The most meaningful golf shot Chris Boyle hit measured 100 yards. He used a wedge. He knocked it close.
For 25 years, Boyle has worked as superintendent at Mendham Golf and Tennis Club, a family-style, sports-centric, low-frills, high-quality northern New Jersey private club 45 miles from Manhattan. Whenever his tenure ends, Boyle will be remembered for helping bring compact golf to a region densely populated with private clubs harboring 18-holes-or-bust mentalities.
Boyle and his team annually provide solid conditions on an 18-hole Alfred Tull design with nine holes opened in 1961 and nine more unveiled in 1969. But perhaps Boyle’s biggest contribution to the long-term vitality of the club involved collaborating with architect Robert McNeil on transforming two of Mendham Golf and Tennis Club’s 162 acres into an amenity other land-restricted clubs now want to add. Because of his foresight and dedication, the club selected him to hit the first official shot on The Links at Mendham. Boyle’s wife and children along with 80 members watched him hit a wedge to seven feet.
“I have had people say to me that when I leave here, this will be my legacy, having been involved with it and working with the architect to make a layout that works,” Boyle says. “Our crew basically turned a grassy mound into golf. To me, that’s very rewarding. The fact they asked me to hit the first shot and recognized the input our crew and I had on the course was humbling.”
And a bit excruciating. “I was hoping that it wasn’t going to be me that won the closest to the pin, because I didn’t want to take that prize from somebody else,” he jokes. “I was about as nervous as I have ever been hitting a golf ball.”
Four years later, The Links represents the most laidback spot within the borders of a relaxed club. After a lukewarm reception — “It was a little quirky at first,” Boyle says. “I think a lot of our members really didn’t get it” — the course received a jolt when COVID-19 restrictions increased interest in golf and other forms of outdoor recreation. New Jersey officials closed golf courses on March 30, 2020. When facilities reopened May 2, 2020, play was limited to walking twosomes teeing off every 16 minutes. Foursomes were permitted to return a few weeks later.
“But we had this extra facility that we could utilize,” Boyle says. “And it was booked solid that summer, because people were so limited. They couldn’t get on the regular golf course and that was the best thing that ever happened to The Links. People that would have never thought about utilizing that facility were now up there regularly and it caught on.”
The Links is not a typical six-, nine, 12- or 18-hole short course.
A maintenance facility expansion completed in 2015 left the club with two acres McNeil describes as a “dead zone,” serving as a septic area for the nearby tennis complex. An initial proposal involved creating a practice facility designed under the premise that the interior of the land had to retain its septic purposes. McNeil and Boyle worked on concepts using the perimeter for golf. Greens of 3,400, 3,800 and 4,800 square feet were designed on corners. “Once you have three greens, you can create three, six, nine, 12, 15, 18 holes,” McNeil says. “Three greens big enough to house many pin placements and allowing enough angles of play was the premise.”
The Links is available for members to book in one-hour blocks and only one group is permitted on the course at a time for safety reasons. Holes range from 46 to 110 yards. Teeing circles are adjacent to greens. One flag sits on each green and holes are played in different directions. Flags and teeing circles are color coded red, white and blue to ensure golfers are playing to proper locations.
“The intent was one group was going to be out there at a time,” McNeil says. “It’s their golf course for an hour. That gave us complete flexibility to play over greens, back and forth, and across. It really didn’t matter. As long as we had some unique distances, that would give us the variety that we wanted and the flexibility to use the golf course in a lot of different ways. It kind of creates the nine-hole layout in the end.”
Boyle’s team handled the bulk of the construction, squeezing in work between maintenance gaps on the regulation course. A contractor integrated irrigation into the concept in 2016. Excess soil from the maintenance facility project already inhabited the site, and Boyle’s team shifted and shaped the material into golf features and started growing turf the following year. Greens consist of a 60-40 sand-soil mix and they were seeded with bentgrass. Boyle encourages Poa annua because he wants putting surfaces to resemble what members experience on the regulation course. Heights of cut on all surfaces are the same as the regulation course.
The course requires less maintenance than had it been used as a practice facility, according to Boyle. “If it was a practice facility, I’d have to hire somebody on staff to maintain those two acres,” he says. “Because it’s utilized as a golf course, there aren’t as many divots, there aren’t as many ball marks, there aren’t people tearing up the bunkers with all their bunker practice.” Crews mow the three greens and surrounding turf surfaces and rake the two bunkers as they pass The Links on morning maintenance routes.
Proximity to the maintenance facility allows Boyle to study how the course is being used.
“That’s the coolest thing I see up there,” he says. “I see grandparents bringing their grandkids who are 4, 5, 6 years old. I see parents bringing their young kids, I see husbands bringing their wives who are not golfers, but they are out having a golf experience. I see 30- and 40-year-old guys warming up before a round on the regulation golf course. There are guys who play for drinks or $1 with closest-to-the-hole games. It’s utilized by such a variety of people.”
Neither Boyle nor McNeil had seen a similar course prior to The Links’ opening. They now receive calls from, in Boyle’s case, peers at clubs looking to add something similar and, in McNeil’s case, prospective clients about what they achieved.
“It’s kind of funny how it evolved,” Boyle says. “It went from just a field, to a place to put soil, to a potential practice facility, to now a short course.”