Of all the new golf courses opening in the region this season, the most anticipated had to be Blue Heron Pines East. Would the new East course be as good as its sister course across the street, the popular and respected Blue Heron Pines West?
In a word, yes.
The East course, which has been open since the summer of 2000, is different from the West, to be sure. The East, on a sprawling 170-acre tract just across Tilton Road from the West, is more of a links-style layout where the wind can become a significant factor on several wide-open stretches of holes.
The East is also longer: 7,221 yards versus 6,810. It has less water to worry about, fewer forced carries, and a little less sand, although the sand that's there is strategically placed and can be troublesome.
I'm inclined to agree with the consensus of the assistant pros, who, like the slope and course rating (73/136 West; 74.8/135 East), indicate that the East is a little tougher.
The bottom line is that Blue Heron Pines East is a winner, a surefire four-star course and another welcome, albeit pricey, option for Shore golf.
A few years ago, when developer Roger Hansen decided it was time to add a second course at Blue Heron, he wasn't sure what he wanted. He just knew he wanted something different from the West course, which was designed by Stephen Kay in 1993.
Early in his research, Hansen bumped into Bradley Klein, the well-traveled course critic for Golfweek, who suggested that he consider Steve Smyers, a top amateur player and busy designer who is best known for his work in his home state of Florida. Hansen sampled some of Smyers' handiwork and set up a meeting.
Smyers, comfortable working with South Jersey's sandy soil and low-lying terrain, slashed a swath through the heavily wooded area, opened up clusters of holes, and swayed back and forth through the Pine Barrens. There wasn't much water to work with, and he didn't try to dress it up with fake-looking, man-made ponds. Instead, he took what the land gave him and created sweeping, rolling holes that play into well-bunked, crowned greens that often feature the kind of swales and collection areas found at Pinehurst No. 2.
Being an accomplished player himself - he was on the 1973 Florida team that won the NCAA championship - Smyers also made sure he built some oomph into the course. You will hit some long approach shots, and if you get too far off the fairway, you will be in knee-high undergrowth that is not pleasant.
Playing from the tips, the East opens with par 4s that go 406, 438 and 471 yards, respectively. If that doesn't wake you up, Smyers then comes at you with the only par 5 on the front, a split-fairway affair. The tee shot is white-knuckle, no matter how you play it.
The fifth isn't the most exotic par 3 around, but it plays 225 from the back tees. I've played it twice now, and I'm still trying to figure out the best way to handle it, especially in the wind.
The far more interesting par 3, however, is the seventh, shorter at 169 from the back, but tricky because it plays into a two-tiered green with a brutal slope.
There are a couple of short but sweet par 4s on the back, but the stars of the inward nine are the two par 5s, both mid-length but hard-to-reach doglegs, both heavily bunkered, both with those Pinehurst-style crowned greens that can turn a sure par into a frustrating double bogey.
If the wind whips up, as it is wont to do at the Shore, you have even more problems on your hands. On those wide-open holes, nothing shields the wind, and a hole that played driver/8-iron yesterday can suddenly become driver/3-wood.
The only water on the course comes late in the round, with a lake that separates the 16th, a short par 4, and the 17th, a long par 3. It shouldn't be a problem, though, for the mid-level player on up.
Unless you play from tees beyond your ability, there aren't any problematic forced carries on the course.
In general, the East has a big, substantial feel to it. It's easy to imagine the course hosting qualifiers and tournaments down the road. Blue Heron Pines now delivers a very strong one-two punch.
Originally published July 2, 2000