Golf Course Review - Blue Heron Pines Golf Club|
By Phil Sokol - Director of Operations (TSN)
1 - Par 4 315 Yds
2 - Par 3 180 Yds
3 - Par 5 533 Yds
4 - Par 3 183 Yds
5 - Par 4 413 Yds
6 - Par 4 412 Yds
7 - Par 4 323 Yds
8 - Par 5 575 Yds
9 - Par 4 420 Yds
10 - Par 4 395 Yds
11 - Par 3 135 Yds
12 - Par 4 415 Yds
13 - Par 4 374 Yds
14 - Par 5 518 Yds
15 - Par 4 421 Yds
16 - Par 3 218 Yds
17 - Par 4 451 Yds
18 - Par 5 529 Yds
Par 36 3,354 Yds
Par 36 3,456 Yds
Year Opened: 1993
Location: Cologne, New Jersey
Slope: 136 Rating: 73.0
Four stars by Golf Digest's Best Places to Play,
Ranked #34 by Golf World Magazine - Top 50 Public Courses in the US (2010),
Best 18-hole Golf Course - Casino Connection Magazine,
Best 18 holes at Jersey Shore - Press of Atlantic City,
Certified Audubon Cooperative Sanctuary since 2000.
Golf in South Jersey for the public player was abysmal back in the late 1980s with only a few courses to choose from and the pickings were brutal. Unless of course, you were able to squeeze a round in at ultra- exclusive Atlantic City Country Club.
In steps local businessman Roger Hansen, whose family helped build up the Southern New Jersey region since the 1930s. One of the most successful construction companies, Ole Hansen & Sons moved into the real estate development market behind the leadership of grandson Roger.
Fast forward to the early 1990s and the start of the upscale, daily fee course boom in South Jersey, as Hansen enlists local golf architect Stephen Kay to design one the areas first new courses in 20 years and the first in the New Jersey Pinelands. "We (Hansen and I) wanted Blue Heron to be a walking course," commented Kay. "The property dictated a walking course, as it only had a three-foot elevation change when we started."
Kay, who lives on the property at Blue Heron, has done extensive renovation work on over 250 golf courses in the United States and has designed 20 new courses, but it was Blue Heron Pines Golf Club that was his first in the region. Seven of Kay's original designs are in the Garden State area, and have received plenty of accolades. In fact, Blue Heron has been rated as a four-star course by Golf Digest for the past 10 years. Although Kay has done most of his work in the New Jersey/New York area, his Links of North Dakota design is listed as one of the top 100 Modern Courses in the nation by Golfweek magazine.
"We (Hansen and I) started travelling a lot, like Pine Valley, Bethpage, Cape Cod, Oyster Harbors and Pinehurst," mentioned Kay. "Although most writers thought it was taboo to copy golf holes, I could never understand that. It didn't make sense to me. Greens on courses are often copied and of course variations of music and art are often reproduced, so why not golf holes."
Pine Valley certainly left his mark with Kay, as the 11th and 14th holes at Blue Heron are quite similar to the game's greatest course. "We wanted to give the public golfer the chance to play golf holes that were similar to some of the great holes around the country," commented Kay. "The par-three 11th is a variation of the 10th at Pine Valley. The green contours are very similar, but I think our's is tougher."
In 2005, Hansen sold the property to RDC Golf Group, who in turn, just two years later, sold the golf club to Mr. Rockford Chun.
The ownership of Blue Heron has changed hands again and this time to local football hero, Ron Jaworski.
Jaworski, the former standout NFL quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, who owns several golf courses in the region, has added Blue Heron Pines to his stable of layouts in June of 2012.
"We are going to revolutionize the shore golf experience one customer at time," said Jaworski. "And as always our meticulous attention to detail is what sets our courses a part from the rest."
When ownership of golf courses change, you tend to wonder if the quality of the club suffers. This was certainly not the case with Blue Heron Pines, when Mr. Chun took over and it will most certainly not be the case with "Jaws."
The course opens with probably the easiest hole at Blue Heron Pines, not to mention your best shot at birdie. Just 315 yards from the back tees, this straightaway par four needs just a fairway-metal or hybrid for your opening play. With trees flanking both sides of the landing area, you need to be precise. If you've got game, take out the big stick and have a lash. Who knows, if you avoid the fairway bunkers, you might just roll up to the green, leaving yourself a shot at eagle. At just 23 paces deep, the putting surface is the smallest on the course.
Back-to-back 3s on the scorecard look impressive, especially at the start of the round. The second is a solid par three of 180 yards. The key is choosing the right stick from the tee, as you must clear the gaping, front bunker that guards nearly the entire putting surface. Two traps, left and rear will capture any off-line play and the undulating green, well, let's just say, you better be on the correct quadrant or you'll have a tough two-putt.
