HILLSBOROUGH, N.J. -- This is old-school golf.
Designed by George Fazio and opened in 1971, Hillsborough Golf & Country Club is about placement, good wedge shots, chipping and putting. All the while, golfers can enjoy views of the Sourland Mountains and Amwell Valley below. It's hard to believe the serenity among the area's horse farms is just a little more than an hour from New York City.
This is the kind of course that might appear to be a pushover, but is far from it. Yet, with a little patience, good scores can be had. It's playable by all levels, even though there are only two sets of tees. Move to the front, which certainly aren't the ladies tees at 5,445 yards, and you're playing a par 73. Play it from the back, at 5,840 yards, and it's a par 70.
The star of this course is undoubtedly the greens. They slope in different directions, according to the hole. And you don't want to be putting from above the hole. They're not overly quick, but they are flawless, and they do putt true.
Drew Munro, the general manager at Hillsborough, says the greens and overall condition of the course draw from miles around, including members of the exclusive nearby The Ridge at Back Brook, a private club designed by Fazio's nephew Tom, 13 miles away in Ringoes, N.J.
"They love to play here," Munro said, "especially when it rains and their course is closed."
Hillsborough Golf & Country Club: Short yet challenging
Hillsborough has plenty of short par 4s, but very few -- if any -- are worth trying to drive. Greens are on the small side with plenty of slope, fairways are fairly narrow and also have a lot of pitch, and the rough and trouble around greens are ample. Translation: If you want to score, you have to manage your game. Do that, and you'll have a lot of fun and avoid frustration.
The golf course is really a tale of two nines. The front is flatter, although the greens have plenty of pitch. The first few holes are pretty straightforward, but the sixth, a 305-yard par 4, has a small water hazard that surrounds 60 percent of the green.
Interestingly, the no. 1 handicap hole is a par 3 -- the 190-yard eighth. What makes it tricky is that you hit to the green through a chute of trees. It's almost a dogleg left and missing left means a lost ball.
The 12th is also a quirky hole. At 295 yards, players can certainly reach the green on this downhill par 4, but the risk isn't worth it. The green isn't visible from the tee and there's very little landing area. Plus, a creek runs along the left side of the green. Also, if you hit your tee shot too far down the fairway, a large tree blocks you out. Local knowledge is paramount.
The rest of the back nine features some elevated tees and downhill and uphill holes. The 11th is a par 3 that has at least 60 feet of drop. And the 13th through 17th play uphill. The 18th is a par 3.
Hillsborough Golf & Country Club: The verdict
There's nothing fancy about Hillsborough Golf & Country Club; it's just a solid, enjoyable test of golf in a wonderfully peaceful setting. This is one of those courses where you can truly forget about the grind of daily life. No homes, no distractions and when you get to the greens, you better bring full concentration.
The staff is friendly, there's a nice snack bar and practice facilities are more than adequate with a driving range and short game area. In short, Hillsborough is worth the drive, though you might want to leave the driver in the trunk.