JERSEY CITY, N.J. — An old adage suggests that one man’s trash is another man’s treasure.
Skyway Golf Course at Lincoln Park West, still in its infancy, has perhaps proved both sides of the axiom after developing a pristine nine-hole layout atop an old Hudson County landfill.
It’s not every day a course can boast that.
“Please don’t write about this,” said a half-pleading Ivan Sobolov, of Hoboken, N.J., and a regular player since the course opened in July of 2015. “This is an absolute gem, a hidden gem, and the more attention it gets, the harder it’s going to be for us to get on.”
Sobolov definitely has the gem part right. Some patrons have likened it to an urban oasis. It’s an apropos label because the course sits smack dab within Jersey City surrounded by dilapidated industrial buildings and ramshackle edifices. Getting to it — through a rutted back street lined with semi-truck repair and parts shops — at first feels like a GPS gone mad.
That’s until the lustrous course comes into view at the end of the street. Suddenly it’s utopia at the Emerald City.
Once on-site, the tranquil panoramic sights of the Manhattan skyline and Pulaski Skyway bring mild comparisons to the breathless San Francisco vistas at The Olympic Club.
One would have little clue that 150 million cubic yards of fill, a 2-foot sand calf and 4 to 6 inches of soil were melded to form something so aesthetically pleasing 30 to 40 feet above ground level. The landfill, of course, was excavated and capped.
That angle aside, the Jeff Grossman and Roy Case design also offers a fun, stern test. In fact, the word “fun” came up in almost a dozen interviews of those who have played the course.
“You’re going to need to hit every shot,” said 43-year-old Steve Mills, KemperSports general manager and director of golf operations since the course opened. “It’s very possible that you will hit every golf club in your bag.”
Said Joe Stanczyk, 57, of Hoboken: “Before the family wakes up, I can get out here and it’s the perfect amount of golf. They’re trying to make it fun, yet challenging, and they’re doing a damn good job of it.”
County residents, who are able to purchase a golf card for $45 (senior and junior cards are $25), can make tee times up to seven days in advance and qualify for cheaper greens fees. Card-holders pay between $20-24 a nine-hole round depending whether it’s a weekday or weekend. Non-registered golfers are charged between $35-39. The course also offers junior and senior discounts. Carts are separate.
Golfers are coming and revisiting in droves. Last year the course did just shy of 43,000 rounds, according to Mills. It’s not a surprise considering the area boasts roughly 2.5 million golfers within a 20-minute circumference.
More important, Skyway is the only public course in the county - as mystifying as that sounds. Liberty National Golf Club, which will host this week's Presidents Cup, and Bayonne Golf Club are also located within Hudson County, but they are exclusive.
Rounds take about two hours on weekdays to a little more than two hours and 15 minutes on weekends. As for now, players can get their golf jones on from March through December. The hope is to perhaps open the doors year-round weather permitting. The grow-in process, under superintendent Matt Castagna, is nearing full completion.
Created as a championship nine, the par-36, 3,247-yard (from the tips) layout features an equal number of par three, four and five holes. It’s a non-traditional links-style course. Man-made would be the better description.
“It plays a lot like a links course and you certainly can’t find that around here,” said Craig Burel, 30, who estimated he’s played Skyway about 50 times.
Magnificent grass-topped dunes, ala Whistling Straits, punctuate some holes. Tight rolling bentgrass fairways are beholden to the eye on most others. Similar to a U.S. Open setup, the primary rough – mainly Kentucky bluegrass – can be deep and imposing. Fescue makes up the secondary rough, which could be a round-killer if someone were to find himself in it too much.
The par-4 fifth, par-5 eighth and par-3 ninth are considered the signature holes. On the 459-yard fifth, it’s all uphill to the 12,500 square-foot green – the largest putting surface on the course.
It wouldn’t be incorrect to say the 523-yard dogleg right eighth hole may be the toughest. The carry off the tee is about 225 yards over a Hackensack River tributary. The 12-yard-wide green doesn’t offer much of a target, either.
One might have a better time reading tea leaves than knowing what to hit off the 175-yard ninth, which abuts the Hackensack River. It’s not uncommon for a player to hit pitching wedge or 3-wood based on the wind’s unpredictability.
After all this, the greens can be like putting on concrete. Early in the season they consistently run about 11-12 on the Stimpmeter, but gradually have increased to 14 or 15 as the course has dried out.
“In my personal opinion, the wind is what makes the course fun,” said Mills, who at one time was a PGA apprentice. “You can go around and play the front nine and everything will be downwind, and then go back around and play the nine again two hours later and everything is upwind. “
Word has gradually gotten out. Mills has seen his share of ex-mayors and governors, politicians, sports figures and TV celebrities come to play. Last year Kevin Na prepared for the PGA Championship there. Na set the course record with a 32, according to Mills.
On a warm and muggy day, one Scottish-man was eager to play it for the first time. He had heard positive reviews and didn’t come away disappointed.
“I was pleasantly surprised,” said Doug Macnab. “You look at it and wonder how they put a golf course here. A challenging course, too. In five to 10 years when it matures, it’s going to be something else. It is fun. It’s what you would call urban golf.”
Ken Klavon was the online editor and a senior writer at the U.S. Golf Association for 12 years. He has covered golf for 22 years.