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Private Bayonne similar to excellent, public Arcadia Bluffs

One Lefonte Way
Bayonne, NJ

Architect: Eric Bergstol
Par: 36-35=71!
Excitement: 10/12
Difficulty: 7/12

Design: Six stars (out of seven)
Natural Setting: Five and 1/2 stars
Conditioning: Six stars
Value: NA/Private, $125,000 Initiation
Overall: Five and 1/2 to Six stars

Eric Bergstrol is a real estate developer in the Tri-state area who founded a small, reasonably successful but expensive “trail” of daily fee courses including Pine Barrens, Twisted Dune, Pine Hill and Branton Woods. The courses were all solid designs, but were in the $125 range, $85 at twilight and after a few years, have been forced to consider becoming private or semi-private.

After years of waiting in the wings and studying the work of his architect partners in his projects, Bergstol designed Bayonne himself, as he puts it “in the same vein as the great links of the UK.”

Normally when an amateur tries his hand at designing, amateurish mistakes are numerous and readily apparent. However some of the greatest courses in the world are by first-time or one time architects – Pine Valley by George Crump, Riviera by George Thomas, Caledonia by Mike Strantz and Bandon Dunes by David McKay Kidd are the miracle examples.

Bayonne may not rise to their level, but Bergstol did a fantastic job overall and even though the course caters to much to the rich and privileged and even though it is unnatural and a faux links, Bergstol got many important details right and built a course which is great fun, tremendously interesting, varies with the capricious winds and has a collection of truly excellent greens.
Bayonne, built on the shore in Jersey on the site of a landfill is strictly private but is a triumph nonetheless as the best design in the city.

Advanced points:

1. To shoehorn a goodly sized course on a tight, 128 acre parcel of land, Bergstol “terraced” the fairways and built a huge, towering dunescape to separate holes from one another. He trucked in 7.5 million cubic yards of sand to frame the holes, then planted 15 different species of native grasses and vegetation.

2. The routing takes us in every conceivable direction, to the sea, to the scenic church steeples, to Manhattan and to just dunes, dunes, dunes.

3. The greens are wildly undulating and have great character. 13 is a favorite, a severe modified Biarritz with chocolate drop mounds to boot.

4. Like most advanced and talented architects, Bergstol is not a slave to the doctrine of framing and there are a handful of fascinating blind shots and shots over bunkers in the fairway.

Why it’s not a true links:

1. Too many forced carries to greens eliminate the ground game on all but 5-6 holes, especially the par-3s.

2. The course does not yet play firm and fast.

3. The “redan” hole is really not similar to either the one at National Golf Links of America OR North Berwick. Its actually might share more in common with an Eden hole. It is a truly interesting hole nonetheless as the green is hidden from the teebox (it’s severely elevated and the green size is concealed, extending toward the back).

In short, this is excellent work for an amateur. It was also a towering achievement getting it done in the first place in the doldroms NYC can be for golf course planning or renovation. Play it if you can, you won’t be disappointed, rookies and architecture experts all. Its greatest import architecturally speaking is the excellent use of twerracing to fit the course in a relatively small area with only one MINOR glitch in the routing, a tee shot crossover at two holes.

One last thing, for those of you who can, run don’t walk to Arcadia Bluffs in MIchigan to play a public access course on Lake Michigan similar in achievement design-wise and with great greens.

Top photo: 8th at Bayonne
Bottom photo: Fifth green biarritz at Arcadia

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