courtesy crystal feathers
You come to New York for Broadway, the Empire State Building, the Museum of Modern Art and soup dumplings in Chinatown. If you come to play golf, then… are you trying to secure a precious tee time at Bethpage Black? Do you scan phone contacts for members at Winged Foot?
The city that never sleeps can be an exhausting place for golfers open to the public, from someone who has called the place home for more than a decade. Traffic is a bear, courses are busy. Other parts of the country have plenty of top-notch resort properties. To the west, Bandon Dunes and Pebble Beach; Pinehurst and Sea Pines to the southeast; Stream song in Florida and so on. In the Northeast and especially in the New York City area, that’s less the case, as Crystal Springs Resort in northern New Jersey, just 50 miles from MoMA and amid the beautiful Kittatinny Mountains, is overlooked. It shouldn’t.
I recently visited with my wife, teenage son and father, mother and sister-in-law. No, this was not a creative piece of criminal conviction by a judge; we get along well. But when we tried to think of a car destination where we would all have enough things to keep us happy, we were stunned — until a friend suggested Crystal Springs (where over 90 percent of the guests are the drive-in variant). Beat your own forehead: of course! I had been here ten years earlier with my wife, Lorraine, and son Ike and had a wonderful stay, but somehow it was off my radar.
We arrived in the morning – my family and in-laws, Herb and Adrienne, from the Hudson Valley, sister-in-law Denise from the hipster enclave of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, all in about 90 minutes. Comfortable. The women are crafty, so their first stop was the Paint-and-Plant activity, each decorating a planter, one of the resort’s many activities, led by young, energetic, and friendly staff, to keep people entertained. keep as they want to be . (Later, the sisters would do archery, and in the interest of family harmony, I won’t name the winner.) Herb pleased himself with a bike ride and later a hike along a stretch of the Appalachian Trail.
In a similar vein, Ike and I went to the resort’s Cascades 9-hole golf course – without our golf clubs. Instead, we signed out a few footballs and started a round of FootGolf, the football/golf hybrid. Apologies for the bragging rights, but years ago, Ike was the inaugural U-10 New York State FootGolf Champion, beating a stacked field of four. But after he retired from football a while ago, kicking a ball had also disappeared from his radar.
Our game was messier than Messi’s, but we had a great time. Kick and chase, kick and chase – what a blissful break from stressing over 4-footers with a putter! One of the benchmarks of a resort stay, in my opinion, is the extent to which it turns back the clock on your life, and Crystal Springs succeeds in many ways. Later, Ike would cool off in the tropical biosphere pool, making several descents on the two-story, twisting waterslide, replacing all traces of a grumpy teen with a mile-wide grin, chatting on the stairs to the top with small children and overgrown those right away. to be. Yes, we all had some gelato from the Biosphere Café when it was done, and it was delicious.
That turned out to be a theme during our three-day visit: the food and drink offerings are excellent in Crystal Springs. This starts at the high end of things, with the gourmet Restaurant Latour consistently rated as one of the state’s best restaurants, and arguably the best. I’m not one to photograph my meals, but I couldn’t resist taking a picture of every course. This is food like art, and even better, it all tasted as insanely good as it looked.
The name “Latour” does not come out of nowhere. According to Wine SpectatorCrystal Springs has long boasted of North America – not that of New Jersey, North Americas – the best wine collection, currently 75,000 bottles strong (down from over 125,000 at one point) yet somehow longer on quality than quantity. There are certainly few better places to do the burst, bucket list, price-no-object meal; if you are an oenophile, add the wine pairing, guided by sommelier Gianni Chiodi Sr. from Palermo, Italy, join the chef’s tasting menu for a not ultra experience. (And take one of the daily wine cellar tours, too.)
