Review: Ballyowen Golf Club

Course Name: Ballyowen Golf Club

Designer: Roger Rulewich (1998)

Location: Hamburg, New Jersey

History: The flagship course at the Crystal Springs Resort, Ballyowen was built in 1998 by Roger Rulewich on the rolling hills of northwestern New Jersey. This links-inspired course is considered one of the finest public offerings in New Jersey, earning the following awards:

  • #2 Best Public Course in New Jersey – Golf Magazine (2016)
  • #2 Best Public Course in New Jersey – Golfweek (2018)

Conditions: 8/10, With the exception of the greens, which were pretty beat up with ballmarks and spikemarks, Ballyowen was in very impressive shape. The fairways, bunkers and teeboxes are all fantastic.

Value: 5/10, We were able to get a good deal online for $75 with a cart, but the average price runs anywhere between $95-$150. This is certainly not terrible value, especially given the course’s location.

Scorecard:

Tee                     Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Black                 72           7094               74.1              134

Gold                  72           6508              71.5              130

Blue                   72           6066              69.4              125

White                72           5531              66.9              119

Red                    72           4903              68.2              118

Hole Descriptions: I’ve enjoyed Roger Rulewich’s work in the past at Meadow Brook and Fox Hopyard, but Ballyowen is certainly his best course I’ve played. Unfortunately I’m not sure it leaves up to the lofty hype. Particularly, I have a problem with Crystal Springs Resort marketing the course as something it’s not. This is not Bandon, Pinehurst, or Kohler; This is a very nice upscale public course, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with admitting that. Secondly, this is not a links course. Yes, it’s treeless and usually windy, but this hilly course is nowhere near water and doesn’t really feature a ground game. Moreover, the caddie program and fact that they play bagpipes every day at 5 P.M. seems a bit forced.

With that out of the way, I truly did enjoy playing Ballyowen. The views are tremendous, conditioning is strong, and the layout is a lot of fun even though I can’t really single out one hole as particularly memorable. The opening hole is one of the easiest holes on the course and provides a good chance to get your round started on a good note. At 351 yards, this hole plays shorter than that, running straight downhill from an elevated teebox to a generous fairway guarded by a cavernous bunker on the left at 200 yards and rough down the right. This approach also plays downhill to a large green with a vertical hump through the middle and a bunker short left.

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The gentle par 4 opener
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The approach to the 1st

At just 312 yards, the 2nd is another short par 4. This is a fantastic risk/reward hole that is certainly reachable with the green perched about 250 yards from the teebox with a carry over a ravine the entire way. For those who chose to play conservatively, this hole plays as a sharp dogleg left that calls for a teeshot under 200 yards to avoid two bunkers long of this fairway. This approach plays uphill to a two-tiered green that slopes back-left to front-right. Giant bunkers guard either side of the green.

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The fantastic and strategic par 4 2nd

After two short holes, the 3rd is the longest hole at Ballyowen as a 546 yard par 5. From an elevated teebox, this hole features a snaking fairway with bunkers on the right at 200 yards and left at 295 yards. This fairway narrows on the lay-up and a giant bunker running down the middle for the final 60 yards looms in the distance. This approach plays uphill to a large green that slopes back-to-front.

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Everything’s in front of you on the 3rd tee
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Uphill approach on the 3rd

The 4th is the first par 3 at Ballyowen and the longest at 180 yards. The routing is a bit awkward here, as the 4th green lies adjacent to the 3rd green and you have to walk backwards the length of the hole to reach the teebox. This hole features a very wide green with a ridge running down the middle. The worst miss is just short with a deep bunker.

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The par 3 4th

At 530 yards, the 5th is another par 5 and a very intimidating one. This straightaway hole requires accuracy off the tee to find this tight fairway lined by OB left and water starting on the right at 250 yards. OB and water continue almost the length of the hole and numerous bunkers start to creep in on either side as you near this green.

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The very challenging teeshot on the par 5 5th

After another awkward walk backwards, you reach the 6th teebox. This a strong par 3 in its own right, but is lessened considering the other par threes on the back are essentially the same hole and that all the par threes play between 161 and 180 yards. This hole plays 174 yards over water the entire way to a shallow green guarded by bunkers and fescue long. Any sort of mishit here will likely find the water on this demanding hole. This is a par 3 template Rulewich utilized at Meadow Brook and Fox Hopyard as well.

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The challenging par 3 6th demands perfection

Ballyowen really hits a stride with holes 7-9, three strong par fours beginning with the 384 yard 7th. This is the number 1 handicap hole (mainly because it plays almost 100 yards longer from the Tips), but still packs a punch. This is a Cape hole, pretty much a longer version of the 14th at Wannamoisett as a slender dogleg right snaking around water the entire way.  Longer hitters can absolutely cut the corner here, but the carry increases the further you go right. Thick fescue awaits those who bailout left and long. This green is one of the most undulating on the course with a bunker and water right.

