Located only a few miles outside of New York City lies Baltusrol Golf Club, a place where many of golf’s greats have won major championships throughout the last century. Baltusrol does not have just one major championship caliber course, it has two. The Lower course and the Upper Course, though the Lower is where all of the major’s have been held. We were fortunate enough to play both courses: a warm up in the morning on the Upper course and some friendly competition on the Lower as we teed it up in the Member-Guest.
We teed off the Upper Course bright and early. It rained nearly all day the day before, so the course was wet but dried out nicely throughout our round. The Upper course is an amazing track, and I honestly had a hard time deciding what course I liked better when it was all said and done. There are a number of great holes on the Upper and I will highlight a few of my favorites:
The fourth hole is a challenging par-4 with fairway bunkers carefully placed, and the fairway slants severely right to left. From the back tees, the bunkers are certainly in play and the slope of the fairway makes the approach difficult. In addition to the slope of the fairway, the green is elevated and is hard to hit because it is all carry and the left side of the green is narrow as you can see above. Anything short rolls back some twenty yards and anything left rolls back into the deep greenside bunkers.
Another great hole on the Upper is the par three seventh hole. At 225 yards, this par three is a beast of a hole especially if the wind is blowing. It is well protected in front of the green so it is all carry. Hitting the green does not assure you of a par though, as is the case on pretty much every hole because of the severity of the greens. This green however is very large and a putt from the opposite side of the green can be very hard to gauge. We played it to a front left pin which was not overly challenging but a back right pin would be hard to get to.
The fourteenth hole was my favorite hole on the Upper although there were a lot of great ones to choose from. The tee shot is challenging as you can see above because of the two fairway bunkers on the left and another further up on the right. The green is very characteristic of Tillinghast because it has a false front and slopes severely back to front. Missing the green anywhere left, right or long is dead (even though my brother chipped in from long left to a left pin). It is just a beautiful, straight-forward hole that is plenty challenging but can also be a birdie hole if you hit it in the fairway off of the tee.
The finishing hole on the Upper course is a beastly 443 yard par four and is as good of a finishing hole as any. It takes two great shots to hit this green in two. The hole is straight out in front of you but missing right or left puts you in tree trouble and way out of position to reach the green in regulation. I hit a great drive down the right side of the fairway and had a great angle into the green. With the wind gusting into our face, my 200 yard shot seemed like 250. This hole is up there with the 18th at Oakmont as far as difficulty goes. Although eighteen at Oakmont has many more bunkers and hazards, this hole is of the same length and does not allow for any sort of miss off the tee.
All in all, the Upper Course at Baltusrol is a true test of golf. Every hole presents a variety of challenges and the greens are the major defense throughout the round. They are very undulated yet it is hard to see a lot of the slopes with a blind eye. As it is at any Tillinghast course, positioning around the greens is the key to good scoring. The course is not overly long, but chipping is very difficult because of the severe sloping greens and even the shortest of putts have a lot of break to them. Taking your time and carefully studying the greens it the key to success.
Stay tuned for a full review of the Lower course, which has hosted 7 U.S. Opens, 4 U.S. Amateurs and most recently a PGA Championship in 2005. Jack Nicklaus won two U.S. Opens thirteen years apart on the Lower course and let me tell you, its something special.