For the handful of affluent Press-area golfers, however, one deal beats all. Welcome to Hidden Creek, the Egg Harbor Township masterpiece operated by Roger Hansen, who built two Blue Heron Pines courses in the 1990s. Hansen coaxed renowned architects Ben Crenshaw, a two-time Masters champion, and his partner Bill Coore, to design this course in 2002.

Coore and Crenshaw "find the golf course on the land" and don't move much earth. Their architectural stamp often includes incorporating deep-lipped bunkers and sloping greens into the natural, rugged terrain of an area. Hidden Creek is their only New Jersey project of about 40 nationwide. Initial membership here was a bargain at $45,000, about four times less than many of its North Jersey counterparts.

That "bargain" has given way to "blatant theft," because the price has been slashed to $15,000, most of it refundable if a player leaves in later years. Thirty-eight new members have signed up since the special price originated last December, says Ian Dalzell, the club's general manager and director of golf. For anyone with a spare $15,000 (I'm a little short this week), this is an unprecedented buying opportunity.

The course maximizes its natural assets. Built on 750 acres, it reflects the setting of a rough Pine Barrens terrain. It measures a challenging 7,063 yards and has gained multiple awards, including being named one of the best 100 courses in America according to Golf magazine. GolfWorld magazine readers bestowed a reader's choice award for the top private clubs in America for 2010. This course has also hosted U.S. Open Men and Women's qualifying rounds.

"What they have done here is create a course that looks easy and plays hard," Dalzell says. "You will see 60-yard fairways, huge greens, no out-of-bounds, no water hazards, and yet the course presents a huge challenge. The greens protect par. They are large, undulating and subtle. Two-putting is difficult on this course."

Spectacular bunkering marks the course, with fescue rough often sitting atop the trap. This is golf's version of going out of the frying pan and into the fire, as multiple penalties await the player who finds the bunker.

Hidden Creek's signature hole may be the ninth, an S-shaped, double dog-legged par 5 playing 585 yards from the back tees. The landing area off the tee is guarded by bunkers and trees. The second shot aims to get past the bend to enable a clear shot into the green. The double dog-left does not encourage players to cut the corners and trim some yardage with either their tee shot or their second stroke. The hole requires three consecutive fairly-long and well-controlled shots.

Tap-ins

•Stars from the golf world, John Daly and Angela Stanford, will participate in a nine-hole Skins game Sept. 20.

•Hidden Creek attracts members from throughout the country, so it constructed an eight-bedroom lodge in 2006.

•"When you come here" Dalzell says. "You'll think you arrived at the Ritz Carlton." ]]>

Golfers with average budgets found an unprecedented deal frenzy this year. Greens fees plunged to affordable levels at high-priced establishments, especially for players with midweek scheduling flexibility.

For the handful of affluent Press-area golfers, however, one deal beats all. Welcome to Hidden Creek, the Egg Harbor Township masterpiece operated by Roger Hansen, who built two Blue Heron Pines courses in the 1990s. Hansen coaxed renowned architects Ben Crenshaw, a two-time Masters champion, and his partner Bill Coore, to design this course in 2002.

Coore and Crenshaw "find the golf course on the land" and don't move much earth. Their architectural stamp often includes incorporating deep-lipped bunkers and sloping greens into the natural, rugged terrain of an area. Hidden Creek is their only New Jersey project of about 40 nationwide. Initial membership here was a bargain at $45,000, about four times less than many of its North Jersey counterparts.

That "bargain" has given way to "blatant theft," because the price has been slashed to $15,000, most of it refundable if a player leaves in later years. Thirty-eight new members have signed up since the special price originated last December, says Ian Dalzell, the club's general manager and director of golf. For anyone with a spare $15,000 (I'm a little short this week), this is an unprecedented buying opportunity.

The course maximizes its natural assets. Built on 750 acres, it reflects the setting of a rough Pine Barrens terrain. It measures a challenging 7,063 yards and has gained multiple awards, including being named one of the best 100 courses in America according to Golf magazine. GolfWorld magazine readers bestowed a reader's choice award for the top private clubs in America for 2010. This course has also hosted U.S. Open Men and Women's qualifying rounds.

"What they have done here is create a course that looks easy and plays hard," Dalzell says. "You will see 60-yard fairways, huge greens, no out-of-bounds, no water hazards, and yet the course presents a huge challenge. The greens protect par. They are large, undulating and subtle. Two-putting is difficult on this course."

Spectacular bunkering marks the course, with fescue rough often sitting atop the trap. This is golf's version of going out of the frying pan and into the fire, as multiple penalties await the player who finds the bunker.

Hidden Creek's signature hole may be the ninth, an S-shaped, double dog-legged par 5 playing 585 yards from the back tees. The landing area off the tee is guarded by bunkers and trees. The second shot aims to get past the bend to enable a clear shot into the green. The double dog-left does not encourage players to cut the corners and trim some yardage with either their tee shot or their second stroke. The hole requires three consecutive fairly-long and well-controlled shots.

Tap-ins

n Stars from the golf world, John Daly and Angela Stanford, will participate in a nine-hole Skins game Sept. 20.

n Hidden Creek attracts members from throughout the country, so it constructed an eight-bedroom lodge in 2006.

"When you come here" Dalzell says. "You'll think you arrived at the Ritz Carlton."

Hidden Creek Golf Club

75 Asbury Road, Egg Harbor Township

Membership: Obtain sponsorship, go through approval process. Approximate cost is $15,000

Amenities: Driving range, putting green, clubhouse, short-game practice area, clubhouse.

Phone: 609-909-2990

Website: