HAMBURG, N.J. -- The links theme might feel a bit manufactured for purists, but there's no doubting the pure excellence of Ballyowen Golf Club, the headliner of the seven courses at Crystal Springs Golf Resort.
The 7,094-yard Ballyowen ranks second among the state's top public courses by Golfweek for many reasons. The men in kilts greeting golfers at the bag drop are just an appetizer to the real show, teeing it up on wide open expanse of land fraught with native fescue, craggy bunkers, rocky outcroppings on No. 12 and enough water to make players think.
Wide fairways and large greens designed by architect Roger Rulewich allow sloppy shots to survive, but scoring well requires real precision. For example, the final approach at No. 18 can play three to four clubs different, depending on the pin placement on the elongated, elevated green. Water comes into play on five holes, especially a round-defining stretch at holes nos. 5-7.
The pond that affects all three holes pinches the fairway on the par-5 fifth, gobbling up errant second shots. A sinking feeling comes over those who slice or duff tees shots into the drink on the par-3 sixth. The demanding seventh hole might be the toughest par 4 on the course with water up the entire right side. Water hazards don't normally work on links courses, but at Ballyowen G.C., they fit right into a dynamic design.