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The difficult par 4 7th

At 395 yards, the 8th is another challenging par 4 that plays uphill with a blind teeshot over a plateau. A bunker on the right at 210 yards and one on the left at 260 yards line this wide fairway. This approach plays back downhill to a large green set in a natural punchbowl with mounds of thick fescue surrounding it and a bunker right.

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The par 4 8th
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The 8th approach

The closing hole on the front is another spectacular hole as a 393 yard dogleg right par 4. Playing from an elevated teebox, this hole plays shorter and back towards the clubhouse. Bunkers line the left starting at 260 yards while thick fescue lines the right for those that try to cut the corner. This approach plays to an elevated green with a severe false front and unique clover-shaped green divided into thirds by a Mercedes-like logo hump.

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The downhill par 4 9th offers great views of Ballyowen
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The uphill approach on 9

The back nine starts with a rather weak 482 yard downhill par 5 that could easily be turned into a strong long par 4. This hole features a bit of an awkward semi-blind teeshot where you have to partially aim over the 18th fairway in order to find the 10th. Bunkers line the left at 190 yards and the right at 250 yards. Those who go far right or long will likely be OB. This approach is much more straightforward, running straight downhill to a large green guarded by bunkers left, right, and short and fescue right.

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The downhill par 5 10th
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The 10th approach

The 11th is very similar to the 6th and 15th as a medium-length 161 yard par 3 with a carry over water to a shallow green. Bunkers guard long left and right of a large green separated into multiple tiers.

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The par 3 11th

At 328 yards, the par 4 12th is another short and unremarkable hole. This hole plays straight to a generous fairway that constricts at 225 yards with a bunker on the left and 265 yards with a bunker and neat rock outcropping on the right. This approach again plays uphill to a back-to-front sloped green guarded by a bunker short left.

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The pretty but vanilla par 4 12th

The 13th is another shortish par 4 at 360 yards playing uphill. This hole plays longer than the scorecard with a narrow fairway lined by a bunker on the right at 200 yards and mounds of fescue on either side that leave awkward lies (that is, if you can find your ball). This approach plays uphill to a narrow elevated green guarded by cavernous bunkers on either side.

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The par 4 13th

At a prodigious 448 yards, the 14th is the longest par 4 at Ballyowen and certainly one of my favorites. Playing slightly downhill to a fairway lined by mounds of fescue, this hole turns left at nearly 320 yards. Those who drive it shorter than 250 yards will likely have a completely blind approach over these mounds that requires both faith and confidence. This green is relatively flat but is guarded on all sides by four bunkers. Of all holes that remind me of true links golf at Ballyowen, this is it.

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Got some Scottish vibes standing on the 14th teebox
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The 14th approach after the dogleg

Rulewich does it again on the 15th with another stereotypical par 3 over water to a shallow green surrounded by bunkers. This hole plays 167 yards and is virtually the same as two of the other par threes, even using the same water hazard as the neighboring 11th!

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It feels like you’ve seen the 15th hole before

The 16th is the hardest hole on the back nine and another fantastic par 4 playing 420 yards uphill. Requiring a carry over 170 yards just to reach this fairway, this dramatic hole features devastating bunkers on the right at 200 and 230 yards and a steep hill of fescue the further you venture right. Those who find this fairway will have an uphill approach to a large back-to-front sloped green guarded by bunkers on either side.

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The strong par 4 16th

At just 490 yards, the penultimate 17th is another reachable par 5 I think could be easily converted into a long par 4, especially considering the teebox is on the other side of the driveway. This fairway is again generous but beware of bunkers on the left at 180 and 250 yards and one on the right at 260 yards. This lay-up area is constricted by two giant bunkers about 80 yards short of this green. Like the 9th, this green is also shaped like a clover and divided into thirds with a predominant back-to-front slope.

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The par 5 17th
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The approach at 17

The closing hole is an interesting 387 yard par 4 whose green finishes beneath the clubhouse. You want to stay to the left on this slight dogleg right due to bunkers between 190 and 240 yards and some serious fescue on the right. This approach plays uphill to a very narrow elongated green guarded by four small pot bunkers right.

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The par 4 18th
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The closing approach is a strong one

General Comments: The practice facilities at Ballyowen include a large range and practice green near the 1st tee. The clubhouse is centrally located on the property and looks majestic on top of a hill. Walking with a caddie is an option if you request it. Pace of play the day we played was strong, and I’ve read that marshalls do a good job at enforcing pace of play during busier days. This is slightly compromised by a cart-path only rules at all times.

Verdict: While I feel Ballyowen is overrated and falsely advertised as a links course, there’s no denying it’s a very good upscale public course. With strong conditioning, tremendous views, and several very good holes, this is clearly one of the best public courses in New Jersey and a viable option for those in the New York City area.


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