When he designed his first Crystal Springs course, after thirty-four years of working with Robert Trent Jones Sr., Roger Rulewich was handed 250 acres of what he calls "an architect's dream: a single, congruent piece of property" and turned it into the fluid, treeless challenge of Ballyowen. Three years after Ballyowen opened to acclaim as part of the Crystal Springs Golf & Spa Resort, in rural New Jersey, Rulewich has solved what might be considered an architect's nightmare: a far-flung patchwork of terrains, including a mountain ridge, a woodland quarry and a scooped-out gravel pit, all divided by a local road and railroad tracks. The resulting layout, called Wild Turkey, is the fifth course in the sprawling Crystal Springs golfopolis, forty-seven miles northwest of New York City, and it could become the crown jewel. (The other courses, all within a five-mile radius, are Crystal Springs, by Robert von Hagge; Black Bear, by Jack Kurlander and David Glenz; and a nifty executive nine-holer, by Robert Trent Jones Sr.)
For roller-coaster drama, Wild Turkey easily rivals Crystal Springs, which it adjoins (they will eventually share a single clubhouse). The opening hole, a 411-yard par four, plunges down the side of the ridge to a landing area with traps on both sides; the artfully bunkered green is backstopped by a 150-year-old white oak. The 194-yard downhill par three that follows is, gulp, the shortest on the course and introduces what will be a recurring demand for highly accurate approaches to greens that may not be quite as small as they look but can be fairly narrow-aproned, with steep falloffs behind and to the sides.
Wild Turkey abounds in sobering tests and clever winks from the designer—the strategically placed cross-bunker on the uphill, 634-yard seventeenth, for instance, or the forced carry over water on the 429-yard fifteenth to a landing area that turns out to be wider and more forgiving than it looks from the tee. Ho-ho-ho. But the tests all come with rewards, not just in shot value but also in visual delight and architectural variety. The holes that line the long, swooping basin of the former gravel pit can be taken in with a single awed blink of the eye and contrast with the vertiginous thrill of the ridge holes and the parkland feel of other parts of the course.
Indeed, the par threes might force you to screw your eyes back into your head. The 208-yard seventh hole requires a long carry over the water-filled quarry, with its white granite walls. The even more spectacular tenth hole drops 150 feet like a ski jump to a bull's-eye of a green (slanted, mercifully, back to front). Behind it, a wooded ridge rises gently and recedes toward the Kittatinny Mountains. On this facing ridge, the hamlet of Hamburg peeks from between the trees, presenting a gleaming white church steeple on a red roof as a target line, which is appropriate: Before launching your ball into this abyss, it wouldn't hurt to pray.
GREEN FEES: $55$90
TEE TIMES: 973-827-5996; CRYSTALGOLFRESORT.COM