The current 282-acre site for the club was purchased in 1929 for $285,000, and renowned architect Donald Ross was hired to design the layout on the western side of Second Mountain. Making several visits to the site, Ross created two nine-hole loops with each side beginning with an encouragingly downhill opening hole, and closing with two challenging uphill holes that rise back toward the clubhouse. The course was considered a stout test when it opened in 1931 and not much has changed over the past 80 years, although architect Ron Pritchard, a noted expert in Ross designs, was brought in for some restorations.
Often described as one of the Metropolitan Golf Association’s “hidden gems,” Mountain Ridge has hosted many prestigious local competitions, including the MGA’s Ike Championship in 2007. It also has hosted four New Jersey PGA Championships, three Metropolitan Opens, the New Jersey State Golf Association Amateur and the MGA Amateur. The 2012 USGA Senior Amateur will be the first USGA championship ever conducted at the facility.
Mountain Ridge was actually formed in 1912 when 25 charter members filed a Document of Incorporation with the State of New Jersey. The original club was located on a 176-acre plot in West Orange, N.J. Part of the club’s original property is now the Essex Green Shopping Center. Because so many of the club’s original members knew how to play golf, the official opening was celebrated with a softball game.
The initial nine-hole course was designed by David Hunter, a professional at the nearby Essex County Country Club and opened for play in 1913. A.W. Tillinghast created a new course during the winter of 1916-17, which caught the eyes of Essex County C.C., and later led to classic designs of Baltusrol in nearby Springfield, Winged Foot in Mamaroneck, N.Y., Baltimore Country Club’s Five Farms Course and other nationally recognized layouts.
However, that site was extremely hilly and didn’t lend itself to good design, so Mountain Ridge retained Seth Raynor and George Banks in 1926 to advise the club on further modifications to the layout. They told the club that no amount of money could build the members a quality course on the existing grounds. For a second opinion, the club turned to past U.S. Amateur champion Walter Travis, paying him $250 for his opinions. He, too, echoed the thoughts of Raynor and Banks.
A.J. Dimond, one of the club’s founders, spearheaded an effort to find a suitable buyer for the land, so the club could relocate. The funds came from an unlikely source, the Public Service Corporation of New Jersey. The utility wanted a portion of the land for its power distribution facilities and ultimately purchased the property for $618,625 in 1928. That enabled Mountain Ridge to look for another club site and it settled on its current location.
Mountain Ridge has had a few prominent members through its history, including Dimond, the head of a major steel specialty company involved in creating cranes essential to the newly opened Panama Canal, and Louis Bamberger, the owner of one of the largest department stores in the country. Past members also included Joseph Weintraub, the Chief Justice of the New Jersey Supreme Court, Felix Fuld, the first New Jersey Parks Commissioner and U.S. Senator Frank Lautenberg. Current USGA Executive Committee member Bill Katz also calls Mountain Ridge home.
The Tudor-style fieldstone clubhouse at Mountain Ridge was designed by architect Clifford C. Wendehack, who built similarly-styled centerpieces for Winged Foot, Ridgewood and Bethpage. His 1929 book, “Golf and Country Clubs: A Survey of Requirements of Planning, Construction and Equipment of the Modern Clubhouse,” was the first scholarly examination of clubhouse architecture as a distinct discipline.