From Golf Digest Architecture Editor Emeritus Ron Whitten:
Until I visited the area, I always wondered why the northwestern corner of New Jersey had so few golf courses. When I finally got there, it became obvious. It’s mountainous, better for rock-climbing or skiing than golf. It’s hard to grow grass on solid granite.
That corner of Jersey is not totally devoid of golf, but most of it is clustered atop a bluff overlooking the Walkill River valley. There's Great Gorge, 27 holes by George Fazio that had been a Playboy Hotel resort when it first opened in 1970. Twenty years later came Crystal Springs, chiseled from quarries by Robert von Hagge. That course was purchased soon after it opened by ski resort moguls John and Jack Kurlander. They then tried their hands at designing a companion golf course, Black Bear. It was okay but received lukewarm reviews from critics, so when the Kurlanders decided in 1997 to add still another 18 to their collection, a course they would name Ballyowen, they hired a real golf architect, Roger Rulewich, who'd been the chief associate for Robert Trent Jones for a quarter century. Rulewich had handled every major Jones project from the mid-1970s to the mid-1990s, including the Robert Trent Jones Golf Club in Virginia (site of several Presidents Cups) and the extensive Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail in Alabama. Ballyowen was the first solo design Rulewich tackled after the Trent Jones corporation folded up around him in 1996.
His charge was to convert an old gravel pit into a worthy 18. Given a free hand on an almost treeless site, Rulewich created a course that had elements of both old and new. The rolling, bending ninth and 14th, lined with hillsides of tall fescue rough, reminded me of Shinnecock Hills. Natural stone outcroppings squeezing Ballyowen's 12th fairway resembled those found at The Country Club near Boston. The hook-shaped second, around the rim of a deep quarry, is a reverse image of the second at Royal New Kent in Virginia, Mike Strantz's 1990s avant-garde Best New winner.
Ballyowen's greens, however, are strictly Trent Jones style. Rulewich built the same sweeping greens his mentor did, and his jagged-edged bunkers are unmistakably from the Trent Jones heritage.
The operators want us to think Ballyowen is a kissing cousin to Scottish or Irish golf. I won’t go that far, but I will say that it’s probably the best course I've played that uses the harsh strip mine landscape of northwestern New Jersey to full effect. Others have told me that they don’t care for the lakes that Rulewich incorporated into the design (inappropriate for a faux links, they say.) Personally, I think the 206-yard sixth, with its cloverleaf green stuck on a peninsula, is the best par 3 on the property.
Ballyowen, which opened in 1998, quickly became so popular that the Kurlanders brought Rulewich back to design yet two more layouts, the 18-hole Wild Turkey (a residential 18 that is no turkey, but no Ballyowen either) and the nine-hole Cascades Course. All are still marketed under the blanket Crystal Springs Resort label.