Everyone always thinks that par fives are birdie holes. Well, if you're a PGA Tour player, then yes, but if you're a run-of-the mill golfer like most of us, then making a par is a great score. The third definitely fits the bill as a good hole to make a five. Trees down both sides of the fairway will certainly get your attention, not to mention the bunkers on either side of the landing area. A successful tee shot can provide the player with a couple of options. First choice, lay up down the right side of the fairway, leaving a 100-yard pitch to the left-angled green. Second option, play a big, right-to-left three-metal from the fairway to a very receptive green. Sure this is risky, especially with the bunker short and left of the putting surface, but why not? The green is two-tiered and 30 yards deep, so attack if you can, as the birdie holes at Blue Heron are few and far between.
|Trees adorn the entire left side and a handful of traps and water down the right will gain your attention on the fifth.|
The fourth is one of my favorite par threes on the course and not because I made a birdie. It's great design features water down the entire right side, while the putting surface is 41 paces deep with three bunkers guarding short and right. With such a large green, you'll have to judge the wind and pin position to give yourself a shot at par. Any play off the green to the right, can run towards the water, especially when the wind is blowing in that direction.
Although just 413 yards in length, you'll have to decide whether driver or three-metal is your play off the tee on the fifth. Trees adorn the entire left side and a handful of traps and water down the right will gain your attention. If you can play down the right to set up the best angle to the green. From a sloping fairway, you'll have a mid-iron to a slightly raised, undulating putting surface, with sand left and water deep. Play below the hole for your best chance at par. Despite its relatively short distance, the fifth is rated as the No. 1 handicap hole on the course.
|The par four seventh is a great risk-reward hole.|
The tee shot on the par-four sixth requires a slight fade from the right-positioned tee box. Trees once again guard both sides of the fairway, most notably down the right. A 30-yard trap on the right side must be avoided to have any shot at getting home. A mid- to short-iron remains to a green that slopes from back to front with a large bunker on the left side. A back-left pin could be hard to get at, so play towards the center of the green and who knows, anything can happen.
A great risk-reward par four, the seventh is another one of my favorites at Blue Heron Pines. Only 323 yards in length, this beauty features a large, angled cross-bunker that spans 50 yards. This hole is quite deceptive, as the bunker hides the large landing area, leaving you with an uneasy feeling off the tee. But don't fret, just play down the right side, where the fairway opens up, leaving you with just under 100 yards. Big hitters will have a hard time getting home and the front bunker could cause problems. The putting surface is very wide, but quite shallow, making your approach a real tickler. Two good shots and it's birdie time.
|The fairway opens up past the sand, but narrows at the 135-yard mark on the 10th.|
At 575 yards, the eighth is the longest hole on the course. This dogleg right par five is truly a three-shotter from the tips. You'll need to move the ball from left to right, avoiding the long fairway bunker and trees down the right side. Your layup second must dissect the fairway traps on either side of the landing area. Although the right side will leave the best angle to the green, there is more room on the left and besides, with a wedge in hand, you should be able to go for the pin. One word of caution, the green is the longest on the course at 48 paces and features a ridge and plenty of undulation, so make sure you check the flag placement before striking your approach.
|With such a tiny green, you'll need to be spot on with your approach on the 11th.|
One of the wider fairways on the course, the ninth is quite inviting, just think before striking. With a pair of traps guarding the landing area, the prudent play would be three-metal off the tee, leaving 150 yards to a well-guarded putting surface. The sloping putting surface is protected by three deep bunkers that must be avoided if you're to have any chance at par.
The back nine opens with a sensational par four, just under 400 yards in length. Tree-lined down the right and partially on the left, your opening play needs to favor a draw, avoiding the 40-yard bunker down the left side. The fairway opens up past the sand, but narrows at the 135-yard mark. Water now comes into play on the left for your approach. The slightly elevated putting surface is fronted by three angled traps, while the green is two-tiered and quite slick. A back-left pin will not only add yardage to your approach, but courage, as you take on the water and the tough pin placement.
|You must clear desert waste land in order to reach the green on the 14th.|
Slightly reminiscent of the par-three 10th at Pine Valley, the 11th is very much as treacherous with its tiny, back-to-front sloping green and its deep pot bunker on the right. Water instead of scrub fronts the raised putting surface. With such a tiny green, you'll need to be spot on with your approach or you'll have a difficult time making par.
