Blue Heron Pines launched the southern New Jersey golf revolution two decades ago. It brought the high-end, daily-fee niche here, projecting the image of the rented country club experience.
Players could become king or queen for a day, enjoy the amenities of having clubs cleaned, full locker-room access and clubhouse facilities. Then there was the course, offering lush fairways and fast well-trimmed greens. That total experience cost about $100. Several area courses followed the example set by Blue Heron's 1993 opening.
Seventeen years later, the deal is sweeter for bargain hunters. With the economy battering golf prices, this course has come closer to "mid-range daily fee" rates at the right times. A weekday rate of $59 after 3 p.m. is Blue Heron's lowest one-round price. But keep checking, because rates change.
The Cologne-based course remains tremendous, having been ranked among the Top 50 public courses in the country for 2010 by GolfWorld magazine.
Blue Heron pioneered the tee box expansion from two to five, providing a number of different courses depending upon the yardage played. The back tees are 6,805 yards and the fronts are 5,053, the difference between night and day in the golf world.
The menu of clinics, lessons and twilight specials here augment a challenging, upscale layout.
"Everything on the course is the gold standard," says Will Arabea, the club's general manager. "Everything is strategically placed to make you think about shots. If you execute, you are rewarded. If not, you are penalized. You are also playing a fun course, carved out in the Jersey pines. It's a beautiful setting. You will see bald eagles, blue herons, basically a lot of wildlife out there. It's a pretty walk."
The course has a number of tough holes, starting with the fifth. It's a 413-yard assignment from the back tees, requiring a tight tee shot to avoid woods on the left and water on the right. It has an elevated green protected by three bunkers and is listed as the toughest hole on the course.
The 14th is an intimidating, yet rewarding, par-5 assignment. It's 518 yards from the back tees, 498 from the next forward set, and requires distance and precision. A drive into the right-side fairway will set up the challenge of this hole. A mammoth bunker of about 60 yards occupies the entire fairway as one observes their second shot. There is no way around the hazard. It will either gobble up the second shot or make the third shot nearly unplayable, or you will clear it. Near the green, a bunker juts out from the right, taking that angle to the green out of play. The green is just behind the bunker.
The 15th, a 421-yard par 4, is interesting. A pinched fairway on the right coaxes players to flirt with water danger on the left to gain position for a good look at the green on the approach.
Blue Heron Pines Golf Club
550 W. Country Club Drive, Cologne
Rates: Monday to Thursday - $88, $78 from noon to 3 p.m., $59 after 3 p.m. Friday to Sunday - $105, $89 from noon to 3 p.m., $69 after 3 p.m.
Reservations: Accepted up to 30 days in advance
Amenities: Pro shop, putting green, chipping area, full driving range, golf academy, clinics, men's and women's locker rooms, banquet facility for approximately 250 people.