All was relatively quiet at Ridgewood Country Club over the weekend.
Summer got its unofficial start as golfers walked the rolling terrain and flawless fairways of this North Jersey gem. There was no evidence that in just three months, Ridgewood will be at the center of the professional golf universe when it hosts The Northern Trust.
Construction crews will arrive at Ridgewood this week to start building the temporary city of sorts that is required for one of the PGA Tour’s biggest events.
The Northern Trust (which was previously known as The Barclays), the first event of the Tour’s FedEx Cup playoffs, will be played August 21-26 at Ridgewood. The tournament features an exclusive field (only the top 125 players in the Tour’s standing’s will be invited) and big, enthusiastic North Jersey crowds (around 30,000 fans per day are expected to file through the turnstiles at Ridgewood).
It takes about 12 weeks to build out the infrastructure required — hospitality areas, television towers, skyboxes, bleachers, etc. — for such a big-time event. And with that work getting started, there’s a lot of anticipation at Ridgewood.
“We’re all excited,” head professional David Reasoner said. “It’s been four years since we hosted and it’s an exciting time on the PGA Tour right now. Tiger’s playing great, you’ve got all these young studs coming up. Golf’s exciting and we’re looking forward to hosting.”
Will Tiger Woods play?
Tiger Woods’ resurgence has been a big story across golf. And there’s good news for fans who hope to see him tee it up in North Jersey.
Woods is on track to make his second-ever appearance at Ridgewood — he missed the 2008 event as he recovered from knee surgery, he finished tied for 12th in 2010, and was not eligible in 2014 as his back began to betray him). Woods has 548 FedEx Cup points, putting him 54th in the standings. That makes him a virtual lock to qualify for The Northern Trust: last year, the 125th ranked player needed only 365 points at the end of the regular season to qualify. Woods has never skipped the PGA Tour’s opening playoff event when he was healthy and eligible.
Bottom line: if Woods’ surgically repaired back continues to hold up, there’s a good chance he’ll tee it up in North Jersey this summer. And even if Woods doesn't play, this will be a huge event. Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Patrick Reed and Phil Mickelson have all played in the event each of the last three years. And Rory McIlroy played in it each of the last two times it was at Ridgewood.
A different look
Whichever golfers do play at Ridgewood in August will find a different course than the one that last tested the world’s best in 2014.
The club's most famous hole, a drivable Par 4 known as the “Five & Dime” used to be the fifth hole. The 291-yard hole, the ultimate risk-reward test, is now the 12th hole which should set up an exciting finish providing players with a eagle opportunity as they head toward the clubhouse. It's part of a shuffle that will affect the middle eight holes on the golf course.
But there are other, more subtle changes that have been int he works for years.
Ridgewood, which opened in 1929, was designed by legendary architect A.W. Tillinghast — the genius behind both courses at Winged Foot, Baltusrol and Bethpage Black. A golf course changes gradually over time, but once 70 years pass the differences can be drastic as new trees grow and mowing patterns change. Ridgewood was no exception and in the early 2000s, membership approved a master plan to try to bring the course’s 27 holes back to Tillinghast's original design.
"The golf course is a living, breathing organism," Todd Raisch, Ridgewood's golf course superintendent said. "It’s constantly changing and it just needed to be updated.”
So under the direction of Gil Hanse, who designed the Olympic Course at 2016 Summer games, Ridgewood began bringing the course back to its roots. Much of that work, including the addition of new teeing grounds and the clearing of some trees, was done by the time Ridgewood first hosted the PGA Tour in 2008.
But the work has continued, including significant changes since Ridgewood last hosted the world’s best four years ago. Since then, the club has completely rebuilt its bunker complexes, improving the quality of the sand and restoring their design to what Tillinghast originally intended.
Ridgewood has also expanded many of its greens — 15,000 square feet have been added in total — and widened some of the fairways, adding more options for players off the tees and around the greens. The course also eliminated the “step-cut” of rough, meaning shots that miss the fairway, even by a few inches, will be tougher to play.
The changes are subtle, but nearly every hole is different.
“It’s really transformed the golf course,” Raisch said.
And before the summer is out, the PGA Tour’s best will get to check out the changes for themselves.
The Northern Trust
When: August 21-26
Where: Ridgewood Country Club, Paramus
Course: Par 71; 7,385 yards
Tickets: Daily tickets are $40-$70; weekly badges are $195; all children 18 and under will get free admission with a ticketed adult. Visit www.thenortherntrust.com to buy tickets.
Previous PGA Tour winners at Ridgewood:
The Barclays, 2008: Vijay Singh (-8)
The Barclays, 2010: Matt Kuchar (-12)
The Barclays, 2014: Hunter Mahan (-14)