The original plan in opening Stonybrook Golf Course in Hopewell Township was to promote night golfing. That idea didn’t last, but the golf course sure has.
Stonybrook is throwing itself a 50th anniversary party this year, despite the long-ago disappearance of the lights that were installed when the Drake Family built the executive course in 1966.
“For several years it was lighted and featured night play,” said Joe Porter, who has been the Stonybrook pro for the past six years. “They had read about night golf in California being popular and decided to try that. Apparently it got too expensive. There are still the old light standards out there, but apparently it got too expensive for the people who actually played at night. That was their original idea when they built it.”
The plug was pulled, but the Robert Krieger-designed course was not left in the dark.
There have been some ups and downs over half a century, but consistency in ownership has held fast and kept operation flowing. There have only been two owners, as the Zuccarelli family bought it from the Drakes during the 1970s. There have also been some celebrities involved: former Eagles Super Bowl quarterback and ESPN commentator Ron Jaworski managed the course during much of the 1990’s.
Things began to slip a bit after the turn of the century, until the Zuccarellis hired Spirit Golf Management to run the show. Porter, a former University of Rhode Island golfer and one-time head coach at Fairleigh Dickinson, works for SGM and was brought in to give lessons at Stony Brook for the first time in a long time. After retirement, Joe joined the PGA at age 61, and has been teaching golf for the past 14 years.
Since Spirit Golf — which also manages nearby Hopewell Valley Golf Club — took charge, there have been improvements made every year and the number of golfers has increased each year. A clubhouse that was not in use has been restored, leagues have been started, and things are going well.
“Our emphasis has been on providing both adult and junior golf instruction and programs, including league play,” Porter said. “Our tag line is keeping golf fun. We try to make it a fun atmosphere.”
Stony Brook is an executive course, which differs from a regular course in that the majority of holes are par-3’s. But Stony Brook offers plenty of challenges, with two par-5’s, two par 4’s and 14 par 3s, which is ideal for someone who wants to play, but doesn’t have all day.
“You can use every club in your bag when you play here,” Porter said. “I can’t tell you how many times someone comes in after playing it the first time and says, ‘Wow I really enjoyed that, I thought an executive course would be a lot shorter and a lot easier.’”
Porter feels the 486-yard, par-5 16th is the course’s signature hole. The green is obscured from the tee, as the fairway goes out about 400 yards before making a dogleg to the left.
“It’s a great place for beginners, juniors, ladies,” Porter said. “It’s more fun for them (than a standard course). We always emphasize you can play golf in just over three hours instead of five hours and it’s a great place to learn your short game. It forces you to work on accuracy. The fairways are narrow, there are tons of trees here. You’ve got to work on hitting the ball straight.”
Players can warm-up on a driving range or on one of the course’s two practice putting greens. One of the biggest improvements has been the re-opening of the clubhouse, which had been shut down for several years.
“We re-did the whole middle room so we can have an event and have people sit down,” Porter said. “We can have hot dogs and hamburgers, or we’ve used a caterer so if we get a group of 50 or 70 to do a little event, we serve pasta and chicken from the catering.”
Another addition has been Porter’s lessons, which can be taken individually or in classes. There are beginner lessons for adults, as well as junior camps and junior classes. There are also leagues for adults, juniors and women.
Physical improvements have been made on the playing surface, with aerating, re-seeding, and cutting aprons and fairways that were not shaped. That helps provide a better approach to the hole, as the surface in front of the green is cut short to give a better view of where a golfer goes up to the green. There is also improved drainage, and several trees have been removed to provide better sunlight for grass.
And for those who don’t feel like walking, there are 26 carts available.
Stony Brook is also in the business of giving back. Working with the New Jersey Golf Foundation, the course has taught veterans and Special Olympic athletes.
It has worked with the Mid-Atlantic Blind Golfers Association and the Els for Autism Program, which Porter says will take place again this year. Other charity events last year were Rally for the Cure and a benefit for rescued dogs.
“That’s just stuff we’re doing to get people interested in coming to Stony Brook and doing something nice at the same time,” Porter said.
There should be plenty of interest this year, considering the plans in store for the 50th anniversary.
On Saturday, Apr. 16, the club plans to offer 1966 prices of $5 to play golf and $1 for a hot dog. There will be longest drive and chip-and-putt contests that same day for women’s, men’s and children’s divisions, with prizes being awarded. A member of the Hopewell Township council will come out to say a few words.
Also during the course of the spring and summer there will numerous Throwback Thursdays, with lower prices dating back to 1966 (which will be advertised when they are decided). There will be a Pro-Am Day, in which Porter will bring in his professional friends to play a scramble event with members and customers. There will be one pro in a group with three amateurs. A First Tee of Greater Trenton tournament will also be held.
Other events are in the works but have not been finalized, and interested parties should check the website at stonybrookgolfnj.com.
“We think it’s kind of exciting, being here for 50 years,” Porter said. “We just thought it would be fun to celebrate it.”
Porter feels the reason for that is an age old formula – getting your money’s worth. Up until April 22, it costs $12 to walk 18 holes and the price only goes up to $22 after that and $17 for juniors and seniors. Cart fees are extra.
“I think there’s a value to it in terms of price, and there’s good customer service as well as continued improvement,” Porter said. “People can come here for less than twenty dollars and play golf if they want to walk. It’s good day of exercise but if you want a cart we have them. So it’s a pretty good value and they can have fun and not have to spend all day playing a round.”
Stony Brook Golf Club, 207 Stony Road, Hopewell.