Best golf courses in New Jersey, according to GOLF Magazine’s expert course raters

Pine Valley is the No. 1 course in New Jersey — and the world.

Jon Cavalier

For every great course that made GOLF’s 2020-21 ranking of the Top 100 Courses in the U.S., dozens of more must-plays were left on the outside looking in — including at least a handful in your home state. Some of these designs just missed out on a Top 100 nomination, others finished deeper down the ranking, but all are worthy of your time. To shed light on the best courses in every state, we broke out the full results of our Top 100 Courses polling into state-by-state lists. Here’s a closer look at New Jersey.

New Jersey golf by the numbers:

Number of courses and U.S. rank: 320 (20)*
Number of golfers per capita rank: 35*
Average public-course greens fees: $$$ out of $$$*
Average daily temp and rank: 52.7 (22)
Annual precipitation and rank: 47.1 in. (15)

*Source: National Golf Foundation

Best New Jersey golf courses (2020/2021)

1. Pine Valley (Pine Valley) [1, 2]

To state perhaps the obvious, one simple but effective way to judge a design is by the quality of the course’s property, its hazards and greens. Pine Valley excels at all three, with many contending it has the most formidable hazards and sophisticated green complexes in golf. Throw in a wonderful routing that hopscotches from one island of turf to the next across the rolling, sandy landscape and you have a course that hasn’t budged from the No. 1 spot for decades. Remember when Tiger Woods was once voted the most underrated player on tour when he won three majors in a year? Same applies here, with Pine Valley’s only benchmark being itself.

2. Somerset Hills (Bernardsville) [1, 2]

Thanks to a 25-year-long restoration effort with meticulous attention to detail, Somerset Hills has reached the point where it joins Winged Foot and San Francisco GC as exemplars of Tillinghast’s enormous talent. Some even trumpet it as Tilly’s finest design for regular play. Its two nines are quite diverse, the first being on more open land while the second jumps into the woods where Tillinghast incorporated natural water features to perfection. A die-hard New Yorker remarked, “It’s enough to make one want to live New Jersey.”

3. Plainfield Country Club (Edison) [1]

One of America’s oldest clubs, Plainfield has hosted a U.S. Amateur, a U.S. Women’s Open and two recent PGA Tour events. Designed by Donald Ross and expertly renovated by Gil Hanse, the course features blind shots, challenging bunkers and some of Ross’s finest holes. The 145 yard 11th may be his best short par-3, and the 12th and 16th are epic par-5s. Plainfield oozes history — a Revolutionary War battle was fought on the site and Leighton Calkins’ created the modern handicap system here — but the course is in no way stuck in the past.

4. Baltusrol Golf Club – Lower Course (Springfield) [1]

Jack Nicklaus has called Baltusrol one of his favorite courses, and it’s easy to see why — he won two U.S. Opens there. The layout is a Tillinghast classic, with undulating fairways, challenging greens and back-to-back par-5 beasts that close out the round. Over the years, the Lower has played host to four U.S. Opens (Balty’s other three Opens were on the Upper course) and two PGAs, but with no more Opens on the schedule, some wonder if the course has fallen off the USGA’s unofficial rota. Gil Hanse’s current renovation should fix that.

5. Ridgewood Country Club – West/East Course (Paramus) [1]

Ridgewood has played host to senior majors and is a frequent late season stop on the PGA Tour. The northern New Jersey classic isn’t as well-known as Tillinghast’s other great tri-state designs (Winged Foot, Bethpage Black, etc.), but it’s just as challenging and offers a greater variety of holes. Both nines feature terrific green complexes and play from the stunning Norman Revival clubhouse, where Byron Nelson once worked as an assistant pro. After building Ridgewood, Tillinghast played it regularly as a member, and his granddaughters said it was his favorite course of all he designed.

6. Hollywood Golf Club (Deal) [1]

Walter Travis would be thrilled if he could see his course today. Some of the best hazards and greens on any inland course are found here once again, thanks to recent restoration work by Renaissance Golf Design’s Brian Schneider. The relatively modest topography and Travis’s tight green-to-tee routing makes it a walker’s delight while the manmade features (i.e., greens and bunkers) lend the course special playing qualities. A good stance and easy swing are far from guaranteed in some of these pit-like bunkers, which is the way it should be. Let hazards be hazardous! The par-3 4th and 12th are its most famous holes, but no education on Travis is complete without studying the 6th, 7th, 9th and 16th green complexes.

