Corrections or additions?
This article by Richard J. Skelly was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper
on September 8, 1999. All rights reserved.
Jasna Polana: Tournament Players Club
The driveway leading in to the new Tournament Players
Club (TPC) at Jasna Polana is seven-tenths of a mile long. It winds
its way through a corridor of dozens of carefully aligned, but mature
trees surrounded by dense forest. Alternating patches of pristine,
landscaped lawn and raw, untamed woods greet the visitor on the drive
in to this majestic, awe-inspiring place. Signs caution those late
for their tee times — who in all of God’s green golfdom would
dare commit such an act! — that the speed limit on this driveway
is 15 miles per hour.
Here I see rabbits and deer scooting from the sides of the roadway,
frightened by the sound of my relatively quiet Volkswagen Golf as
it wends its way through the twists and turns of the asphalt path.
Yes, you can call me a golf nut: I write about golf, and have done
so for the last 10 years. I’ve played golf for the last 26 years.
While I shun winter time golf and have never played golf on Mother’s
Day, I have gone on golfing expeditions to Scotland on two occasions
and to Ireland several summers ago. I even drive a car called Golf.
In May of 1998, when I first visited the place, I had no expectations
about Jasna Polana, and only a vague understanding of Basia Piasecka
Johnson and what she inherited for her dozen years of 24-7 care for
J. Seward Johnson. I recall the stories about the $25 or $30 million
mansion, and the incredible extravagances ordered up by Johnson and
his young wife, who came to America from Poland in 1968, went to work
as a maid in the Johnson household, and married the multi-millionaire
heir to the Johnson & Johnson fortune just two years later.
I remember the flurry of publicity when Johnson died in 1983. The
protracted legal battle between his children, largely ignored in his
last will, and his widow, more than 40 years younger than he, turned
into a frenzy of books and articles. In October, 1986, the previously
low profile family ended up the subject of a lengthy article in Vanity
Fair. Seward Johnson Jr., the sculptor and patron of the arts, instructed
one of his staff to buy every copy of that issue of Vanity Fair at
every newsstand in town so that the Princeton public wouldn’t read
all the gory details.
But that was another era, and another use for Jasna Polana — a
name derived from the Polish words for "bright meadows." Today,
while still owned by Basia Johnson, it is now managed by the PGA Tour,
which has transformed the 285 acres at the corner of Route 206 and
Province Line Road into the Tournament Players Club at Jasna Polana,
one of the exquisite venues for a game that is still dominated by
gentlemen and ladies.
Now even the media gets treated royally. A week before the "Grand
Preview Celebration" of the new club back in 1998, I remember
getting a call from a Jasna Polana official, double checking the spelling
of my last name before he faxed me directions to opening ceremony,
which I was covering for New Jersey Golf News. I was impressed by
the fact that this public relations person was savvy enough to know
that reporters hate to see their names misspelled, even on a private
This month, as we approach the first truly public event at this private
club — a made-for-television, Shell’s Wonderful World of Golf
match between Hale Irwin and Tom Watson that will be played before
a live audience on Tuesday, September 28, and taped for a national
TV broadcast in October, the time seems right to figure out just what
kind of a neighbor Seward Johnson has left for us.
We know that — hands down — Jasna Polana boasts the finest
clubhouse of any golf course anywhere. The $25 or $30 million spent
in the 1970s is unlikely to be equaled today for a golf clubhouse.
Just take one example: Those mature hardwoods that seemed so naturally
placed along the long drive from Province Line Road. No, that apparently
was not an act of nature. Rather, according to current legend, Seward
and Basia had ordered mature trees flown in by helicopter to line
that driveway, rather than simply planting saplings and waiting for
them to grow.
TPC, by the way, stands for Tournament Players’ Clubs, and that’s
a division of the PGA Tour, based in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. The
PGA (Professional Golfers Association) Tour is the circuit of tournaments
that stars like Tiger Woods and Jack Nicklaus play on — in Nicklaus’
case it’s now the Senior PGA Tour. TPC Courses, 20 of them, are scattered
around the country, including Jasna Polana and one that opened in
Myrtle Beach — a mecca for golfers — last year. Various officers
of the PGA Tour Network of TPC Courses have described TPC at Jasna
Polana as "the crown jewel" in the TPC network of courses.
