A Golf Smorgasbord at Crystal Springs Resort


Like it was yesterday, I recall being dropped off at Vernon Valley & Great Gorge ski school at the ripe age of three.  It was amid a snowstorm.

The following week, our family again made the 75-minute trek to those same New Jersey slopes, but it was 55 degrees and sunny, so my mini skis took to manufactured conditions.

With 10 minutes left in our drive to the bunny hill, we passed golf courses.  That was my first exposure to what would eventually become a 30-year-plus business career promoting the activity of hitting a little white ball toward a little white hole.

Fifty years later and now dubbed Mountain Creek, the ski, snowboard and snow tube haven remains alive and well.  So does a smorgasbord of golf with award-winning layouts, all wrapped up in the legendary, four-seasons hang-out known as Crystal Springs Resort in Hamburg, New Jersey.

Only a tad more than an hour from New York City, low and high handicappers alike revel in the resort’s #golfforeveryone mantra.

OMG … Crystal Springs’ options are aplenty:  Ballyowen is the headliner with Black Bear, Crystal Springs, Wild Turkey, Cascades and Minerals golf courses also top tier.  Add an 18-hole putting course to total seven options guaranteed to delight.

For those opting to hone their games, the David Leadbetter Academy follows the swing methodology of the legendary instructor to Nick Faldo, Greg Norman, Ernie Els, Nick Price, Charles Howell III, Michelle Wie, Lydia Ko and other stars amassing more than 26 major and 150 professional tournament wins worldwide.

Here’s the skinny:

  • Ballyowen – A perennial Golf Digest, GOLF Magazine and Golfweek “best-of” winner, the spectacular links-style layout channels the heathland style landscapes of Ireland and Scotland.  Designed by Roger Rulewich, the longtime lead associate for Hall of Fame designer Robert Trent Jones Sr., the course opened in 1998 and inhabits 250 acres across a scenic plateau of open meadows, rolling farmland and 360-degree views of the Wallkill River.  From the tips at 7,094 yards, Ballyowen is described as “brawny golf” for its bark, including water hazards on holes 5, 6, 7, 11 and 15.  Fittingly of the Emerald Isle, a kilt-clad starter and bagpiper greet golfers as they approach the first tee.  Don’t forget the amazing Scotch collection here.
  • Black Bear – More benevolent than its Ballyowen counterpart, casual and serious golfers thoroughly enjoy this 6,675-yard gem rife with rolling hills, pristine fairways and beautiful water features. Diverse terrain, majestic scenery and a bevy of shot selections make for repeated family fun.  Weekly events, exclusive offers and tempting food and beverage options at the clubhouse are enticing.
  • Crystal Springs – The resort’s namesake layout squarely defines challenge. Despite measuring just over 6,800 yards from the championship tees, the course features Robert von Hagge’s signature, often defiant design with rolling mounds that line the fairways and greens, providing beautiful contrast between the cuts requiring hyper-accurate shotes.  The course also features an important piece of the resort’s history in the form of clear waters of natural springs formed by old limestone quarries, particularly on the 11th hole.
  • Wild Turkey – Combining the expansive layout of Ballyowen with the multi-elevated design of Crystal Springs, Wild Turkey is one of the Garden State’s most unique golf courses. The topography is best described as basin and ridge, providing golfers with the type of variety rarely found on a single course.  Wide fairways and moderately contoured greens make the course playable for high handicappers, while smartly placed tee boxes, limited aprons, long-iron shots to deep greens, forced carries of quarry lakes, and well-protected and intimidating greens test mettles of experienced golfers. 
  • Cascades – For those facing a time crunch or desiring a quick, leisurely round, the resort’s newest course fits the bill. With options from 1,538 to 3,627 yards, the nine-hole design stresses playability and features junior tees and alternate, oversized cups to make the course more family friendly and enjoyable for those new to the game.  Fairways are inviting fairways, greens are gently contoured greens, and expansive views of the majestic, mountainous region make Cascades a “must” experience.  FootGolf is played here – think a game soccer and golf combined
  • Minerals – Designed by Robert Trent Jones, this nine-hole, executive layout is one of GOLF Magazine’s “Top 12 Short Courses in America.” Set at the base of Hamburg Mountain, advanced players are challenged by the spectacular, 2,305-yard mountainside layout while juniors enjoy forward tees, alternate oversized cups that put them on a level playing field, two sets of cups per hole, junior rental clubs and four-seater family golf carts.  Try FootGolf while you’re at it.

Don’t forget the 18-hole practice putting course that’s so much more than miniature golf.  It features natural grass maintained by the same staff that oversees Crystal Springs’ world-class golf facilities, and meanders alongside a running stream and beautiful native flora.

The Grand Cascade Lodge and Minerals Hotel exemplify “comfortable luxury” with too many fine and casual dining options to count for buddy trips, girlfriend getaways, family vacations, bachelor and bachelorette parties, and couple retreats.  The wine cellar is a Wine Spectator Grand Award winner since 2006 and one of the Northeast’s most impressive, and wine tasting classes delight palates.

Elements and Reflections spas promote relaxation extraordinaire, and the Sports Club satisfies yogis, the power fit and general exercise devotees.  There’s even a wellness activity whereby goats walk on your back for a unique massage of sorts.  Pools, tennis and pickleball courts, and even a full, indoor basketball course are also among the amenities.

The list of offerings goes on and on and on.  Suffice it to say, the hospitality is unparalleled, just like the TLC that I received nearly a half century ago.



Rich Katz

Rich Katz is Founder and CEO of Katz Strategy, a golf business and marketing advisory firm. One of golf’s most networked executives for 30-plus years, he founded golf-marketer Buffalo Agency (now Buffalo Groupe), was agent to PGA TOUR players and held leadership positions at Billy Casper Golf. rkatz@katzstrategy.com.

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