West Caldwell, N.J. – No man has won more titles at Mountain Ridge Country Club than Jay Blumenfeld. The 60-year-old New Jersey native has been a member since 1978 and is a 20-time club champion.
Ever since the USGA announced that the 2012 USGA Senior Amateur would be conducted at Mountain Ridge, Blumenfeld has been looking forward to competing in a national championship at his home club.
“Getting in was the hardest part,” said Blumenfeld, who shot 69 at Preakness Hills Country Club to qualify for his second Senior Amateur. “The most pressure I’ve ever felt in golf was the qualifying round. I’m very happy about earning my way in.”
At Mountain Ridge, Blumenfeld will have fellow member Gary Kramer on his bag while playing in front of a large gallery comprised of friends, members and family – Blumenfeld’s wife, Merri, and his three children, who live nearby.
“It’s very exciting,” said Blumenfeld who lives in nearby Parsippany and owns an insurance agency. “The club has worked hard to prepare for this championship. All of my buddies are involved, and we’re very proud to show off our golf course.”
While he is excited about playing in front of a supportive audience, Blumenfeld quickly realized while preparing for the championship that there are distractions that arise from representing the host club – he has to juggle golf with work, home and hospitality.
“I’m trying to separate the championship from the other parts of my life,” said Blumenfeld, who put in half-days at the office on Thursday and Friday before driving over to Mountain Ridge for practice rounds. “I’m happy the stroke-play [qualifying] rounds are on the weekend. Hopefully, I won’t have anything on my mind other than golf.”
Other than his college years at the University of Miami, Blumenfeld has lived in New Jersey all his life. Dating back to 1968, when he first played Mountain Ridge for a high school match, Blumenfeld has played hundreds of rounds on the Donald Ross-designed course.
Still, every practice round for the Senior Amateur is important because he is not as familiar with Mountain Ridge’s putting surfaces as he is with the course from tee to green. A recently completed restoration expanded the greens to the sizes that Ross originally had laid out in 1931.
“Some of the hole locations are new due to the restoration,” said Blumenfeld. “So there are a lot of putts I haven’t seen before.”
Mountain Ridge members who have witnessed Blumenfeld’s dominance in club competitions may have high expectations for him this week. But the two-time New Jersey State Golf Association Player of the Year understands the chasm between club golf and a national championship.
“There’s a gigantic difference between scratch golfers who are club golfers and club golfers who are tournament golfers,” said Blumenfeld. “It’s a whole another level that has nothing to do with your handicap.”
Blumenfeld would be happy to continue to take time off from work if he can qualify for match play, which begins on Monday, and continue playing to the final match on Thursday.
“That would be a dream come true,” he said. “If I play decently, hopefully I can make the cut. And in match play, you never know.
“Regardless, I’ll come out and support the championship and my friends in the field. I may have to juggle my work schedule a bit.”
An Influential Design
The man responsible for the highly regarded restoration of Mountain Ridge Country Club is Ron Prichard, also a New Jersey native. He grew up in Fayson Lakes, located 15 miles and several socioeconomic strata from Mountain Ridge.
“I came from humble beginnings,” said Prichard, now based near Philadelphia. “Growing up nearby, I knew Mountain Ridge by reputation as an extremely prestigious club.”
Prichard was a teenager when he first played Mountain Ridge more than 50 years ago. He was awed by the course, one of several that helped shape his passion for course architecture.
His portfolio includes restorations of Ross classics like Aronimink Golf Club in Newton Square, Pa., The Minikahda Club in Minneapolis, and Charlotte (N.C.) Country Club, all venues that have hosted USGA championships. Given his background, Mountain Ridge represented more than just another job for Prichard.
“I was honored to be asked to discuss the restoration of the course,” said Prichard, whose original designs include TPC Southwind in Memphis, Tenn., site of the PGA Tour’s FedEx St. Jude Classic. “It’s very rewarding to see the pride that the club has shown for Ross’ vision.”
Nearly five decades after his first visit to Mountain Ridge, Prichard is looking forward to watching how the best senior amateur golfers in the country handle the strategic options that he restored to the course.
“I’m particularly happy about my work at one of the courses that has high visibility among knowledgeable amateur golfers,” he said. “I’m going to enjoy what I think is going to be a really successful test of golf.”
Hunki Yun is a senior writer for the USGA. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.