New courses will be built in the next few years in New Orleans, Boston,
Cincinnati and Minneapolis as profits at the PGA Tour organization
continue to soar with rising attendance at PGA Tour-sponsored golf
One thing is for sure: Having a TPC course in your town
is like having a major league baseball field — sooner or later
the professionals are going to show up for some serious competition.
Jasna Polana also shows how much golf has grown in the 1980s and ’90s.
Public courses continue to be sites of pre-dawn arrivals to catch
a tee time without a tremendous wait. In Mercer County another new
public course is already in the works — the county is spending
more than $6 million to build another 18-hole course adjacent to the
existing Mercer Oaks in West Windsor. That one came on line in 1991,
the new one is expected to be completed next year. In May of this
year New Jersey Monthly profiled nine new public — but pricey
— courses that have opened up in just the last three years. Among
them: The Royce Brook Golf Club in Hillsborough, where not one but
two 18-hole courses have been carved out of 440 acres of farmland
once owned by heirs to the Rolls Royce fortune.
Private courses in the immediate Princeton area remain fully subscribed.
Springdale, the golf-only facility in the shadow of the Princeton
University Graduate College, has a waiting list. Hopewell Valley has
a waiting list; Bedens Brook and Cherry Valley Country Club, which
both offer other country club activities in addition to golf, are
also faring well.
And another private course is under construction. The Ridge at Back
Brook is being planned now on a 300-acre site On Wertsville Road in
East Amwell Township. The developer: Montgomery Knoll accountant Joel
D. Moore, an avid golfer who sought a golf-only environment. The course
architect: nationally known golf course architect Tom Fazio.
Can demand support such an explosive growth in inventory? Apparently
so, in part because interest in golf continues to grow and because
each of these courses is focussed on a different segment of the market.
The Ridge at Back Brook, for example, hopes to attract 275 members
at prices that began at $40,000, have risen to $50,000, and may reach
as much as $80,000 as the last few spots are sold. At those prices
the Ridge seems comparable to Jasna Polana, where the original inventory
of 425 memberships has been reduced to about a half dozen still available
at a price in the $75,000 range (plus annual dues of something close
But the two organizations are quite different. The Ridge is selling
only private memberships, no corporate accounts — which comprise
65 percent of Jasna Polana’s enrollment. And at the Ridge, if a member
wants to bring a guest, he must literally bring that guest. No unaccompanied
guest play will be permitted, as opposed to Jasna Polana, where member
corporations can send guests off for a round of golf by themselves
after a long week of business meetings.
At Jasna Polana the corporate community is cultivated. The property
includes two guest houses as well as a wing of the original mansion
where guests can stay overnight and business meetings or retreats
can be held. Members and their guests can play not only at Jasna Polana
but also at the entire network of Tournament Players Club courses
around the country, including the host courses for some of the biggest
And social memberships are offered at $12,000 (plus annual dues of
about $2,400) for those who want to avail themselves of the dining
room and lodging facilities, but not the golf course itself.
No wonder that the Jasna Polana roster already includes
some of the biggest names on the Princeton corporate landscape: Bristol-Myers
Squibb, Buchanan Ingersoll, Congoleum, Covance, Dow Jones, Edison
Venture Fund, Gillespie, Glenmede Trust, the Hillier Group, the Journal
Register, Lucent, Raytheon, and Summit Bank, among others, along with
out-of-town firms whose members must think of Jasna Polana as a day
in the country: Campbell Soup, Hearst, Lehman Brothers, and Oppenheimer
The Board of Governors includes Basia Johnson, of course, her friend
Prince Albert of Monaco, where she spends much of her time; Gary Player,
the longtime superstar of the PGA Tour and the architect of this course;
John L. McGoldrick, the Bristol-Myers Squibb executive — the nearest
corporate neighbor; Princeton attorney Peter M. O’Neill, who has represented
Basia Johnson in various real estate matters; John L. Steffens of
Merrill Lynch; William H. Turner, president of PNC Bank New Jersey;
and Robert C. Wright, president of NBC, a company with more than a
passing interest in professional golf.
