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By Phil Sokol - Director of Operations (TSN)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.