Bill Coore was asked by a wealthy New Jersey real estate developer, Roger Hansen, to create distinctive golf course on 750 acres of sandy rolling pine barren woodlands he acquired outside of Atlantic City. He had in mind a golf club in the Pine Valley tradition-a private haven where wealthy people with presence in this area could entertain their friends and colleagues with the highest standard of golf, food, and accommodations in a casual environment without pretense.
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Coore spent a considerable amount of time walking the ground before a contract was prepared and determined it offered an opportunity to create rustic walking course with a character unique to this region. There was enough elevation change in the property to make holes with distinct topological interest and plenty of natural vegetation to provide the look and feel of an old English heathland course.
What he came up with was an old style walking course, short walks from greens to tees, that clings to the upland part of the property. With a minimal amount of dirt being moved, it would have the raw and natural looking hazards of mounding, deep bunkers, and long fescue grasses you might see at a course like Sunningdale outside of London. There would be no paved cart paths, no houses interrupting the landscape, just natural delight as far as the eye can see. Coore said of the project, “The Hidden Creek site required very little alteration to the landscape. The holes lay on the ground pretty much the way we found it.”
Coore and Crenshaw embrace the old style principles of great designers of the golden age providing plenty of room to play the course and generous access to the greens. There may be ferocious bunkering on one side of a fairway or green but you will rarely see both sides cordoned by trouble. This makes the play much more enjoyable for the recreational player who does not want to take on the macho challenge. Like many of the great courses of that period, playing this course well is about thoughtful tactical intention with adept execution of the shots required.
They created big set backs for the holes from the existing trees-this makes for an enhanced canvas on which to present the holes. Lush bent fairways throughout set against gold fescue grasses make for a beautiful presentation. The most distinctive characteristic is the seemingly random mounding and bunkering that provide most of the hazards. There is no water in play on the course-they did not route any of the holes through the wetlands that take up almost half of the property. The randomness of the placement of the hazards defies the symmetrical look of so many modern designers and it makes the playing lines infinitely more interesting to discern as you plan your shots.
There are over 100 bunkers on the course and they often have eyebrows of natural long fescue reminiscent of Royal County Down-this makes them very intimidating looking from afar as well as difficult from which to extricate yourself if you are too close to the front of the bunkers. Pay particular attention to the relative position of the hazards to the landing areas and greens. With some optical trickery they can seem more imposing than they really are-there is often more wiggle room in the formula than meets the eye.
I found the mystery of the greens particularly intriguing. These are big, sprawling oceans of green with pitch and undulations that will confound you both on your approach shots and your putting. Local advice is essential until your personal knowledge of the greens is up to speed. These guys have real genius giving you plenty of room to approach but giving you little room to approach successfully. You can hit what seems like a wonderful shot that seems to randomly separate from the hole against all your intentions. The greens roll very nicely and have lots of speed, especially down hill. This is not really a set of greens that call for a nickel defense but you have to be careful when the speed conditions of a particular putt are at the optimum.
What is an architectural accomplishment of no small order, given that the property itself does not have inherent dramatic topography, is no two holes on the course look remotely similar. You cannot anticipate what is coming next because there is no pattern to the sequence or the hole designs. The sequencing of the holes is brilliant, you might have a monstrously long par four followed by a short pitch par three or a reachable par five. This keeps the player off balance because the challenges vary dramatically from hole to hole.
The entire facility is top notch. The locker room, eating facility, and practice facilities are as good as any high end club you will visit. Like you would see at Pine Valley or Caves Valley they built very nice lodge to accommodate out of town guests in for a multi-day visit to the club. You are going to need an invite to get here but if you can find one you will not be disappointed in what they have created.
Egg Harbour Township, NJ
Architects: Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw (2002)
Tee Par Yardage Rating Slope
Championship 71 7023 73.5 136
Member 71 6562 71.6 131
Forward 72 5486 72.3 127
(Click here to review Hidden Creek hole-by-hole descriptions)