Review: Berkshire Valley Golf Course

Course Name: Berkshire Valley Golf Course

Designer: Roger Rulewich (2004)

Location: Oak Ridge, New Jersey

History: Designed by Roger Rulewich in 2004, Berkshire Valley is considered one of the better public options in New Jersey and is operated by the Morris County Park Commission.

Conditions: 8/10, Despite playing in early season, Berkshire Valley was already in great shape with thick rough, greens that roll true, and well-maintained fairways and teeboxes.

Value: 7/10, Berkshire Valley isn’t the cheapest course in the world ranging from $67 to $90 for non-residents depending on the day but this includes cart and there are discounts for residents, shelf seasons, and twilight. If this course were closer to New York, it would command a much higher price.

Scorecard:

Tee                           Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Black                        71            6810              73.2              134

Blue                           71           6354              70.6              126

White                       71           5895             68.6              123

Gold                         71           5234             66.9              117

Red                          71           4647              66.9             119

Hole Descriptions: Architect Roger Rulewich does not have a household name nationally, but he has designed many of the more upscale public courses in the Northeast. I’ve played several of them and think that they are nice, but slightly overrated. Take nearby Ballyowen, for example – a great public course but not nearly on the same level as Atlantic City in New Jersey or worthy of national attention. Berkshire Valley, on the contrary, I find to be quite underrated in New Jersey. Not on any list of top publics I could find, this engaging, well-conditioned, and affordable course is at least close to Ballyowen. In traditional Rulewich fashion, this is a challenging golf course built on a very unique and beautiful property. With plenty of water, OB, and large bunkers, Berkshire Valley features a layout with the first five holes playing in a line along a severe ridge. The views afforded on these holes are lovely and certainly make them memorable. The remaining thirteen holes play up and down valleys and over water. While far from perfect, I really enjoyed this course and think it is certainly deserving of more recognition in the mediocre New Jersey public golf scene.

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A look at the course from atop the ridge

The opening hole plays as a straightaway 378 yard par 4 with a brief forced carry from an elevated teebox. While the fairway is initially generous, it tightens with a line of bunkers down the right between 180 and 250 yards. Dense forest lines the left the entire way while the ridge of OB lines the far right and must be a common destination. This approach plays slightly uphill to a large, two-tiered, severely back-to-front sloped green lined by deep bunkers right.

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The par 4 1st

While I’m not usually a fan of par threes getting the number 1 handicap, there’s no denying the 2nd hole is a brute at 240 yards. With a steep hill left and continued OB down the right, this back-to-front sloped green is guarded by bunkers left and right and contains some extremely difficult pins such as the back left one below.

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The lengthy par 3 2nd

The tightest hole on the ridge, the par 5 3rd hole is reachable at 509 yards but demands two extremely accurate shots. Playing straightaway with a left-to-right sloping fairway and trees on both sides, this hole is further defended by two bunkers down the right at 190 and 220 yards. The fairway is bisected by the cartpath about 130 yards short of the green with the second part of the fairway being flatter and lined by two additional bunkers right. This large, triangular green slopes severely back-to-front and is defended by a bunkers long and right.

The tight par 5 3rd

 

The 3rd from the left side of the fairway

 

Looking back at the 3rd

The 4th hole is a nice dogleg right par 4 at 365 yards. Featuring a semi-blind teeshot, this hole features a generous fairway down the left guarded by a prominent bunker on the right at 200 yards and a cool rock wall down the left. This approach plays downhill to the right towards a large green perched on the ridge defended by two bunkers short.

The par 4 4th

 

The approach at 4

One of the most memorable holes at Berkshire Valley, the 5th hole is the final ridge hole and a reachable par 4 at 328 yard severely downhill. This gorgeous hole initially features a generous downhill fairway that ends abruptly at about 225 yards with a hazard. Longer hitters have the option of carrying the hazard and finding the second portion of the fairway but this requires a 280 yard carry. A large pot bunker guards just short of one of the largest, most severe greens I’ve played. Perhaps a bit too wild, this green features three tiers and slopes severely back-to-front.

The reachable par 4 5th

The 6th hole acts as a transition hole from the ridge to the rest of the course playing severely downhill as an 187 yard par 3. Set at an awkward angle with the teebox wedged into a hill, this pretty hole features a large, two-tiered, back-to-front sloped green defended by a bunker and hazard left.

The par 3 6th

At 535 yards, the par 5 7th hole is the longest hole at Berkshire Valley playing straightaway from a secluded, elevated teebox. While initially claustrophobic, the fairway actually opens up quite a bit here with little danger unless you miss big. A pair of bunkers guards either side of the fairway about 130 yards short of a large green also defended by bunkers on either side and water left.