7. Mountain Ridge (West Caldwell) [1]

Aptly named, the two nines start and return to the imposing Clifford Wendehack clubhouse located majestically high along a ridge line. Much of the golf is played down below and after two plus decades, Ron Prichard’s meticulous restoration has fully exposed both Ross’s talents as well as the expansive nature of the property. The 8th, 11th and 18th greens are all works of art. Add in a talented greenkeeper with a keen appreciation for architecture and this Golden Age course epitomizes a Ross design that plays better today than it ever has.

Mountain Ridge in West Caldwell, N.J.

Evan Schiller

8. Baltusrol Golf Club – Upper Course (Springfield) [1]

Carved into a small mountain, the first six holes provide a master class in side-slope architecture. The course possesses great variety, from the par-3 3rd, high along the side slope, to the par-5 11th, which some contend is the best par-5 on the property, to the par-4 14th that plays uphill across rolling topography. Better yet is its home hole, a wonderful par-4 that finishes at the base of the historic clubhouse where all eyes are upon you (at least that is the unnerving sensation!). This design stirs passion even more so than its fabled sibling. Slated for a Hanse restoration in a few years, there is no telling how high the Upper might climb.

9. Essex County (West Orange)

10. Hidden Creek (Egg Harbor)

11. Galloway National (Galloway)

12. Bayonne Golf Club (Bayonne)

13. Forsgate – Banks Course (Monroe Township)

14. Trump National Bedminster – Old Course (Bedminster)

15. Morris County Golf Club (Morris Township)

SYMBOL GUIDE

1 = GOLF Top 100 Course in the U.S.
2 = GOLF Top 100 Course in the World
3 = GOLF Top 100 Resort
P = Resort/public golf course

Ed. note: Some courses were omitted from our rankings because they did not receive enough votes.

Course Spotlight: Bayonne (Bayonne, N.J.), ranked 12th in New Jersey. Is Bayonne the Shadow Creek of the East? An utterly artificial landscape that somehow actually works? I mean, you know you are not in the British Isles in Bayonne, N.J., but Eric Bergstol created a remarkable environment here that very successfully evokes true links golf. Add in the remarkable clubhouse and Bayonne is an extraordinary experience. — GOLF Top 100 Course Rater

Somerset Hills Country Club is ranked No. 2 in New Jersey.

Russell Kirk

How we rank America’s best golf courses

For the newly released 2020-21 U.S. list, each panelist was provided a list of 489 courses. Beside that list of courses were 11 “buckets,” or groupings. If our panelists considered a course to be among the top three in the country, they ticked that box. If they believed the course to be among Nos. 4-10 in the U.S., they checked that box, followed by 11-25, 26-50, and so on.

Panelists were also free to write in courses that they felt should have been included on the ballot (we had fewer than a handful of such additions in the U.S. vote).

Points were assigned to each bucket; to arrive at an average score for each course, we divide its aggregate score by the number of votes. From those point tallies, the courses are then ranked accordingly. It is an intentionally simple and straightforward process. Why? Because it invariably produces results that are widely lauded. Like the game itself, there’s no need to unnecessarily overcomplicate things.

For much more on how we rate courses, click or tap here.

Meet our course raters

We empower and hold accountable a group of 97 well-traveled — and well-connected — golfers/aficionados, each capable of expressing their own sense of design excellence at the highest level. The group is seasoned and experienced — we look for raters who know what’s out there, what’s changing and what’s coming down the pike. And from judging posts across four continents, our panelists are positioned to place courses from different regions around the globe into proper context, one of the main reasons GOLF’s Top 100 Courses rankings are the most esteemed in the game.

Other ranking outlets employ thousands of raters. Our less-is-more approach creates a more meaningful and thoughtful list. Think about it: When you plan a golf trip, do you call every golfer you know for their take? No. You contact a handful of people whose opinions you value most.

Meet our full crew of panelists here.

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