COLOGNE, N.J. -- Two decades later, architect Stephen Kay still retains a close personal connection to Blue Heron Pines Golf Club. He designed the club's original West Course and lives along its fairways.
Sitting in the View Restaurant inside the spacious clubhouse enjoying lunch on a recent fall day, Kay seems genuinely pleased that his golf course, built in 1993, has withstood the test of time. The East Course, a Steve Smyers design built in 2000, was later sold for development in 2007, leaving Kay's work for golfers to cherish.
"Selfishly, I would love to have two courses (still here)," he said.
Blue Heron Pines, long a Jersey shore favorite 15 miles from downtown Atlantic City, is experiencing a rebirth of sorts under the new ownership of Ron Jaworski, the big-talking, big-armed former NFL quarterback turned TV analyst who bought the facility in 2012.
Jaworski gobbled up the 6,810-yard semiprivate course to create the perfect shore golf getaway for members of the other three courses he owns. For everybody who isn't a member, Blue Heron Pines Golf Club is just a great place to play for a day, good enough to be a Top 50 Public Golf World Reader's Choice in 2010.
Blue Heron Pines G.C.: A tale of two nines
In many ways, Blue Heron Pines embodies the architectural philosophy of Kay, best known for his work at The Architects Golf Club in Phillipsburg, N.J. Kay also designed the nearby McCullough's Emerald Golf Links in Egg Harbor Township.
"I always try to make the back nine more difficult than the front nine," he said. "It is definitely that way here. If you look at my courses, (hole) 18 is usually easier (than on most courses), but I get them on 17."
True to his word, Kay's front nine starts off at a leisurely pace. The 315-yard first hole, the shortest par 4 of the round, allows the chance to score right out of the parking lot.
The easiest par 5, the 530-yard 18th hole, sends them home with a smile. But no. 17 is a dastardly difficult hole that is the longest par 4 on the course from the gold and black tees.
Six ponds impact more than half the holes, especially on the course's best stretch of golf from holes 10-15.
A trio of foreboding bunkers and a pond guard the left side of the 10th green, finishing off a 395-yard par 4 cut through the trees. The pint-sized, 130-yard 11th hole plays over the same hazard to a narrow putting shelf.
It's ironic that the shortest par 5, the 518-yard 14th hole, plays the hardest. Bending slightly to the left, the 14th fairway ends at a large wide waste bunker that wreaks havoc on good players going for the green in two or average players hitting their third shot over it. It's the best risk-reward hole of the round. The par-4 15th hole, the no. 1 handicap at 421 yards, vies for honors as both the prettiest and best hole. It takes a healthy poke to clear the huge right-side bunker, setting up a scary long iron over a pond to the green.
Blue Heron Pines Golf Club: The verdict
Jaworski appears committed to raising the bar on conditioning and service. Its greens were the best I putted during a five-course tour of the area in September. Blue Heron Pines G.C. had a country club aura that rivaled the excellent Shore Gate Golf Club and was second only to the famed Atlantic City Country Club. Overall, it's just a rock-solid round of golf that won't disappoint.