The par 5 7th

The 8th hole is one of tougher and better par fours on the course as a 383 yard dogleg left. Somewhat confusing from the teebox, water lines the entire left side of an undulating fairway that slopes right-to-left. At about 300 yards, the fairway ends and the hole turns left with an approach over a creek to a large, elevated, back-to-front sloped green guarded by bunkers on the left.

The tough par 4 8th

The 9th hole is one of the flattest at Berkshire Valley but still maintains your interest as a blind dogleg right. At 373 yards, this par 4 features an L-shaped fairway with water down the right the entire way and a bunker at the corner of the dogleg at 200 yards. This green is narrow and defended by two bunkers right.

An ideal aiming point is just left of the bunker at 9

The 10th hole is an intimidating one as a 382 yard dogleg left par 4 with an immediate 170 yard forced carry over water. Once you reach the fairway, this hole runs fairly uphill to a long, back-to-front sloped green defended by a bunker right. Par is a strong score here.

The par 4 10th features a scary teeshot

We essentially had the course to ourselves due to a poor forecast, but the cold rain didn’t start until the 11th hole, as you’ll see in pictures below. The 11th is another reachable par 4 at 335 yards with a shorter direct route to the green. Featuring a wide fairway lined by water down the right the entire way, this hole contains more danger as you get closer to the green with a pot bunker at 240 yards down the right and a large bunker just left of a green that juts into the right water.

The par 4 11th

At 162 yards, the par 3 12th hole is the shortest hole at Berkshire Valley but maintains a challenge playing uphill to a very shallow green. An old rock structure features prominently on the left side of the teebox and thick marsh runs between the teebox and this green defended by two bunkers short, one long, and a steep hill long.

The rocks down the left are a cool feature but a bit distracting

At a strong 408 yards, the par 4 13th is a beautiful hole and one of my favorites in New Jersey. Playing as a modified Cape hole, this hole features an immediate forced carry over water to a fairway that slants hard left-to-right. The further right you venture, the more you need to carry with a large bunker down the left at 240 yards also in your mind. Those who find the fairway will have a long, uphill approach to a severe, multi-tiered, back-to-front sloped green defended by deep bunkers right. I think this is the hardest hole on the course.

The picturesque par 4 13th

Berkshire Valley features several really fun short par fours, but the most accessible of the group is the 14th which plays downhill at just 275 yards. A chance to gain a shot back after the previous hole, even moderately long golfers will be able to reach this giant green lined by water long and bunkers on either side. A large left swale in the green no doubt leads to many disappointing three-putts for the golfer with eagle aspirations.

The supremely fun par “3.5” 14th

The long, snaking 15th hole is the last par 5 at 528 yards. With water and marshland lining the right side the entire way, the better miss here is left where a convenient hill kicks you right. A bunker lines the right at 210 yards and additional bunkers litter the lay-up area within 100 yards. A narrow, undulating green defended by a bunker right awaits you at the end.

Don’t miss right on the generous 15th

It wouldn’t be a Rulewich course without a long par 3 over water and the 16th is exactly that at 183 yards. While the green is large and receptive, this hole is still intimating with a carry the entire way and two bunkers short as well.

The par 3 16th with the clubhouse in the background

The par 4 373 yard 17th hole makes the drives at 10 and 13 look easy as water dominates your view on the teebox. With a forced carry of at least 175 yards to the closest portion of fairway, this hole also is a Cape with a lengthy carry required for those who go more right. A pair of bunkers line the left at 280 yards but are more in play for longer players. This green is set at an awkward angle with bunkers left and right and water to the far left. While not long, there is plenty of room for big numbers here.

The intimidating par 4 17th

Berkshire Valley closes with a difficult hole in a 410 yard straightaway par 4. With the steep ridge lining the right the entire way and bunkers lining the left between 230 and 300 yards, you’ll need an accurate drive here. This approach then runs uphill to a large, back-to-front sloped green defended by a bunker left.

The par 4 18th

General Comments: Berkshire Valley features decent practice facilities with a range built into the side of a hill and a practice green. We played on a dreary early season day and basically had the course entirely to ourselves so I don’t know if I can comment on normal pace of play here. The course is essentially unwalkable due to all the steep slopes and expansive property.

Verdict: With strong conditions, beautiful views, and a number of memorable holes, Berkshire Valley is criminally underrated in the New Jersey public golf scene and is a course I’d recommend to all in the area.


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