Plainfield Country Club
NJ, USA

Green Keeper: Travis Pauley

Plainfield, Donald Ross, Gil Hanse

More so than all but a very few Ross courses, Plainfield has genuine stand-out golf holes. Pictured is the green complex for the 145 yard 11th, perhaps Ross's finest short one shotter.

While Donald Ross courses have been famously (or infamously) altered in order to host major championships, the vast majority of his courses haveendured more passive forms of change over the decades. Typically, it starts with overzealous tree planting,which reduces Donald Ross‘s wide fairways and compromise his intended playing angles. Fairways invariably get shifted to accomodate the tree growth,with one result being that many of Donald Ross‘s fairway bunkers become detached from the hole’s playing strategy. In addition, bunker facesare inconsistently maintained, with many acquiring flashed-up sand faces as opposed to their original grass face. Finally, Donald Ross‘s large-ish greens are allowed to shrink two to twelve feet around their perimeter, thus losing many of their more interesting hole locations.

The above is as true for Donald Ross courses in the middle of the country like French Lick and Beverly Country Club as it is to the south likeat Hope Valley Country Club as it is to such New England gems as Charles River CC and Metacomet Country Club.

Plainfield Country Club, which hashosted such national events as the the 1978 United States Amateur and the 1987 United States Women’s Open, had also fallen prey to the above, but unlike many clubs, Plainfield decided to do something about it.

Then Green Keeper Greg James started selectively restoring the bunker faces to their original grass faced version in 1995. Given his success, the Club broadened the scope of the renovative work. To that end, they conducted interviews with several leading architects who had previous experience in working on Donald Ross courses. They ultimately selected Gil Hanse Golf Course Design to prepare a Master Plan to address each of the points referencedin the opening paragraphand in 2000, the Club adopted Gil Hanse‘s detailed Master Plan.

While Donald Ross aficionados always applaud Donald Ross for his routings,the one here is a particular standout. For instance, as Gil Hanse points out, Donald Ross‘s varied use of the same ridge in the creation of thefirst green,sixth hole, seventhtee,ninth tee, and eighthhole is nothing short of brilliant. The course itself is built on a 21,000 year old glacial terminal moriane with the clubhouse occupying the highest point in Middlesex County. Donald Ross‘srouting over the property’s rolling hillocks yielded many singularly distinctive holes to the point where Plainfield doesn’t remind the golfer of any other Donald Ross course. Within the eighteen holes, thereare the threefirst rate starting holes, the mightyseventh which is one of Ross’s all-time best, the tiny one shot eleventh which many consider as Donald Ross‘s best sub -150 yard hole, and two sterling three shot holes on the second nine.

Plainfield, Donald Ross, Gil Hanse

With the trees down, golfers better appreciate the rolling nature of the property and Ross's imaginative bunker schemes. Pictured above is a view eighty yards from the second green while below...

Plainfield, Donald Ross, Gil Hanse

... are the bunkers that guard the semi-punchbowl seventh green.

Unfortunately, the evolution of a few of the other supporting holes tended to obscure the excellence of these standout holes. For instance, trees on the inside of the doglegfourth had ruined the strategic merit of that hole. Gil Hanse replaced the trees with bunkers and once again, if the golfer is willing to flirt with the bunkers and the nearby out of bounds, he will be rewarded with theidealapproach into the small, angled green. Further examples of improvements are numerous and some are detailed below.

Holes to Note

Firsthole, 430 yards; Not exactly a typical Donald Ross handshake hole as an opener, nonetheless this one makes for an inspired start as the holestretches past the clubhouse and across tumbling ground to the massive green in the distance. The 9,900 square foot (!) green is a one-of-a-kindfeaturing a vexing back right shelf and a fierce slope from back right to front left.

Plainfield, Donald Ross, Gil Hanse

The old mowing pattern at one point ended at the right edge of the bunker, thus leaving it detached from play. Hanse shifted the first fairway mowing pattern ten yards to the left as per Ross's final plans. The ideal angle into the back right to front left pitched green is once again from near this bunker.

Plainfield, Donald Ross, Gil Hanse

This golfer's approach shot hit twenty-five feet up and to the right from where he is chipping. The day's hole location would have been in rough ten years ago.