But at the grand preview celebration last year, none of this corporate
strategy was on anyone’s mind. The mindset was golf, pure and simple.
Scottish bagpipes played in the garden to the right of this massive
mansion, also known as "the clubhouse." Basia Johnson, PGA
Tour commissioner Tim Finchem, and Gary Player made brief speeches.
Then Player, a South African who doesn’t look much older than 45 (he’s
now 63,) joined the host professional and played the back nine holes,
with several hundred of us following. In the throng was Mrs. Johnson,
regally dressed in a heavy white dress, and sweating just like the
rest of us as we hurried after Player, who was methodically hitting
one spectacular shot after another. Later, after the round was over,
we all gathered in the huge, circular Travertine atrium for a sumptuous
cocktail party, complete with a jazz quartet. I slipped out the huge,
heavy glass atrium doors for another look at the 18th green, which
sits beneath a hill about 100 yards away from the atrium.
The experience of my first visit to Jasna Polana a year ago was so
overwhelming that I forgot all about plans made earlier that week
to hear folk-bluesman Guy Davis perform for the Princeton Folk Music
Society. Leaving the grounds of Jasna Polana around 8 p.m., I was
minutes from Princeton Borough and the concert at 8:15. But back in
my Golf, I single-mindedly headed straight home to the computer, eager
to begin writing a story that would describe the incredible beauty
of this place. Only then did I remember my other life as a music writer.
Having known Guy — son of actors Ossie Davis and Ruby Dee —
for some time, I realized he would forgive me if he ever had the chance
to see — let alone perform — in that beautiful, marble floored,
circular atrium at Jasna Polana.
At Jasna Polana
If the grand preview was spectacular, a visit this year
is even more impressive. In 1998, after all, Jasna Polana was essentially
brand new construction. Now the finishing touches are in place and
I finally have the chance to play golf at the TPC at Jasna Polana.
But first I am offered a backstage tour — how can I resist?
"We have things that other private clubs just don’t have,"
explains marketing director Scott Ferrell while we sit in the huge
formal lounge to the right of the main entrance to the mansion. Ferrell
has been at Jasna Polana for four years, well before ground was broken
at the course.
"I come every here every day to work," he says while gesturing
toward the huge, expansive wings of offices inside the lower floor
of this 46,000-square-foot mansion/clubhouse, "and while I try
not to, I sometimes take it for granted," he adds. "Sometimes
you have blinders on and you don’t see everything."
"What we’re trying to do here," he explains, "is create
a place where companies and executives can bring someone through these
front gates and they can leave their other world behind. Now that
we have our lodges ready to open, they can play golf and have their
dinners here. They can spend the night here. We’ve got meeting facilities.
So from the time they come through that gate until the time they leave
again, they have hopefully had one of the most memorable experiences
they’ve ever had. And with these facilities, we think we can deliver
First stop on the tour: the dining room, still decorated as it was
originally by Mr. and Mrs. Johnson. We walk through a maze of corridors
to Ferrell’s offices in one wing and then descend to the basement,
where we walk through a corridor to the wine cellar. The wine cellar
dining room has a huge gray bank vault-style door with a combination
After this, we get into a van and make a quick stop at "the maintenance
shack," actually two buildings, one a two-story building with
three dozen pieces of greens-keeping equipment and vehicles on the
ground floor. We head upstairs to Superintendent Roger Stewart’s office.
As someone who used to work on the maintenance crew at Forsgate Country
Club in Monroe Township in the early 1980s, I’m struck by the relative
lavishness of these surroundings: maintenance workers here sit in
an air-conditioned, spotless lunch room on the second floor. They
have a whole room devoted to uniforms.
On the wall are motivational posters that remind employees why they
are here. One lists "TPC Operating Principles:" Commitment
to Members and Guests; Commitment to Employees; Commitment to Asset
Protection and Enhancement, while the other explains the TPC Club
Operating Philosophy. It reads: "The operating goal at each club
is to consistently exceed our members’ and guests’ expectations by
providing a quality product and exceptional customer service."
This is followed by "The 11 Commandments of Club Operations,"
which includes statements like "members and guests are the most
important people in our business," and "our members and guests
are the ones who make it possible to pay your salary." While these
items may seem obvious, you would be surprised at how quickly they
can be forgotten on a hot, crowded summer Saturday morning when you’ve
got responsibility to cut (dig) cups, or pin locations, on 9 or 18
The Jasna Polana staff also has a weather monitoring computer —
displaying an up-to-the-minute color map of rain clouds across Pennsylvania,
New Jersey and New York — not far from the super’s office.
Ferrell explains the strategy behind all the quality control imperative:
"From a golf perspective, we have certain standards that are maintained
at all TPC courses," he says. "It’s a golf experience that
has been recognized in the industry as one of the top experiences
you can have. That’s important when I’m talking to a company about
membership. They know they will enjoy the same standards at other
courses in the TPC network."
As we drive in the van down the driveway to Beata’s
House (pronounced bee-aht-uh), the first of two on-site lodges that
opened just this year, we clip a low hanging branch on the windshield
of the van. On the way back, Ferrell makes a note of its exact location,
presumably to let the grounds crew know it needs to be removed. I
ask Ferrell about the appeal of this place to non-golfers.
"In the scheme of things," he explains, "we have a significant
number of members here who do not play golf. But they have clients
who do play golf, and they recognize the uniqueness of this property,
they want to be a part of it. They can relate to the entertaining
Beata’s House, so named for Mrs. Johnson’s niece, has six newly appointed
bedrooms and three meeting rooms. Beata’s House sports a larger meeting
room with a screen on the wall for slide and video presentations.
"We’re trying to create an experience that’s different from the
commercial hotel experience," he says, noting that two distinct
groups of people could utilize this lodge at the same time. Most rooms
have high quality Bose radios in them, and one plays in the den of
the other lodge we visit, a 10-room place visible from Route 206 called
"The Annex," which was the original mansion on the property.
It’s easy to see the potential of these two lodges as places for weekend
or week-long corporate retreats, whether one has any interest in golf
This whole complex — clubhouse/mansion, arboretums and flower-growing
operations, golf shop operations, kitchen and wine cellar, administrative
staff and the all-important greens crew — is run by a crew of
about 140 employees, in-season, Ferrell estimates.
At the practice tee I meet greenskeeper Roger Stewart, who comes to
TPC Jasna Polana from Stonebridge Country Club in Chicago. He has
a degree in agronomy from the University of Nebraska. He speaks easily
and in complete, descriptive sentences about the construction of the
golf course here — debunking the stereotype that golf course greens
workers are an ill-educated bunch. Since Stewart was hired shortly
after ground was broken on the course in April, 1996, Ferrell referred
me to him for details about the construction.
"There’s a lot of engineering that goes into every new golf course
project, and this one had some particularly challenging issues to
deal with in terms of the topography of the land," Stewart tells
us on the first tee. For those who don’t know, just as quantum leaps
have been made in computer technology, genetic engineering and the
development of prescription drugs, so have similar advances been made
in golf course construction technology. With current drainage and
irrigation technology, it’s now possible to build and make operational
a world class course like Jasna Polana in as little as 15 months.
Stewart points out that the amount of rock in the ground on this 285-acre
estate made blasting a necessity for parts of the irrigation system,
a network of underground pipes that carries water to putting greens,
fairways and tees.
"As far as the irrigation system here goes, it’s pretty much a
state-of-the-art, computer-controlled system we have here now,"
Stewart explains. "We drain about 40 or 45 acres back into our
irrigation lake," he points out. Most non-golfers don’t realize
that self-sufficient irrigation systems for golf courses, ones that
keep local water use to a minimum, are the norm in most golf courses
built in the last 10 years. Also new types of turf grasses have been
genetically engineered — in New Jersey at Rutgers University —
that can thrive in the drier climates out West.
