The perfect place for a long weekend (or even a week) of golf, family activities, and relaxation is Crystal Springs Resort in Sussex County, New Jersey. The resort offers seven excellent golf courses, four hotels, two spas, a water park, and a dozen dining venues. Need more? How about zip-lines and a mountain-bike park, a sports club, and a 135,000-bottle wine cellar? There is literally something for every family member to enjoy at Crystal Springs. Golf is the biggest single attraction, with a real variety of courses from which to choose.
Ballyowen is the crown jewel of the Crystal Springs collection. The links-style design by Roger Rulewich may not play like a links course, but it feels like one. Mounds and hillocks surround the fairways, and the big, big greens invite long running chips and pitches. The wide-open layout and views of the golf course reminded me of Kingsbarns Golf Links southeast of St. Andrews, where every time you look up after your shot you can see other golfers in the distance.
The course sprawls over 250 acres atop a plateau surrounded by rolling farmland and craggy knolls, giving it a wide-open, windswept feel. It is virtually treeless, and fairways are defined by yellow fescue and other native grasses that literally eat errant shots, further giving the course a Celtic touch. Both greens and fairways are generally wide and welcoming, however, so well-played shots are rewarded. Just don’t expect much links-like roll from the lush fairways.
Ballyowen measures 6,508 yards from the gold tees, which is as far back as all but the pros should play. With a 71.5 rating and 130 slope, the gold tees provide plenty of challenge. There are five sets of tees in total, ranging from 7,094 to 4,903 yards.
If you’re a fan of spacious fairways, expansive greens, and eye-pleasing vistas, you’ll also like Wild Turkey, another Roger Rulewich design that opened in 2001. It’s an excellent resort course with just enough bite to give the serious golfer his or her money’s worth.
Wild Turkey is routed over two distinct terrains: a ridge that gives you multiple elevation changes and a treeless basin that lends a hint of links to the round. Throughout the course, Rulewich provides plenty of fairway to work with, but demands that your tee shot be in the right place for a precise approach to deceptively difficult greens. Many of the par 4s have limited aprons to punish a miss, as well as multiple pin positions on seemingly acres of putting surface to command pinpoint accuracy on your approach. The course measures 7,202 yards from the tips, but is a good round from the blue tees at 6,555 yards with a 71.4 rating/131 slope. Four sets of tees are available in total.
Aside from a few exceptions, most of the holes are fairly forgiving—as long as you observe and play to some of their design features. The 450-yard par-4 fifth hole, for example, has a green that runs away from a straight-on approach. The seventh, a 181-yard one-shotter, plays over a quarry lake. There’s a minimal bailout area left and out-of-bounds right, so the hole deserves your full attention.
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As you make the turn, stop on the 10th tee to enjoy the view of three states—New Jersey, Pennsylvania, and New York—on the horizon at Port Jervis. You’ll get another view worth pausing for at the 14th tee, where you overlook the entire basin from the 12th to the 17th hole.
Other 18-hole golf venues at the resort include Black Bear, Crystal Springs, and Great Gorge (which has 27). There’s also a full 18-hole, par-2 putting course featuring real turf and a 650-foot water feature.
For families, Crystal Springs has turned its two nine-hole courses, the regulation-length Cascades and par-3 Minerals, over to junior golfers and their kin. During the week, rounds on the 2,305-yard Minerals Golf Course, which was designed by Robert Trent Jones Sr., are only $15 per person all day long (slightly higher on weekends and holidays). On the 3,627-yard Cascades, afternoon rounds are as little as $79 for a twosome as long as there’s a junior in the group (rates are valid for nine or 18 holes). Other family golf features include special tees and larger cups for young players, four-seater carts, clubs available for rent (TaylorMade for adults, Calloway for juniors, and Ben Hogan for young juniors; $1 per child, $15 per adult), a roving golf staff to dispense advice and instruction to kids while they play; and kid-friendly menu items, including peanut butter and jelly sandwiches on the service cart.
In another Golf 2.0–influenced initiative, the resort’s new Fast Track Golf program promises golfers will be able to play 18 holes in under four hours, with no waiting on the group ahead and getting off the course before noon. On summer weekends, designated Fast Track Golf tee times are in effect on the 18-hole Wild Turkey and Black Bear courses before 7:30 a.m., and on the 9-hole Cascades course before 10 a.m. Fast Track Golf is available both to daily-fee players and resort guests. To keep things moving, golfers with Fast Track tee times agree to take a maximum seven strokes per hole, take no more than three putts per hole, and abandon the search for lost balls after 60 seconds.
The David Leadbetter Golf Academy is located at Crystal Springs as well, so consider signing up the kids for a starter clinic and maybe fit in a lesson or two for Mom and Dad during the weekend.
Purists may shudder at the thought of hearing childish giggles on the green or giving up on a lost ball with less than a full five-minute search while the rest of the course backs up behind you, but many of us are delighted to see a facility take these creative steps to keep golf alive.