Club HistoryMountain Ridge Country Club, located in West Caldwell, New Jersey, was officially formed on April 17, 1912, when 25 charter members filed a Document of Incorporation with the State of New Jersey. In 2012 the club celebrated its 100th anniversary.
The original Mountain Ridge golf course was located in West Orange, on a 176-acre plot. Because so few of the original members knew how to play golf when the club was created, the official opening was celebrated with a softball game. The initial nine-hole course was laid out by David Hunter, golf professional at the nearby Essex County Country Club, and opened for play in 1913. Thereafter, A.W. Tillinghast created a new course on the site during the winter of 1916-17. Tillinghast’s work at Mountain Ridge caught the eye of the leaders at Essex County, and his efforts there resulted in him obtaining commissions to design Baltusrol, Winged Foot, Baltimore (Five Farms), and other classic courses.
Despite the Tillinghast pedigree, the golf course was troubled. The site was extremely hilly, and did not lend itself to good design. In 1926, Mountain Ridge retained Seth Raynor and George Banks to advise the club on modifications to the layout. Raynor and Banks reported that no amount of money could build a satisfactory course at that location. For a second opinion, the club turned to Walter Travis, a three-time U.S. Amateur champion and the first US citizen to win the British Amateur, paying him $250 to visit and provide his views. Travis confirmed what Raynor and Banks had said, and soon thereafter Mountain Ridge began looking to sell its course in the hopes of reestablishing itself at a different location.
Club president A.J. Dimond, a well known philanthropist and the head of a major steel specialty company that provided cranes essential to the building of the Panama Canal, spearheaded the effort to find a buyer for the course. With debt piling up and no purchaser in sight for a golf course deemed unsatisfactory and with an inadequate clubhouse, salvation came from an unlikely source: the Public Service Corporation of New Jersey. The utility wanted to use a portion of the land for its power distribution facilities and it ultimately purchased the property in 1928 for $618,625. The transaction allowed Mountain Ridge to keep using the course until a new site could be found. Were it not for the providential offer from Public Service, the club could well have sunk under the weight of its debts and the impending Great Depression.
After an exhaustive search, the Mountain Ridge Board of Governors settled on a 282-acre parcel in West Caldwell, New Jersey for its new site and purchased the property for $285,000 in 1929. The club hired prominent golf course architect Donald Ross to design a course on land that swept downward from a natural clubhouse spot, paying him $2,500 plus the cost of supervising construction, which came to an additional $14,000.
Making a number of visits to the site, Ross created two loops of nine holes. Ross closed each loop with a long hole, the last of each nine rising dramatically back to the clubhouse. The two nines have been reversed from their original order, but each retains its character and flow.
While the fairways are generously proportioned and the greens will generally accept a running shot into them, the course is deceptively difficult. The greens themselves have subtle tilts and distinct ridges, always affected by the downhill incline to the west. The green surrounds create delicate challenges for any approach that has missed the target, and a recent restoration has brought many of Ross’s characteristic run-off areas back to their original closely-mown state.
The golf course has always been very highly regarded, and was considered a difficult test when it opened in 1931. Little has changed in the 80 years since. Often described as one of the NYC Metropolitan Area’s “hidden gems”, Mountain Ridge has hosted many championships of the New Jersey State Golf Association and Metropolitan Golf Association, including four New Jersey PGA championships, three Metropolitan Opens, Amateur Championships of both the NJSGA and MGA, and most recently the MGA’s Ike Championship in 2007 and the New Jersey PGA Championship in 2017. In 2012, Mountain Ridge hosted its first USGA event, the USGA Senior Amateur Championship. The Met Open will be returning in 2020.
The golf course has had a number of honors and high rankings bestowed upon it by Golf Digest, Met Golfer, Links Magazine and a number of other publications. Links has included Mountain Ridge among its list of “Best Club Experiences in the Met Area”, noting, “The Ross design features some of the finest- and quickest- greens in the state.” In 2012, the golf course was awarded Golf Magazine’s “Renovation of the Year”.
The striking fieldstone clubhouse was designed by architect Clifford C. Wendehack, who built similarly-styled centerpieces for Winged Foot, Ridgewood and Bethpage, among others. His 1929 book, “Golf and Country Clubs: A Survey of Requirements of Planning, Construction, and Equipment of the Modern Clubhouse,” was the first scholarly examination of clubhouse architecture as a distinct discipline.
Mountain Ridge has had many prominent members throughout its 100 year history. Among its founders were Louis Bamberger, whose Newark department store, Bamberger’s, was among the largest in the Unites States, and Felix Fuld, Bamberger’s brother-in-law who was the first Parks Commissioner of New Jersey. The prominent membership has also included Joseph Weintraub, former Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg, and A.J. Dimond (as above), among others.
There are few markers dedicated to individuals at Mountain Ridge. A sundial has stood at the circular entrance to the clubhouse since its opening in 1931; it honors Fuld, who died shortly before the club’s acquisition of the West Caldwell property. A plaque in the entry hall honors Dimond for his efforts on behalf of the club and the community. And a small garden and rock near the golf pro shop commemorates Terry Hadash, beloved club general manager who died in 1997.