get through the 11th hole at a decent number, then you’re in pretty good shape,” explained Baker.
“In the past, I thought a good score was in a 68 to 70 range. Now, 70 to 72 is a pretty good score out here.”
The 121st New Jersey Amateur Championship presented by Provident Bank will certainly be an exciting event, one that both competitors as well as Rockaway River membership and staff are looking forward to.
“It’s something that we’ve always done here at Rockaway (River),” expressed Baker. “They feel that giving back to the game is very important, at the amateur and professional level.”
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