Secondhole, 445 yards; Tree planting was particularly popular in the northeast of the United States in the 1960s and 1970s and Plainfield was not immune to this phenomenon. Its effect on thesecond hole was two fold. Firstly,the trees planted along the fairway masked the rolling nature of the property by giving it an enclosed feeling. Secondly, several trees were planted directly behind the green whichaided the golfer with depth perception.Following Gil Hanse‘s advice, the Club removed such ornamental trees and with no trees behind the green, the golfer is more keenly aware of how the green is perched on a knob and that to go over the green is to court a double bogey.

Plainfield, Donald Ross, Gil Hanse

Once shrouded in trees, the second now enjoys a more expansive feel thanks to the intelligent tee removal program that has seen 1,200 trees felled in the past decade.

Plainfield, Donald Ross, Gil Hanse

However, such is the rolling nature of the land that this string of bunkers isn't evident from second tee. The remaining trees behind the green are a full sixty yards behind it. In fact, a view of the distant third green wasn't afforded in 1990, so thick where the trees that framed the green. Note the tight chipping area to the left of the green. It extends down the hill to the left and recovery from it is quite ticklish.

Thirdhole, 180 yards; The end to what the author considers as Donald Ross‘s toughest three hole opening stretch, the pond to the right forces many players to bail left, which is precisely where Donald Ross hid a seven foot deep bunker. The resulting recovery shot back toward the pond across the left to right sloped green is not what the golfer was hoping foron the tee.

Plainfield, Donald Ross, Gil Hanse

If left of the third green looks like the safe play off the tee...

Plainfield, Donald Ross, Gil Hanse

...think again! Short and left (i.e where the golf bag is) leaves the best chance for an up and down.

Fourth hole, 355 yards; Literally, an historic hole as the battle of the Short Hills was fought here during the Revolutionary War. Golfers have a battle on their hands of their own as this little brute plays far tougher than its yardage suggests. This hole has benefited as much as any hole on the course from the restoration as it had ceased to function properly. In the early 1990s, trees walled off the inside of the gentle dogleg and effectively prevented golfers from being able to seek the optimal place in the fairway from which to approach the green. Gil Hanse felled the trees and replaced them with three bunkers as per a 1930 aerial. Golfers are now free to seek this one flat portion of the fairway to have the best angle into the small angled green. Golfers who shy away from these bunkers are left with an awkward angle from in a bowl that is well below the putting surface. Along with the short eleventh, this hole yard for yard requires the most precise hitting on the course.

Plainfield, Donald Ross, Gil Hanse

The new bunkers at the crest of the hill guard the optimal place for one's tee ball.

Sixth hole, 165 yards; Thisis the sort of fun hole that manymodern architects struggle to design.Set across some of themore modestproperty, its five bunkers and sloping green provide its enjoyableplaying qualities. When faced with a similar situation, too many modern architects turn to artifical water hazards as a way to lend such holes character.

Plainfield, Donald Ross, Gil Hanse

Hanse's Master Plan called for the reinstatement of these two short bunkers sixty yards prior to the green complex. Cut into a ridge, they not only create depth perception problems but serve to remind golfers that they are playing a Golden Age course.

Plainfield, Donald Ross, Gil Hanse

Note the green's right hand 'kick board.' The tee ball that finished just left of the hole hit this kick point and sweep along the green's right to left slope before finishing close to the hole. Seeing the ball disappear behind the high bunker shoulder only to reappear and loop behind the hole is always great fun.

Seventhhole, 470 holes; Many member’s favorite hole on the course, thanks to its gem of a green complex. Donald Ross cut a uniquely shaped bunker into a ridge and then placed the punchbowl type green ninepaces beyond it. The challenge of just carrying the bunker and then watching the ballroll across the green remains a joy to this day. North of the fourth hole at Seminole, there aren’t many Donald Ross two shotters better than this one.

Plainfield, Donald Ross, Gil Hanse

The scale of some of Plainfield's rolls are clear against the six foot three inch golfer above. A good drive to the flat plateau leaves the golfer with...

Plainfield, Donald Ross, Gil Hanse

... this most memorable approach shot. The distinctive bunker pictured above is nine paces shy of the green but...

Plainfield, Donald Ross, Gil Hanse

...the ground feeds down onto the putting surface if the golfer can just clear the bunker with his approach.

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