I have bad memories of New Jersey from pretty much every time I’ve been there. (And a half-hour of my life I’ll never get back from MTV.) This isn’t the time or place for those “horror” stories, but suffice it to say, if you’d told me that the unanimous family vote for favorite resort of our 18-facility, 31-day trip was going to be in New Jersey, I’d have outright laughed in your face. And yet that’s pretty much precisely what Golf Advisor’s Jason Deegan said when I asked him about the place.
“I guarantee you this: Your kids will never want to leave (Crystal Springs),” he said.
He wasn’t the least bit kidding. His only error was in restricting those sentiments to the kids. My wife had to be dragged out kicking and screaming as well -- in her own church mouse kind of way.
Crystal Springs Resort is only 45 miles from downtown Manhattan. While 15 miles of that is congested insanity, the other 30 miles are insanely beautiful. How is it possible so many locals haven’t heard of this place? If there were a resort like Crystal Springs in the Midwest, it would be sold out 364.5 days a year. It’s a combination of the best water park in the Wisconsin Dells (Wis.), the service of a Madden’s (Minn.) or Prairie Club (Neb.), the majestic landscaping of a Big Cedar Lodge (Missou.) and the golf arsenal of... Well, no destination in the Midwest has six golf courses. If you think you get the point, though, I’ve only just begun.
Crystal Springs is a year-round vacation destination. Their Grand Cascades Lodge is one of the nicest hotels I’ve ever stayed in worldwide -- a AAA 4-Diamond palace with a spectacular Kittatinny Mountain Range backdrop -- and contains one of the world’s coolest swimming pools as well. The Biosphere tropical pool complex offers an indoor pool with waterfalls and slides that becomes bioluminescent in the dark, neon-ifying whatever you’re wearing. That tropical-themed paradise leads to an outdoor heated pool, ideal for those cool summer nights and even the way-subtropical winter ones.
The perimeter of the lodge is wrapped in the best putting course I’ve ever played. Super fun for glow-golf as well. As for the interior, the rooms and suites are so spacious and plush. The lower-level houses the new and lavish Reflections Spa and Salon, and a variety of dining options are scattered throughout the Lodge and the adjacent golf clubhouse with something tasty and pricey for every age and appetite. (I admittedly have an issue with $12 kids meals.)
The other resort hotel, Minerals, is a AAA 3-Diamond hotel with additional diverse, spacious room layouts and great guest amenities like the Sports Club, indoor/outdoor pools and the Adventure Center. Spa lovers (like my wife) gravitate to Minerals for the “Top 30 in America” luxurious and liberating lounge that is Elements.
Both hotels at Crystal Springs are just a short complimentary shuttle ride from America’s most controversial adventure zone, Action Park. There are infinite reasons why Crystal Springs doesn’t directly affiliate itself with the terrifying “love it or hate it” facility and just as many reasons why the shuttles back and forth are always packed. A golf writer (who threatened to out me as a Taylor Swift fan if I named him) told me, “The shuttle ride over is free, but the ambulance ride back is pretty expensive.” The place has quite the history.
And then there are the resort’s six golf courses. Ballyowen is mostly deserving of its No. 1 in State ranking with at least seven phenomenal holes, but as a golf-architecture student I would have a few things to say to RTJ Sr.’s apprentice, Roger Rulewich, for starting the course with consecutive short par 4s that encourage bombers to go for the green. And essentially makes four of the first six holes bottlenecks on busy days from all tees. Other than almost being killed twice out there by long drivers (and a third time in confronting one of them) I did thoroughly LOVE the rest of the fescue-lined frolic around the Celtic-themed track. The bagpiper was a great touch too.
Design-wise I’m absolutely smitten with Mr. Roger’s neighborhood favorite, Wild Turkey. Rulewich perfectly mixed his mastery from Ballyowen with the resort’s original and wildly landscaped Crystal Springs Golf Club in this 18-hole adventure. Using limestone ridges, beautiful basins and some crazy quarry carries, he created a highlight reel of dramatic moments that no player will soon forget. I don’t care how many balls I lost, this is the one I most long to go back to.
Four other courses complete the Crystal Collection, each with their own quirks and highlights. All together the six rounds amount to a delectable deluge of diverse golf, the perfect complement to a resort experience you’ll also never forget.
I’m going to loosely repeat the words of a genius in wrapping this all up: “Crystal Springs Resort. Yeah, you’ll wish you never had to leave.”