When environmentalists raise their voices about the alleged damage
golf courses do to the environment, they should take the time to learn
about all the advances that have been made in irrigation and drainage
technology, as well as the use of biological pesticides. Much of that
research is done right here in the Garden State.
"We do have to use some city water during summer months,"
Stewart explains, "but we recapture a heck of a lot of rainwater.
If we weren’t recapturing that water, we’d have to use some other
It took about 24 months to build and grow Jasna Polana, and while
it can be done in year-and-a-half, like the recently refurbished Knob
Hill Golf Club in Manalapan Township, "there were compounding
issues," Stewart explains. "In 1996 we had a tremendous amount
of rainfall during that first season when we were shaping the course,
and there was a tremendous amount of rock on the golf course that
had to be moved."
Drainage is an issue from a play-ability standpoint, but it’s also
an issue for the surrounding environment, Stewart notes. "We did
a lot of things from a drainage standpoint that relate to the environmental
impact drainage would have not only on the golf course, but also on
Stopping back at the practice tee, I meet my playing
partner, Thom Hartmann, 77, of Princeton, a retired Rutgers journalism
professor. Hartmann, a longtime member at Hopewell Valley, is bowled
over by the magnificence of this place. "Richard, this place could
be one of the premier courses in the country," he raves as I shuttle
him over to the parking lot.
"There are all kinds of possibilities that Gary Player incorporated
into the design because of the topography," he says. Hartmann,
who also has worked as a consultant to presidential candidate Bill
Bradley, has played golf all over the United States. Hartmann has
played at Pebble Beach and Spyglass in California, the Country Club
at Brookline, Massachusetts, and Cherry Valley in Denver.
"I’ve played all over the west coast and Oakmont and other places,
and I’ve never seen a driveway like that," he raves, "none
of them have anything like this," he says, gesturing toward the
neo-classical mansion. "Since this is the estate part of Princeton,
it just fits in here so well."
Hartmann and I are joined by Patrick Cline, 38, of Newtown, Pennsylvania,
and his guest. A computer science major in college, Cline founded
a medical software company that he subsequently sold. He still works
there as president of Clinitec International Inc. of Horsham, and
several times during our round, he checks his pager for messages.
"The course is one of the best layouts in the area I’ve played.
As it matures, it will be one of the finest courses in the region
or maybe the country," Cline says. "I was awe-struck by the
clubhouse, if you can call this building a clubhouse."
"The thing I really love about TPC network is that when you join
one of the TPC courses, you have access to all of the other courses
around the country," he says, "and that comes in very handy
for my business."
Later I decide to get a reality check from Bob Housen, a six-time
New Jersey State Amateur champion, and one of the top-ranked Senior
amateurs in the U.S. Housen has played Pebble Beach, many of the Scottish
and British courses, and several TPC courses, including TPC Sawgrass
in Florida. Housen is a golf course rating specialist for Golf Digest,
the monthly periodical bible for golfers of all handicaps. Housen
played Jasna Polana in July.
From the back, championship, touring pro tee markers, Jasna Polana
measures more than 7,000 yards, Housen tells me. "I think from
those markers, the golf course would be very demanding, and with a
couple of little pin placements there, they could drive the pros crazy.
From the medium tees, it’s very playable for the average member, and
that’s good, because that’s what a great golf course is supposed to
be: fun for the average member yet challenging for the touring pros."
"I liked what Gary Player did with the greens. He built in some
greens on the par 3s that appear to be facing you, when in reality
the back part of the green is going away from you but it doesn’t look
like it," Housen says.
How does Jasna Polana rank with Pebble Beach, Baltusrol, Pine Valley,
and the other great courses Housen has played? "Well, who has
sites like Pebble Beach?" he asks, referring to the course in
northern California that abuts the Pacific Ocean and that was recently
purchased back from the Japanese by Clint Eastwood, Arnold Palmer,
and a group of investors. "As a golf course, Pebble Beach has
problems, but the holes on the ocean are just incredible."
