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12 Things to Know About Baltusrol’s Other Course

July 24, 2016

Sibling rivalries in golf are nothing new. Ever since the New course appeared at St. Andrews in 1895 to challenge the Old, debate has roiled within many golf course families as to which of their tracks is better. Every serious golf fan is familiar with Baltusrol’s Lower course, site of this year’s PGA Championship. Less well-known, yet equally respected is its Upper course. Here are 12 things you need to know about Balty’s sizzling sister.

1. While Baltusrol Lower grabs the majority of major tournament glory these days, and enjoys a higher position in GOLF Magazine’s course rankings (Number 32 in the U.S. in 2015-2016), Baltusrol Upper fares remarkably well with our panelists, placing Number 64 in the U.S. Among private clubs, only Winged Foot has a tandem of courses ranked higher.

2. Baltusrol Upper was hardly an afterthought. Architect A.W. Tillinghast designed “Dual Courses,” two courses intended to be of equal strength and character, and opened them on the same day, June 17, 1922. He did this after controversially scrapping the club’s existing Old Course, which had played host to five USGA National Championships, including the 1903 and 1915 U.S. Opens.

3. No stranger to big-time events, the Upper played host to a U.S. Open before the Lower did, when Tony Manero claimed the title in 1936. Paired with Gene Sarazen in the final round, Manero blitzed the Upper with a five-under 67, for a score of 282, breaking the all-time four-round mark by four shots and edging perennial hard-luck bridesmaid “Lighthorse” Harry Cooper by two. Cooper was further victimized by one of the strangest 72nd-hole scenes ever: he was forced to wait nearly 15 minutes to hit his birdie putt after his playing partner, Leslie Madison, had his wallet picked from his pocket. After a bizarre, frenzied search for the thief, Cooper went back to work—and three-putted.


4. The Upper did see pivotal U.S. Open action in 1954. During the final round, Ed Furgol took the title when he made par at the final hole after snap-hooking his drive into the trees. He played his eight-iron second up an adjoining fairway (the 18th) on the Upper course, hit close to the 18th green of the Lower with his third and got up and down for par. He wound up beating Gene Littler by one.

5. The 1985 U.S. Women’s Open on the Upper boasted a superb field, from Amy Alcott and Betsy King, to three-time winner Hollis Stacy, the defending champion, and fan favorite Nancy Lopez, still looking for her first U.S. Open title. However, the upset winner that year was 24-year-old Kathy Baker, who posted a final-round 70 for a 280 total. She was one of only three players who finished under the par of 288 for the duration.

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6. Arizona State Sun Devil Jeff Quinney held a three-up lead with three holes to play during the 2000 U.S. Amateur at the Upper, the 100th playing of the event. But James Driscoll from Massachusetts battled back to win all three holes. A thunderstorm delayed the completion of extra holes until the following morning, when Quinney regained his form and won it with a downhill 20-footer on the 39th hole.

7. Once known as the charming little sister of the Lower, the Upper has been lengthened in recent years to 7,348 yards (the Lower runs 7,400), and actually boasts the higher Slope from the tips, 151, to the Lower’s 147. For members, both courses play to a par of 72.

8. Much of the Upper’s character — and variety — comes from the landscape. It’s essentially a mountain course, or at least what passes for mountains in New Jersey. The first six holes play along the edge of what’s long been known as Baltusrol Mountain, providing a difficult run of sidehill lies on right-to-left canted fairways for the first third of the round. Its proximity to the mountain and location on higher ground gives rise to its name.

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9. Putting surfaces are smaller and more heavily contoured on the Upper than on the Lower. When speeds reach 11 and higher, they’re indisputably more challenging to putt than those on the Lower.

10. While Robert Trent Jones Sr. famously altered the Lower course ahead of the 1954 U.S. Open, the Upper was untouched by any architect since some minor Tillinghast revisions in 1936—until Trent’s son Rees and his design associate Steve Weisser were assigned to carry out their master plan in the 1990s. Rees Jones added length to 12 holes and restored several greens ahead of the 2000 U.S. Amateur. Between 2008 and 2010, Jones and his team created new back tees on seven holes, and reworked the bunkers, repositioning some, restoring others, and in many cases, making them deeper.

11. The Upper has a harder closing hole to par than the Lower. Upper’s 18th is a stern par-4 of 489 yards that starts from an elevated tee and eventually heads uphill. Bunkers and sloping ground will menace an overly faded tee shot and a massively deep green forces proper club selection on the approach.

12. The only legitimately drivable par-4 on either course is the 9th on the Upper. Measuring 356 yards from the tips, the 9th traverses flattish terrain and the green is open in front, encouraging big bashers to have a go. Water in front of the tee won’t affect the low handicapper, just folks like you and me.