One of six par fours over 400 yards, the 12th bends slightly to the left and is tree-lined with a narrow fairway. Three traps protect the right side of the landing area, however the right-center will leave the best approach to the large, undulating green with a mid-iron. Too far left off the tee and trees could block your second. From left to right and back to front, this putting surface will provide plenty of three putts.
|The 15th is a well-conceived par four with a waste area down the right.|
The sharpest dogleg on the course, the 13th, bends hard to the left and requires placement, not power, off the tee. Just 374 yards, a three-metal or hybrid should leave just a short wedge approach. Seems simple enough, but a large 100-yard waste-area bunker lurks on the left. The putting surface is long and very narrow, but with a wedge in hand, this is one of the few birdie holes remaining.
Another reference to Pine Valley, the par-five 14th is the No. 2 handicap hole on the course, and the start of a final stretch of a holes that will test even the best of players. Hell's Half Acre is quite present on this 518-yarder that bends to the left. Your tee shot from the back tees must clear a lake to reach the fairway that's tree-lined and features three bunkers down the left. Reachable in two, your second must now clear the desert waste land and then the bunker fronting the green. If you choose to lay up, (the smart play by the way), there's plenty of room leaving just a simple wedge to a green that has several sections and a spine running down the center. Although it can be a birdie hole, the putting surface will be hard to negotiate.
|Sand, water and slope surely make the 15th one of the most diabolical holes on the course.|
Another intriguing hole, the 15th is a well-conceived par four with a waste area down the right. Avoid the sand and you're now faced with an approach over a lake to a wide, undulating green with all the fixins. Sand, water and slope surely make this one of the most diabolical holes on the course.
The most difficult of the par threes, the 16th is the longest as well, stretching 218 yards from the tips. The slightly elevated green gives an illusion of a blind target, but at 43 paces, it's one of the longest greens on the course. Three pot bunkers cover the right and one deep trap guards the left. Missing short might be the best play. Just rely on your short game and you might make par.
|The 16th is the longest and most difficult par three on the course.|
At 451 yards, the 17th is the longest par four on the course and it plays even longer, slightly uphill and bending to the right. No fairway bunkers, but trees line the landing area through the green. A long-iron or fairway-metal will be required to reach the putting surface that's guarded left and deep by sand. Stay right for your best chance at four.
The dogleg-right, par-five closer is a fitting conclusion to a wonderful layout. Once again, trees line the fairway and a devastating bunker guards the corner of the dogleg. A power-fade off the tee can setup the big hitters with a chance to get home in two, otherwise, lay up with a mid-iron and you'll have just a wedge to a three-tiered putting surface. Sand left and deep can be hard to avoid with a back-left pin. A fitting end to a great round of golf.
Since the explosion of upscale golf in South Jersey, the region is now populated with well over a dozen courses to choose from for public consumption, several of which were designed by Kay. Blue Heron Pines Golf Club remains the benchmark by which all courses should be measured.
From tee to green, Blue Heron is magnificently maintained and quite a challenge. With most courses in this day and age being designed with new equipment in mind, it's nice to a see a venue that has stood up over the years. Since its design in the early 1990s, only a couple of tees have been added and or shifted due to home construction. "We really haven't changed much on the golf course," said Kay. "Yes, it is a compliment on the design, but it's also a compliment on the maintenance crew that they care enough to maintain the course."
|Blue Heron Pines Clubhouse|
The opening hole certainly eases you into the round, but you'll need every club in your bag to attempt to conquer this track. The front nine is rock- solid, but it's the back nine that really brings out the character of the course. From the detailed bunkering on 10, to the Pine Valley variation holes on 11 and 14 or the back-breaking par-three 16th and the closing risk-reward 18th, Blue Heron Pines is the essence of the Jersey Shore.
When a course is rated four stars over and over again by Golf Digest, you have to take notice. "Great service, great conditions, great course...just great golf."
BHP has plenty to offer - great rates, stay and play packages, a full practice range and wonderful golf instruction from Director of Instruction, Bruce Chelucci.
Blue Heron not only features a top notch golf course, but the restaurant and grille room can conjure up your wildest culinary dreams. In fact, the Club has hosted many wedding receptions and business meetings.
If it's instruction that you want, then Blue Heron is the place to be. The Golf Academy at Blue Heron Pines, a new golf instructional facility has recently been launched. Under the guidance of Chelucci, the club's director of instruction, the Academy will provide state-of-the-art video analysis, lessons, clinics for all levels and expert club fitting and repair.
Conveniently located to nearby Atlantic City and the bright lights of the Boardwalk and Casinos, Blue Heron Pines is certainly a winning hand. Character, class, wonderful staff and just really good golf is what sets Blue Heron Pines Golf Club apart.
I've played them all, but I'll continue to come back to Blue Heron Pines, the original.