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(Highlands Course)

Gladstone, NJ

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Hamilton Farm is a 730-acre estate in the upscale central New Jersey community of Bedminister Township, only a few miles from the U.S. Golf Association's headquarters. The entry drive from the front gate to the center of the property is like something out The Great Gatsby. You expect to pass Duesenbergs and Phaetons as the road winds through horse meadows, across stone bridges, over babbling brooks, up wooded hillsides, and finally down a quarter-mile long driveway, edged in granite pavers, and a low stone wall all engulfed in a canopy of trees. The road curves around the front of a magnificent mansion.

 

Not far from the mansion are the barns and buildings of the United States Equestrian Training Center (USETC), where many riders train for Olympic competition. The farm is very close to New York City and many large corporations have their headquarters nearby. Hurdzan/Fry was selected to add golf to Hamilton Farm because of perceived environmental difficulties, problems that we are very, very good at solving. Thanks to a lot of hard work and dedication by our expert team of professionals, the permit phase was short and sweet.

 

We worked through a company called the Daylar Group. Harry and Jerry Day are successful golf course developers who offer project management and coordination for large development projects, so all a client has to do is to approve plans and pay bills. The Daylar Group does everything else, including selection of consultants, submittals for permits, solicitation of bids, clerking the works and even assembling publicity and membership packages.

This was a big project for a big client that could have a big impact on us if it turned out well. The plan was for 36 holes, a full-sized 18, The Highlands Course, and an 18-hole par 3, The Hickory Course. The actual clubhouse is a renovated sports center of nearly 20,000 square feet, and is elegant to say the least. It is located near the mansion, but is separate from it. The design of the big course had to provide returning nines near the mansion, keeping the USETC site intact and avoid wetlands, steep grades, rock outcroppings, horse trails, stone walls, turtle habitats and a bunch of other things. The par 3 course faced many of the same restrictions, except that each nine did not have to begin and end at the clubhouse.

 

This enormous project had many twists and turns and a fair amount of anxiety. Hurricane storms flooded parts of the land in 2000.  It was a very wet spring in 2001. There were political squabbles and corporate intrigue. In the end, Hamilton Farm turned out great.

We developed a bunker style for Hamilton Farm that became the distinguishing feature of both courses, patterned  after the bunker style of Alister MacKenzie, a splashy style found at Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath in Australia, and Cypress Point in the United States.  The bunkers appear to be expensive to build and maintain, but these were the first bunkers to use a product called "Bunker Wol"®, a fiber underlayment intended to keep sand stabilized even on the steepest slopes. Everyone, including course superintendent Tim Christ, was skeptical that any material could keep sand from eroding off the near-vertical faces. But after Hamilton Farm got 11 inches of rain from a hurricane, and the bunker faces didn’t wash at all, the verdict was in. The bunkers at Hamilton Farm do indeed defy gravity.  And fluid dynamics.

Immediately behind the green on the downhill par-4 sixth is another set of old buildings worth mentioning, an old dairy barn and stables. The green is built so close to a wall of the barn that it could come into play when playing to some back hole locations. The inspiration for placing the green so close to the barn came from Musselburgh’s Old Links, a grand old Scottish course my son Chris and I had played. Musselburgh's fourth green is hard against the wall of Mrs. Forman’s Pub, which has a hatch door through which many a 19th century golfer could obtain a refreshment without leaving the course. There are no such trap doors at Hamilton Farm, but the barn wall still gets a fair amount of action. The adjacent stables, by the way, have been remodeled into offices for the superintendent and his staff.

There are many fine golf holes at Hamilton Farm, but none are better than the 18th, a long par 4 playing from a wooded bluff over a stream and  directly toward the back side of the mansion.  The 18th green, surrounded by tightly-mown bent-grass chipping areas, is set just below the mansion and its terraced flower gardens.

 

If there was ever a modern golf club that was inspired to duplicate the ambiance, grace and character of the great clubs of the Roaring Twenties, it is Hamilton Farm. It is one of my all time favorite projects, and a crown jewel of New Jersey golf. Nearly everyone who has seen the big course is baffled why it hasn’t won every honor or recognition there is to give. Hopefully, someday it will take its rightful place among America’s greatest golf courses.