Doug Delaney was destined for Sand Barrens Golf Club. He was there at the start, working on one of its first maintenance crews during summer 1998. The Swainton course was built in 1997.
In 2002, Delaney returned and became its head golf professional. Three months ago, Delaney was named director of golf for his favorite establishment.
"I've always loved this course and felt it was just the perfect place to play," he says. "You have an opportunity to play a different course every day and because of our unique structure. It can fit into whatever schedule you have."
Sand Barrens is the area's lone 27-hole establishment, broken into three nine-hole layouts, the west, north and south. Most people will book two nine-hole circuits to compile 18 holes. Others, especially golf vacationers, opt for a third nine after playing the first two. It makes sense for them to spend an entire day at Sand Barrens rather than play 18 holes here and then drive to another location.
This is a scenic facility with dramatic elevations, aesthetically pleasing views and hazards that are more visual than actual. More than 100 acres of sand are spread across bunkers and just off fairways, as a design feature. The bad news? Your shots may easily find sand. The good news? Most bunkers or waste areas can be hit out of easily.
While the north is considered the hardest to play, the overall course can measure anywhere from 7,100 yards from the back tees to 6,000 yards from what most golfers play. Many of the greens are large.
And one may be the longest you will ever see. Four west and two north share a putting surface.
"If you get on and are nowhere near the hole, you could be there awhile," Delaney laughs. "That green is over an acre."
Each nine has its formidable challenges. Delaney likes nine north, nicknamed the Retrievers Hole. It has a body of water to the right of the green and catches enough tee shots for players to need their ball retrievers.
Most players will select to play 165 over the water, but some can choose the 200-yard distance, an excellent test of a low-iron tee shot. The hole even contains a backdrop for drama.
"It's one of the prettiest views of the course," Delaney says. "You are looking at the clubhouse and that means you have a little bit of a gallery. Hey, a little bit of pressure never hurts. You have to hit a good straight shot. It gets trickier when the pin placement is on the right."
In that situation, players will be tempted to fire near the pin but must flirt with the water in doing so. The water also sits behind the putting surface, so too much club is as bad as too little.
Eight west is considered one of Sand Barrens' signature holes. It is the course's longest par 4 at 448 yards from the back tees and 432 from the next forward set, with a slight dogleg to the left.
A shot that goes too far, even if straight, may produce an uneven lie for the approach.
On the left side, players can be tempted to cut off yardage by hitting over the top of the trees, but a hooked shot will be stuck in the woods.
It's called Uncle Ed's Favorite, named in honor of Edson Robertson, who co-owns the course with his brother Malcolm.
Four south, called Double Trouble, has a unique variable: it services two separate greens. One day, the green sits on the right and the following day it's on the left. This changes yardages and the angle into the hole.
When playing the right side, for example, add a few yards and perhaps a club length.
Tap-ins: The north and west each represent a solid yardage test exceeding 3,500 yards. The west finishes with two long par 4s measuring more than 440 yards. Sand Barrens was ranked fourth in Golfweek magazine for best places you can play in New Jersey for 2012.
Sand Barrens Golf Club
WHERE: 1765 Route 9 North, Swainton
HOW MUCH: Varied and may change upon course demand. Generally: summer $50 to $99 until Sept. 2. Fall rates are $25 to $49. Call to verify. Twilight specials available after 4 p.m. during summer.
AMENITIES: Pro shop, public and private driving range, putting green, chipping area with bunker, bar and grill, locker rooms, showers, banquet facility for 250 people, teaching lessons, membership availability.
TEE TIMES: Available to public 10 days out, to members 30 days in advance. Members play at discounted rate.
MORE INFO: Call 609-465-3555 or go to SandBarrensGolf.com