MONROE TOWNSHIP, N.J. – The wind was cold as Spanish steel. A golf ball-gray sky stretched end-to-end across the horizon, clouds moving forlornly before the breeze. To the west a dark thunderhead roiled, black as a witch’s cauldron.
Yet to the buoyant hearts of northeast golfers it might have well been a sunny 4th of July.
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“What a perfect day for golf. Just you, the wind and a classic, old school masterpiece,” said guest Rob Cockburn, and he’s right.
Golf has returned to a grateful northeast, and, on an early spring day, the Banks Course at Forsgate Country Club seems timeless. Stern and stark, it resembles more a forlorn windswept British heath than the Garden State, flags fluttering proudly in lonely eminence silhouetted against the bleak sky, but that’s the idea behind Golden Age golf. With the right kind of eyes, you can see what the players have seen for centuries.
But as true connoisseurs know, what matters most isn’t how a golf course looks, but it's how a golf course plays, and Forsgate - one of the nation’s Great Treasures of Golf (yes...capital G, T and G) - has repelled winter’s chill with aplomb, opening the season with fast, firm and, most importantly, dry conditions.
“Tom Saunders, the old super, did a fantastic job winterizing the course,” explained an ebullient Stephen Kay, the golf architect whose work at the mighty Banks Course was celebrated all across the golf world as a high-water mark in the world of restorations. “The greens, tees and fairways are already in great shape. It’s in such good condition, the new super and I have been able to start some of our more advanced objectives already.”
That’s great news on two fronts. First, the club continues to promote Kay’s master plan to enlarge the green complexes to the full size of the green pad, bringing into play all the superb strategic features Banks had originally designed. Secondly and equally important, the new superintendent is acclimating so well, he and Kay can dive in with both feet on the most advanced projects this early in the year.
“You’re gonna love this guy!” Kay beams enthusiastically, “Donald Asinski: Previously he was the super at Marine Park, and before that he was the assistant super at Pelham Country Club. He also worked at Congressional.”
That’s quite the pedigree. Marine Park’s reclamation from the slag heap of New York City public golf courses and ascension to the toast of the town was major golf news last year. One important reason was the dramatic improvement in conditioning under Kay and Asinski’s watch. Moreover, Congressional and Pelham are counted among the greatest of Golden Age architect Devereux Emmet’ designs. Congressional (Blue) has hosted four major championships and a wildly successful PGA Tour stop, while Pelham is important for historical reasons, a sterling example of architect Devereux Emmet’s precious legacy.
“The other important thing we’ve been doing is mowing the collars down so the green and fairway blend seamlessly into one another and so you have all kinds of options around the greens. It’s quintessential Banks,” Kay confided. “This is critical because that’s the way the course was designed and meant to be played.”
Even on the first day of play, you can see the benefits. Fast and firm – especially for early April! - all of the formidable design features of the Banks Course’s unparalleled architectural heritage are already proving a daunting test. Indifferently struck shots ricochet wildly off the Knoll guarding the sixth green or the kick-plate at the Reverse Redan at seven. Best of all, the greens are already rolling true as glass.
It’s a homecoming of sorts as well for Asinski – metaphorically speaking. He was a star pupil of Kay’s when Stephen taught him turfgrass management at Rutgers University in 2001.
“He was one of my top student, and let me tell you something else,” he adds enthusiastically. “Donald has passed his Players Ability Test. He’s a terrific golfer.”
Now the clouds start to part and shafts of light bathe the pin on the eighth green with an almost holy radiance. The wind dies to a zephyr, and the air is sweet and fragrant. When you stop and listen, there’s no sound except the birds brightly twittering.
It’s solace amidst the traffic of the world.
As we finish our round, we see countless other happy faces welcoming each other back. Pals greet each other inn the grill room before tucking into a hearty lunch of seafood soup and mile-high burgers. Pretty golf moms in saddle shoes smile widely as they sip cosmos on the deck. And on the practice range a family with small children wide-eyed with wonder swing tiny clubs.
“LOOK, DADDY, LOOK!! LOOK I HIT IT! I HIT IT! I LOVE GOLF!” she squeals with delight, while her parents smile at each other and share a knowing glance. The family that plays together stays together, and that’s definitely an imperative at Forsgate. It’s a family place, a place where everybody loves the game with the joy of a child. And why not? They are stewards of not just their golf course, in all its stately grandeur, but of all the game’s traditions, history, and ethos. 85 years of rousing cheers and smiling peers, of hearts sincere and friendships dear. Golf has returned like Persephone to a grateful northeast. And we are all happier for it.