Pressed further for a ranking of Jasna Polana, Housen says that "you
would have to put it a notch below Baltusrol, because it takes five
to seven years of playing the course before you even have an idea of
the modifications you’d make."
So what of the potential of Jasna Polana?
"It could be another Baltusrol in 10 years," he says, referring
to the course in Springfield, Union County, which is famous for hosting
numerous U.S. Opens, most recently in 1993. "and we’ll find that
out when they have a high quality tournament there. The terrain, green
contours and bunkers are all good, now we’ll see if they can improve
upon that. After they have some tournaments they’ll be able to see
what works and what doesn’t work," by way of design modifications,
As we begin our round I think back to Gary Player, the famed player
from South Africa and the course architect. His book, "Fit For
Golf," had a major impact on my game when I began to play in earnest
when I was 11. The exercises he recommends in that classic book were
all critical to my later success with golf, so that by the time I
was a sophomore in high school, I was driving the ball 270 and 280
yards consistently and playing in the low 80s, about a 10-handicap
(for non-golfers, that’s about 10 strokes over par on a typical 18-hole
I’m reminded of what Player told the crowd following him on the back
nine at the grand preview the year before: that he deliberately designed
this course so the little old lady who is a member here can come out
and have fun and enjoy the course. There are four sets of gender-neutral
tees here at Jasna Polana. (As is the trend at many courses, there
are no more "Ladies’ tees.") Here, there are TPC tees (back
tees), Player tees (for longer hitters), middle tees, and executive
tees, the last being the most suitable choice for some women and most
The course itself is of championship quality, and suited to PGA Tour
or Senior PGA Tour events. From the back tees, with extra long roughs
allowed to grow in, it’s easy to see how this can be transformed into
a championship-level, touring pro course.
The more memorable holes at Jasna Polana are the par 4 ninth hole,
which measures at 441 yards from the Player tees, and the par 4 15th
hole, which doglegs to the left. The 18th hole, a par 5 of 515 yards,
is a spectacular finishing hole, and the natural hill overlooking
the 18th green is the perfect place for a sizable gallery of fans.
The ninth hole sports a spectacular drop into a gully. To successfully
play it from the Player or middle tees, the golfer must launch a tee
shot of at least 150 yards over the gully and onto a fairway that
begins at a higher elevation than the elevated tee you’re standing
on. So you must launch the ball a good distance and slightly uphill
as well, over the ridge, to be in a safe position for your second
shot. If you’re in the right position, your second shot is downhill,
toward the green, which is anywhere from 180 to 200 yards away.
No. 15, a par 4 of 419 yards, requires a significant carry over the
natural area to a medium-sized green with bunkers to the left and
back of the green. What is most stunning about the overall condition
of the course is how close-cut the fairways are at this relatively
early stage in the course’s maturation process. In five or six years,
this course will be a supreme test of golf skills.
No. 18 — for me — turns into a trial of patience for which
golf is infamous. The hole has water in front of the green and a descending
fairway approach of roughly 250 yards toward the green. After launching
my tee shot down the left side, where one isn’t supposed to go, I
take a 3-wood, confident I can carry the water. My ball again goes
left and winds up on the left side under a tree, near the bridge that
carries golfers over the water. Taking a 7-iron, I punch out with
some overspin on the ball from beneath a tree. But instead of going
a little right of the front of the green, where I thought I was aiming,
my ball flies into and out of a green-side bunker, and ends up about
25 feet past the hole. Call it the "luck of the Irish."
In any case, I two putt for par, and finish with an 84, not terribly
bad from the Player tees. The course doesn’t beat me up, just as Gary
Player promised last spring.
Road, Princeton 08540. Lee Woodruff, director of golf/general manager.
609-688-0500; fax, 609-924-0547.
Corrections or additions?
This page is published by PrincetonInfo.com
— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.