COLOGNE, N.J. - Find the bunker on the right of the eighth green at the Blue Heron Pines Golf Club East Course and a set of steps awaits to gently lower you into one of the course's 81 sand traps.
Steps might be helpful in the majority of the traps. If you make your way into a few during a round on the East Course, you will be left with a couple of clear observations:
As a practical matter, it is safest to enter and exit the steeply banked traps slowly. It is strategically advantageous to spend more time than usual avoiding shots from the sand.
The green-side traps are so well maintained that the soft, consistent sand and the steep faces simply help influence the proper blast out to a soft landing on the green. Face a similar required loft from a fairway trap, however, and the challenge is entirely different. Depending on the line and angle, at times it may be necessary to concede that advancing to or near the green is not so realistic. Fortunately, the traps, while plentiful, are well-placed. Course architect Steve Smyers' bunker placement punishes ill-advised or poorly executed shots, but does not create any seemingly unfair penalties. Off the tee, there is always plenty of room to avoid the fairway traps. The green-side traps are also positioned in a manner that they are much more likely to gather in the poorly struck shots than the approaches that just miss their intended target. The false fronts to the greens allow vast areas to run shots in.
The greens are surrounded by what plays like an extended fringe, allowing an array of chips shots for players of all caliber. This same effect presents an area that may cause some longer iron shots into greens to run back down slopes off of greens when the course is playing dry and fast.
Smyers said his design intends for the course to play "fast and firm, to enhance the bounce and roll of the ball, and encourage the use of the slopes and contours to advance the ball toward the hole. Of course, playing bump-and-run shots on uneven contours requires imagination and creativity." He said he hoped "the discovery of shotmaking" is what players would love about the East Course. There can be some long shots into those slopes and contours around the greens for even the best of players.
From the tips, the par-71 Blue Heron Pines East Course plays 7,221 yards with a 74.8 course rating and 135 slope rating which remind that the tips of the course are only for the strongest of golf games. From the blue tees, the course plays 6,807 yards.
The slope rating of 128 (113 is considered average by the USGA), shows that the East Course is clearly plenty challenging for most players from the white tees where it plays at 6,255 yards. The course plays 5,704 yards from the green tees and 5,165 from the red, which has a women's slope rating of 120.
Since its opening on May 26, 2000, the East Course has been building its own reputation, one that nearly matches that of the Blue Heron Pines West Course, which in just seven years has become one of New Jersey's most respected public courses.
The courses are situated just minutes off the Atlantic City Expressway and Garden State Parkway, about 15 miles from Atlantic City and 45 from Philadelphia. Ole Hansen and Sons, Inc., developer of Blue Heron Pines, clearly stuck with its desire to create a top-flight public option that matches the greens fees, which reach $125 for weekend play in the peak summer season.
The links style course features fescue and shrubs defining the rough. In the summer of the East Course's first season, shots into these areas could often be recovered from, but the difficulty of doing so figures to increase as the course continues to mature.
The long par-4s create the course's stiffest tests. Holes 3, 6, 11, 14 and 18 play 471, 462, 473, 465 and 475 yards respectively from the gold tees and average 397 yards even from the whites. They push players to go after their tee shots, bringing in the possibility of straying into trouble, and still leave long approaches to make it more difficult to aim for the precise position that the slopes around the greens can demand.
After 3 provides little more than length for its test, 6 features a group of four fairway traps on the right and five more traps around the green including two tucked in close to the front left.
The placement of five large bunkers from 75 yards out up to the green on the right and within about 30 yards of the green on the left, make it a necessity to be in good position off the tee on 11. Without a good drive, some players may chose to lay up in front of the sand or play well to the left and try to get up-and-down.
The round ends with 18 providing both length and one of the tighter areas for a tee shot, since the trees on the right present more of a possibility of losing a shot off the tee.
Even the "easy" holes have little challenges. The otherwise simple 153-yard, sixth hole (169 from the gold) has three levels of the green than can make a long putt from the wrong tier into a possible three-putt. At 16, a par-4 that plays just 310 from the white and 341 from the gold, water runs all the way down the right side.
Although not much in play off the tee, the water is just close enough to make players wonder how close they want to try to come on the long, narrow green. The 16th does provide one other breather, besides being the shortest par-4. It is the only hole on the course, where there are no sand traps - and no steps - to be found.
P.O. Box 961
Cologne, N.J. 08213
1-888-4STAR-GOLF or 609-965-GOLF
Jan. 1-March 11 $51
March 12-April 15 $71
April 16-May 13 $78
May 14-June 23 $99
June 24-September 6 $99 Monday-Thursday, $125 Friday-Sunday
September 7-October 17 $99
October 18-November 30 $71
December 1-31 $51
National recognition for Blue Heron Pines' courses, service, instruction, pro shop and treatment of women golfers all points out the same thing course management will take the extra steps to try to make the $99-125 round seem like a bargain.
Once you have been convinced to see what the Blue Heron Pines East or West courses are all about, do not forget to spend $5 on the course's best bargain.
A first trip around either Blue Heron Pines course is infinitely more enjoyable and interesting with one of their impressive yardage books in hand. Both 18-hole layouts are covered in the same book.
Seemingly every other facet of the Blue Heron Pines operation has received rave reviews from one prestigious authority or another. The yardage book deserves equal acclaim.
The standards, yardage to the green from various points on each hole and a highly detailed hole reproduction, and much more are covered. The book, which was produced by The HoleView Corporation with assistance from the Blue Heron Pines staff, also gives yardage from each tee to key points on or along the fairways.
The book is marked with common tee placements so golfers do not have to guess if the tee they are playing today is actually the 400 yards that are shown on the scorecard on number 2 of the East Course, for instance. With a quick look, a player knows that he needs to hit it 205 in the air if he wants to carry the left fairway trap and that any shot traveling up to 229 yards could reach the fairway traps on the right.
For players who alternate between a driver and fairway wood off the tee, the yardage book offers great assistance in making informed decisions. For those who simply want to swing away, the yardage helps them know whether they need to favor one side or the other in order to avoid landing in trouble on their average shot.
The best touch of all may be the lay-up distances, which help clarify yardage from typical landing areas off the tee to key trouble points in front of the green on par-5s. There is no problem discovering that a shot from the beginning of the left fairway trap to the first of four traps in front of number 12 is 195 yards.
There is nothing more aggravating for the player who likes to sample many courses than to execute a great swing only to have the ball roll five yards too far and end up in trouble because yardage was unclear. Blue Heron Pines goes the extra yard to eliminate such problems. (TR)