Then there was the buffet for the police – stay here with me. The night of our arrival coincided with the resort’s fifth annual Law Enforcement Open, a day-long charity event that brings together police from across the Tri-State region for friendly competition as a thank you from the resort’s owners to the men and women in blue. Kelsey Grammar, known for “Cheers” and “Frasier”, lent his celebrity, soft voice and line of local craft beers to the event. The stars of the show, however, were the bagpipers who played “Amazing Grace” and “Balmoral”, while the top four two-man teams were once again welcomed onto the 18th green after the aforementioned after-golf buffet at the Ireland-in-Jersey Ballyowen of course – that, and the vicious but good-natured bickering that the teams, about to enter a playoff, had to endure from their defeated comrades. (This event is for law enforcement officials only, but those who want to play alongside them can participate in an inaugural, undisclosed event on October 12.)
While this was a drive-in for the day getaway, Crystal Springs—the Northeast’s largest golf, spa, and culinary resort (and the largest solar-powered resort west of the Mississippi)—is spinning all the way for remote meetings, with 100,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor meeting and banquet spaces and a large, experienced team of concierge, catering, AV and conference service people to beat the band. (They can also find you a band.) With two different hotels (a mountain, a valley) with all types of rooms and suites; two day spas (including Reflections, where a message passed, my previously stressed wife happily informed me, by turning her head 180 degrees again); three clubhouse and pool complexes (including the hopping, Jersey party vibe at the Vista 180 infinity pool); 10 restaurants; a fitness club; and a mountaintop lake and nature center, there really isn’t a gathering where you couldn’t succeed here.
Me, I needed more team building with my 14 year old, and that ultimately meant golfing with golf clubs. Of the resort’s six championship courses, Ballyowen tops the list (as on several public rankings), followed by Wild Turkey. Both were designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr. associate Roger Rulewich, the first in 1998, the latter three years later.
Ballyowen preceded Instagram, but today it’s mostly an Instagram course, with countless glorious photo opportunities. Oh, the heather in the sun. It’s not surprising that it looks more like a link than it plays; it is not solid ground and the air game you are used to at home is in effect. “Left-style” is fine with me, as long as the heather aspects work, and they do. Likewise, you will be riding a cart, not walking, as there are a few pulls between the holes. Trendy lay of the land minimalism is not.
Ballyowen preceded Instagram, but today it’s mostly an Instagram course.
What Ballyowen is is muscular, beautiful, often heroic golf, very well presented and maintained. Pure golf too, without a house in sight. Based on my example of one, the back nine is slightly better scoring and varied in terms of shooting requirements. In short, Ballyowen is a strong, scenic test that is enjoyable no matter how you perform on that test.
The Wild Turkey course is a bit of a turducken, that famous turkey/duck/chicken mashup. The treeless holes in the pelvic area, No’s. 3 and 12-17, are reminiscent of Ballyowen and would sit there comfortably. (It’s also not walkable.) Elsewhere, the design pays tribute to the resort’s first eponymous course (ie, Crystal Springs), with its many significant elevation changes.
There’s plenty of eye candy here too, the most famous and photogenic hole that spans the gorge, par-3 7th (just beat the wild dropshot one-shotter at number 10), but perhaps the prettiest, most elegant hole on the course be the 6th, an almost-but-not-quite rideable, handsome par-4 with an overhanging tree that makes the left pegs inaccessible to drive too far to the left. Like hybrid clubs, this hybrid course proved to be very effective at its job, in this case providing a winning mix of challenge, playability and beauty.
However, Ike’s favorite trail was tackled hours later – after sunset. Crystal Springs boasts one of the nation’s earliest (and best-engineered) 18-hole all-grass putting courses, which is now nearly strict at top resorts. It’s definitely fun during the day… but playing ‘Glow Golf’ at night with lighted balls and flagpoles? Now we have a total hoot because what isn’t lit are the greens. It’s like the golf version of pin the tail on the donkey.
On our last night, the whole family was there after sunset, clearing up, giggling as balls drifted without warning, cheering as someone miraculously waved off to the hole and, once, even in for a hole-in-one. (From Ike, of course.) Remember when successful vacations take you back in time? A happy teenager surrounded by parents, aunts and grandparents, all of them oohing and ahh about a fool’s game – Crystal Springs had worked its magic. It will no longer be forgotten.