Work is completed for the season on Montclair Golf Club’s Third Nine, with anticipated re-opening Memorial Day Weekend 2021, weather permitting. The club recently released an image that illustrates the dramatic and significant changes taking place on its historic golf course.
This multi-year project paired Montclair Golf Club director of golf course operations Michael Campbell with Brian Schneider, senior design associate at Renaissance Design. The team looked at historic aerial photographs, the oldest from 1930, to guide the project.
“We’re not going back exactly to 1930 but very, very close,” said Campbell, who noted that Bobby Jones once described Montclair as the “longest short course I ever played.” “We are redoing the bunkers and rebuilt four greens (3, 5, 6 and 9) on the Third Nine. Those greens that we’re not redoing are being re-contoured along the perimeters to regain lost pin positions. And we’re re-building tees. It’s all being done with a 1930’s flavor, but to modern specifications.”
There are 36 holes at Montclair Golf Club, in four nine-hole loops that begin and end at the clubhouse. The original course, which opened in 1899, was designed by Tom Bendelow near the present location of today’s First and Second Nines. Donald Ross was commissioned to design 27 holes in 1920, and land was acquired in 1928 for the Fourth Nine, which was designed by Charles Banks.
From the new image, it’s obvious that bunkers are a focal point of the project: They’re being rebuilt using the Better Billy Bunker system to promote better drainage. Some bunkers were removed as they were not in the spirit of the original Ross and Banks layouts, while others were added to increase playability, aesthetics and challenge.
“I think Ross operated under the philosophy that even a high handicapper wants to have fun, and there’s something fun about hitting over a bunker and making the shot,” Campbell said.
“We’re also taking the short-grass lines and bringing them back to the sand line: We want to encourage the ball to release from these short-grass areas and release into the sand rather than get caught in the long rough.”
Standing on a tee at Montclair, it’s important to think about finding the right angle for entering a green. The greens are known to be tricky and aggressive, although there are options on how to approach the hole.
“When the ball lands, it will keep rolling, so the intended approach to the green will be much different,” Campbell says. “Some people might say widening the fairway perimeters will make the course easier. But back then the ground game was an important aspect, probably more so than in the air.
“People will have to think about these characteristics, and in my opinion, it makes a far more interesting game than tree-lined, tight corridors with the only option to hit the ball straight.”
Phase I was completed and in play this past golf season, with an entirely new fifth hole that improved overall design and allowed for construction of a new short game area. Phase III, which focuses on the Second Nine, is scheduled to begin in late July 2021. The final phase, to restore the Fourth Nine — Banks’s holes, which are dramatically different from the Ross 27, featuring huge elevated greens and big, flat-bottomed bunkers — is scheduled for 2022.
“Regardless of the original architect, our work scheme will remain the same — wide fairways, correct bunkers, grass lines corrected, perimeter lines enlarged, and new tees,” Campbell said.