Somerset Hills represents the old and traditional with a discrete clubhouse and civilized and understated approach to everything. At Somerset Hills, they don’t have to try to impress, because they are the genuine article. The small clubhouse, pro shop and outdoor deck fit perfectly into the New Jersey small town landscape and have an aura that can’t be bought and only develops with age and a respect for the past. The course has a number of perfectly manicured grass tennis courts, confirming its gentrified and genteel approach as a private club. Even the halfway house is just some bottled drinks, ginger snaps, crackers with add your own cheddar cheese or peanut butter. Pick up the yardage book-it is a collectible relic all to its own.
An appealing aspect of A.W. Tillinghast’s work is, strangely enough, the lack of identifying characteristics. The player would be hard pressed to tell that the same architect designed the courses at Winged Foot, Baltusrol, San Francisco Golf Club, Bethpage (Black) and Somerset Hills. Think of the striking features of each: Winged Foot (West) with its length, raised, severe greens and deep bunkers; Baltusrol (Lower) with its low-profile look; San Francisco with its flashy bunkers stylishly spread at all sorts of angles in the broad fairways; Bethpage (Black) with its huge, sprawling scale and Somerset Hills with its terrific set of greens and its charming layout. Tillinghast’s style (or lack thereof) is an indicator that, unlike many of today’s architects, Tillinghast was not hell-bent on leaving his ‘mark.’ He fit the course onto the available land without forcing his imprint onto the land.
Variety is the key to Somerset Hills- variety of terrain, variety of length of holes, variety of approach shots and variety of greens. With the fairly open front nine laid out on and around an old racetrack and the back nine through rolling wooded terrain with streams and a pond, one would think the course would have a Jekyll and Hyde character. However, the course flows well, the par threes are perfectly balanced at 175, 220, 145 and 165 yards while the par fours have several big two-shotters (the 1st, 4th, 7th and 13th), several short ones (the 5th, 17th and 18th) and those very appealing ones in between. Par fives may be the weakest holes but they are not without feature interest themselves.
These greens are unlike anything we see today-they are severe, almost random in their severity-full of odd humps and bumps and an occasional unplayable section. To play well here a player must pay attention to the specifics of each green and know where to leave it and where not to leave it. If the greens are carrying any speed the day you play them this goes double.
For the really discriminating golf mind this is a very special place to play. It is just a delightful sequence of interesting golf challenges and it is totally playable even the first time out. It is simple, unchanged from its original intent, just a bottled piece of the past.
Bernardsville, New Jersey
Architect: A.W. Tillinghast (1917)
Tees Par Yardage Rating Slope
Blue 71 6659 72.2 132
White 71 6235 70.1 127
Red 72 5643 73.8 138