A Gem of the Gentlemen’s Sport
Echo Lake stays true to a long-term quality mission
The tale of Echo Lake Country Club reads like a who’s who of New Jersey’s early golf royalty.
The timeline to the existing Westfield facility actually stretches back to 1899, when a Cranford-based group founded a nine-hole course at the intersection of Lincoln and South Union avenues – the Cranford Golf Club – that was laid out by famed Shinnecock Hills designer Willie Dunn.
The club’s owners purchased Westfield’s Harper Farm in 1912 and utilized the design services of Donald Ross, who’d served an apprenticeship at St. Andrews and was later responsible for courses at Pinehurst, Aronomink, Oak Hill and Inverness, to complete a 6,247-yard, par-72 layout that opened in 1913.
Architect Bob White designed six holes in 1919 and the club absorbed the rival Westfield Golf Club two years later, leading to its official rechristening as Echo Lake Country Club on April 5, 1921.
“There’s a tremendous sense of that history, from the golf course designers to the famous people who were members to the famous golfers who played here and the tournaments that were hosted,” says John Gomez, CCM, who began as a waiter 17 years ago and is now the club’s manager.
“It’s great to work at a club that’s got this rich of a history and one that’s been part of the community for such a long time.”
With such tradition, however, comes a mandate not always apparent elsewhere.
Though structural and other necessary clubhouse upgrades are made as warranted, Gomez and his colleagues go to great lengths to maintain a feel he described as “like their own homes” – which provides long-term members a comfortable experience but doesn’t force the club to act like something it’s not.
Westfield is a town of 30,316 people in Union County, and the club sits roughly 20 miles due west of the New York City boroughs of Staten Island and Brooklyn. Existing membership stands at 561, which Gomez says allows for a family friendly atmosphere with a varying clientele that includes attorneys and people who work on Wall Street in Manhattan.
Recent, moderate upgrades have included access to free WiFi service in the clubhouse and a chef who is tasked by Gomez to prepare “basic quality food served hot and tasty.” Bigger-ticket investment has been made to upgrade pool facilities and the irrigation system as part of the club’s master plan.
“We hold true to our core values. We’re a modest little club. Elegantly appointed, but not at all overstated,” he says. “It’s comfortable here and up to date here, and that’s what the membership has indicated that it wants. When they come for dining, they want to feel like they’re at home.
“If a New York experience is what they want, they’re going to go to New York to get it.”
CONSISTENCY = QUALITY
Among the advantages Gomez and his staff possess while aiming to maintain that high standard of service are the years of experience several of the key players have at the facility.
The golf professional Mike Preston and greens superintendent Chris Carson have each been at Echo Lake for more than 25 years, while the comptroller is a veteran of nearly 20 years and Gomez himself arrived in the late 1990s.
“Consistency in delivering the product is a huge asset for us,” Gomez says. “The longevity of the management team ensures that everyone is on the same page, and it provides a certain comfort level to the members, because they’ve seen us and they know us.
“That guides quality and it helps us meet those expectations. And if a member does have an issue, whether it’s in the dining room or at the halfway house on the course, they’ll approach us directly and we’ll know how to make it right for them.”
STAYING ABOVE PAR
Echo Lake’s high standing among its Garden State peers is evident in the significant events that have called it home over the years.
The United States Golf Association has played both its boys and girls junior amateur championship there. Additionally, Echo Lake hosted the statewide New Jersey Open three time, the New Jersey Amateur championship three times and the New Jersey Women’s Amateur championship in 1936.
The Metropolitan Open, the third-oldest open championship in the United States, was played at Echo Lake as well. Past winners of the tournament include Gene Sarazen and Byron Nelson, and three-time tournament winner Walter Hagen, himself a World Golf Hall of Fame inductee, was a runner-up when the event first came to Westfield.
Golf World magazine labeled the course a “hidden gem” in its coverage of the boys junior event, and a February 2013 review on WorldGolf.com described it as “a typical fantastic Donald Ross design. Great greens, with a challenging, yet fair layout and history to put some icing on the cake. It is a course you can play every day.”
The club is on a rotation with others in the state to host upcoming seniors events and the Metropolitan may make a return in the future as well. The USGA has had some discussions about bringing back its girls and boys junior tournaments, but those plans have not been finalized.
“We’ve done a lot of enhancement (to the course) and we’re still doing more,” Gomez says. “The board has a five-year plan in place with (New Jersey-born course architect) Rees Jones to redesign certain holes, which will make the golf course better and hopefully bring in new members because it’ll provide them an exciting and fun course to play.”
Improvements bring members, members bring tournaments and tournaments bring business, Gomez says – citing the ripple effect increased crowds at the course would have on neighboring retail establishments, restaurants and hotels.
“I don’t know of anyone who’s done a formal study, but it certainly does make a difference,”
Gomez says. “All those establishments would certainly be benefited from the club hosting events. Add that to the type of business the members do on the course simply while they’re playing together and it’s clear we play an important role.”
For more information, please visit their website at: Echo Lake Country Club
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