Ridgewood Country Club

Guardians of the Game

Article by Kris Pepper

Photography by Evan Schiller (Outside-Photography) Kathy Bruinooge

Originally published in Northwest Bergen Lifestyle

In 1890, the same year Ellis Island was established as the immigration gateway to America, golf was introduced in Bergen County. "William Rosencrantz, owner of the Hermitage estate in Ho-Ho-Kus, brought home a few golf clubs from England and began to embrace the game," says Kevin Shea, Ridgewood Country Club's Co-Chair of the 2022 U.S. Amateur Championship. Two golf holes were built where St. Luke's church stands, and the Ho-Ho-Kus Golf Club, one of the first of its kind in the country, teed off.

Club officer meetings were held at the Ho-Ho-Kus Inn, then called The Mansion House. To better accommodate members, the Club moved to Maple Avenue, at the site of Ridgewood's Village Hall and library. A 9-hole course was constructed, and Ridgewood Country Club was established. It remained at that site until 1913.

"A move was made to the 'country club' section of Ridgewood, where it existed until the late 1920s. Lincoln Avenue intersected the course, and there was no opportunity for expansion, so the Club sought out new space," says Kevin. Subsequently, a move was made in 1929 to its current property on West Midland Avenue in Paramus.

The Club's board engaged A. W. Tillinghast as the course architect, a sought-after designer who happened to live locally. "The Club found three parcels of land and let Tillinghast select his preferred site. The Ridgewood property has a ridgeline in the center, making it a very dynamic golf course," states Kevin. Tillinghast had also designed prestigious courses such as Baltusrol in Springfield, New Jersey, and Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, New York. "When you play other Tillinghast courses, you frequently see aspects of the Ridgewood course," says Kevin.

The Club's Head Golf Professional, David Reasoner, pointed out some of the course's premier holes designed by Tillinghast. One of which is the narrow, challenging green of the "five-and-dime," the 12th hole on the championship course. "It’s a drivable par four that’s an enjoyable and unique hole in golf,” he says. The course is also known for holes 13 and 14, which feature a middle-split fairway with Fescue grass-covered mounds.

In 1927, after reviewing over 50 submitted plans, the Ridgewood Board approved an architectural proposal for the clubhouse designed by Clifford C. Wendehack, who designed a “Norman” style structure inspired by the similarities in the landscape between northern New Jersey and northern France. Today, the clubhouse exhibits the pinnacle of this classic style of French-inspired architecture. The Ridgewood Country Club is the only course in New Jersey that was graced with the legendary talents of both Tillinghast and Wendehack.

The Ridgewood Country Club’s storied history is abundant with notable guests and members over the years, including Glen Miller of the Glen Miller Orchestra. During the ‘40s, Miller’s orchestra entertained members with the “Glen Miller sound” on numerous occasions.

Archival photos, trophies, and memorabilia hold testament to iconic golf history established there. Byron Nelson worked as an assistant professional at the Club in the mid-1930s and represented Ridgewood for several of his significant early victories. He later became one of golf's all-time greatest players. 

Ridgewood hosted the 1935 Ryder Cup through the efforts of George R. Jacobus, the resident club pro who was president of the PGA at the time. The American team, led by Captain Walter Hagen, won the tournament against Great Britain that year, 9-3.

Ridgewood Country Club stands in good company with courses like Baltusrol and Winged Foot. “We’ve all hosted premier USGA and PGA championships,” says Kevin. However, what sets Ridgewood apart is its family-friendliness. With 27 championship holes, tennis, paddle, and pools, the Club offers a family environment that is especially cherished post-pandemic.

The Club has a rich culture of philanthropic traditions, too. “Our members are involved in the community and are very generous. We do events that serve the community and make amazing things happen behind the scenes.  Our members are here to help others.”

Preparations are in high gear to host the 122nd U.S. Amateur Championship with Arcola Country Club in Paramus in August 2022. Known as the premier international amateur golf event, it will bring 312 golfers to play both courses over several days, eventually narrowing the field to 64 players. These 64 will contend at Ridgewood in a match play format.

“The last time Ridgewood hosted the championship was in 1974,” says David. “Jerry Pate won, and a year later, he won the U.S. Open. Many of these winners become the greatest professional golfers in the world, like Phil Mickelson, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, and Tiger Woods.

Arcola Country Club is also eagerly anticipating the event. “It’s truly an honor for Arcola Country Club to be involved with the USGA and this prestigious and historical event,” states Doug Kuiken, Arcola President. “We’re certain the players will find both courses to be challenging, worthy venues and a good test of their skills.”

“As a Club, we want to inspire a new generation of golfers,” says Kevin. “The U.S. Amateur Championship will offer affordable spectator tickets to provide an intimate experience. There’s no other sporting event where you can get up close to the greatest players in the world. Ridgewood has a strong alliance with amateur golf. We consider ourselves guardians of the game.”

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