The Showcase Magazine - Articles


Baltusrol, the Most Celebrated Course in the U.S., Is Here!

By Walker Joyce

Continuing with our sports theme in the last few issues…

Nearly all golfers and most fans of the sport can identify Scotland’s St. Andrews as the game’s birthplace. Hallowed ground indeed, the seaside links of the Old Course have hosted players since the 1500’s.

Ask people to identify St. Andrews’ stateside equivalent, and most would say Augusta, the gorgeous course in Georgia that hosts the Masters tournament every spring. Or maybe Pebble Beach, the scenic wonder overlooking Carmel Bay on California’s Monterey Peninsula.

Both deserve to be in the conversation about our nation’s most famous and significant courses, but for sheer history about golf’s American legacy, no place can match the fame and prestige of the private club in Springfield.

Jack Nicklaus, Golf’s greatest player, has long declared Baltusrol to be one of his “favorites,” and “one of the finest in the world.” During the last 120 years, EVERY celebrated pro from Jack to his rival Arnold Palmer, from women champs like Mickey Wright, all the way up to Tiger Woods have competed there.

It is also the only set of fairways named after a murder victim. How fitting for theSopranos state!

The land was originally a prosperous farm, owned by a man named Baltus Roll. One midnight in February of 1831, two men broke into his house, and in full view of his wife they dragged him out of bed, punched and kicked him, then threw a rope around his neck and pulled him outside.

Mrs. Roll fled for her life and hid in the woods until dawn. She sought help from a neighbor, and they discovered Baltus’s corpse by the homestead’s gate, lying in an icy puddle. Belongings were strewn about, as the marauders were clearly searching for money and other valuables.

The widow identified two local toughs who were quickly arrested. One committed suicide, while the other, named Peter Davis, was tried in Newark, but acquitted. Most people believed the circumstantial evidence, and in an O.J.-like twist, Davis was subsequently convicted of four counts of forgery, and sentenced to 24 years in prison. He died behind bars.

A half-century later, golf was beginning to be played on makeshift courses in New England and the Midwest. It caught on quickly among the upper crust, and this was noticed by Louis Keller, the founder and publisher of the Social Register.

Ironically, this professional snob didn’t tee it up himself, but when golf became the rage among his friends in Newport, the Hamptons and other elite hot spots, he decided to build his own course. He owned over five hundred acres of prime real estate in New Jersey, including the hapless Roll’s property, and so, noting the proximity to Manhattan, he hired a Brit to design a 9-hole layout and converted what had been his country retreat into the first clubhouse.

The rest, as they say, is history. The Swells swelled the membership, tournaments began in 1901, and in 1918 the foremost course architect A.W. Tillinghast was tasked with creating the two 18-hole loops that still exist today. Soon, the New York papers declared Baltusrol “The Club of clubs.”

It’s hosted a string of U.S. Open championships and other prestigious events spanning the entire 20th century. They continue in the 21st, like the PGA title match I attended in 2005.

My brother has played Baltusrol a few times, courtesy of members he knows. I’m still waiting for my invitation!