Like many people, I suppose, I had already heard good things about South Jersey's newest upscale daily-fee course, Scotland Run, in Williamstown, N.J.
The word was that it was built on and around an old quarry, making for some beautiful holes and difficult carries over mess you didn't want to get into. It had bent grass from tee to green, which is a must these days. And it was the latest work from Jersey's own Stephen Kay, whose previous courses include the respected, high-end resort tracks Blue Heron Pines and Harbor Pines at the Shore.
But as I stood in the small, temporary pro shop one day in 1998 and plunked down my credit card only to hear, "$85, please," all I could think was: $85? On a Wednesday? This had better be good.
Well, Scotland Run was good. Very good. I wouldn't say it was so good I would pay $85 in the middle of the week too many times, but then maybe owner Chip Ottinger Sr. knows the market for quality daily-fee courses in South Jersey better than I do. And it is true that Scotland Run, open since June 1999, is still a work in progress.
"Salem, Gloucester and Cumberland Counties don't have any upscale facilities," Ottinger said last week. "I don't think we'll have a problem." As for the course, it's a test - with a 131 slope from the tips - and it has the familiar look and feel of Stephen Kay's other work, which is to say plenty of sand, plenty of picturesque views, and plenty of demanding golf holes.
All three - the sand, the views and the difficulty - come largely thanks to the old sand-and-gravel quarry that Ottinger's other business, a road construction company, excavated for 25 years. When the construction company had extracted all the sand and gravel it could, Ottinger opted to develop the quarry and some adjoining farmland into Scotland Run, a tough, first-rate 6,810-yard layout that draws its name from a creek that borders the property.
The back nine, where the old quarry mostly comes into play, is vastly superior to the front, not to mention much more scenic. In fact, if you're like me, through about five holes you'll be wondering how Scotland Run can expect to get away with $85 during the week, $95 on weekends.
Not that the front nine is bad; it isn't. It's just unremarkable as it wends its way through relatively wide-open flatlands, much like several of the newer links-style courses in the region.
No. 1 is a simple, straightforward par 5 that starts you off easy. The difficulty of No. 2, a 454-yard dogleg left bordered by woods, depends almost entirely on which of the hole's two greens are in play that day - that's right, Kay has designed a hole with two greens that can completely change the character of the hole.
The seventh, a short, dogleg par 4, is the first hole to bring the quarry into play, although nothing like what you'll encounter in later holes. But it is about then that you sense Scotland Run is going to get better.
By the time you make the turn, Scotland Run is starting to earn that $85.
The par-5 10th might be reachable by Tiger Woods and John Daly, but not by the likes of you and me. Not because it's overly long - it's 545 yards from the tips - but because the elevated green is well-protected behind a moat-like fairway bunker and an imposing wall of railroad ties. It's a 3-shot hole, for sure.
By the 12th, a long, rolling par 4 with the green hidden in a bowl, Scotland Run is truly picking up steam. Kay follows that with a beastly 217-yard par 3, over water, into an elevated green also guarded by a nasty-looking front bunker that creates narrow entryways on either side. It's a lot of golf shot to fly that green, then stop it.
The three closing holes - especially the 16th and 18th - are the memories most golfers will take away from Scotland Run. The par-4 dogleg 16th is truly a sight - and a monster shot over a yawning chasm of sand quarry into a fairly narrow landing area. Bite off as much as you want, fully aware of the risk and reward.
The day I was there, some poor hack in the group in front of ours was down in there, flailing away. When he finally got the ball up and out, he raised his arms in exultation.
The par-5 dogleg 18th, however, is the true signature hole. The tee shot is downhill, with a lake on the right coming into play for long hitters. But for any hope of reaching the distant, uphill green in 2 strokes, you've got to get it down there, right? Right.
Even with a good drive, the sensible second shot is to forget about attempting the 200-yard-plus carry over the awesome expanse of sand and water. But if you're a single-digit player, you'll itch to go for the green. What the heck, give it a shot.
In a couple of places, Scotland Run's yardage book makes reference to holes with a Pine Valley look and feel. Make no mistake, while the course does offer a taste of the kind of waste areas you will find at the famous neighboring course, the similarity ends there.
At Pine Valley, every hole is enshrouded by trees. Not so at Scotland Run, where Ottinger's construction company in the distance detracts from the overall viewing experience.
There is one other, um, situation you should know about. Although it's nearly invisible behind the trees near the 18th green, there is a township sewage treatment plant lurking nearby. The day I was there, it, too, came into play, just as surely as the quarry, if you get my drift.
Ottinger says this is not usually a problem - only once before did the plant rear its stinky head, and the township quickly took care of it. For the sake of anyone spending time at Scotland Run, let's hope they come up with a permanent solution.
Overall, though, Scotland Run is a winner.
Originally published Aug. 1, 1999