Saturday, November 28, 2015

RiverWinds Golf Club

New course rises on an unseemly site

Originally published November 3, 2002

In a perfect world, when a golf course architect finally got his first big shot, the piece of land would be choice, the time plentiful, the pockets deep.

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Ed Shearon, on the other hand, got a mere 18 months to build 18 holes, in the middle of a bone-dry drought, on a slab of no-man's land that was literally dredgings from the bottom of the Delaware River dating to World War II.

Given all that, the resulting course, RiverWinds Golf Club, is nothing less than a refreshing and promising mid-priced links layout on the banks of the Delaware in South Jersey. Open only a month, it's raw but already good, and it's probably going to get much better with age.

"I think this is something special," Shearon said, surveying the course one day last week. "I'm proud of what we've done."

While I might quibble with a shot here or there, Shearon, who owns a landscape and golf course construction company in Plymouth Meeting, has taken a big step toward making a name for himself as a designer.

At a glance
Getting there: RiverWinds is on RiverWinds Drive in West Deptford, Gloucester County. From Philadelphia, take Interstate 295 south to Exit 21. Turn right at the bottom of the exit, then turn left at the next traffic light. Follow that road through the next light; the road becomes RiverWinds Drive. Follow for one-half mile.

The phone number is 856-848-1033. The Web site is

Green fees: Weekdays, weekends and holidays, $49 with cart; after 2 p.m., $31 with cart. Lower winter rates will take effect in several weeks. In the spring, rates are likely to go to $55 on weekdays and $70 on weekends and holidays.

Rating: RiverWinds is loaded with potential. Definitely worth a try for most daily-fee players. A fair test and challenge for every level of player.

He did it under difficult circumstances. The site for RiverWinds , in West Deptford, Gloucester County, across from the Philadelphia airport, was a forsaken, good-for-nothing patch of "brownfield" - the place where the river bottom dredgings were stacked during World War II as the Delaware was deepened so that war ships could reach the Naval Shipyard.

Never mind the soil and drainage nightmares from years of neglect, Shearon and his staff (among them is Pete Fazio, shaper extraordinaire and cousin of Tom Fazio) bulldozed and massaged the flat expanse until they had created a hilly, linksy course with a fairly natural feel and a surprisingly good view of the city skyline.

RiverWinds can play as long as 7,086 yards to a hefty rating/slope of 73/132. But if you play there before winter sets in, trust me, you might want to bite off one of the shorter tees.

Shearon, who had renovated or tweaked about 20 courses before his chance at RiverWinds, did his best to adhere to the basics of design.

"I tried to use the classic formula," he said, referring to a mix of short and long par 4s, left and right doglegs, reachable and unreachable par 5s, and a sampling of short, mid-length, and long par 3s.

"What I try to do is build it so it gets bigger and better as it goes along," Shearon said. "The front nine is much more benign, softer, with a more natural look."

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