Take the Private life for a Spin: Autumn deal at Hidden Creek opens EHT club to fill membership slots

Hidden Creek Golf Club general manager Jim Mancill stands at the fourth tee of his Egg Harbor Township course.

Want to sample an elite golf establishment for six months, free? Then Hidden Creek Golf Club is the place to be. The club unfurls a unique September and October promotion to fill its final 40 membership spots. Not only has the membership deposit been slashed from $45,000 to $15,000, but players can pay $6,000 of that now and the rest later. They also have club dues waived until March and can obtain a refund of the deposit in the event they decide not to join the club.

It amounts to a complimentary test drive, for a course ranked among the nation's top 100 for the past eight years according to Golf Week Magazine. The promotion is a sample of a facility chosen 13th among the top 50 private courses in the US by Golf World magazine this year. The Hidden Creek promotion covers a course designed by well-known architect Bill Coore and Hall-of-Fame golfer Ben Crenshaw, a two-time Masters winner.

Most people who try the club on for size will indeed become members. Yet the promotion shows private clubs must take far more drastic measures than public courses to survive in this economy.

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For those with disposable cash, this amounts to incredible buying power.

"A lot of people who in the past would have considered Hidden Creek out of their reach would be surprised to know that this is not necessarily so," says Jim Mancill, the general manager and director of golf for the Egg Harbor Township facility. "Besides being a world-class golf course, we are truly a golfers club. Our place has great amenities for the members, including an incredible lodge, where players can have their corporate meetings or have family and friends in town."

The course, which regularly attracts touring PGA and LPGA members for exhibitions and special events, is top notch. It has a championship length of 7,023 yards from the back tees, with a nice give-and-take relationship. Many greens are not guarded by traps, enabling pitch-and-run shots to the green from inside 100 yards. Some holes are not only challenging, but aesthetically pleasing. The fourth is a 222-yard par 3, downhill to a green that is almost 50 yards deep. There is a 40-foot change of elevation from tee to green, prompting players to play the hole as if it is shorter. A pin placement on the back of the green, however, makes the hole play longer.

The eighth is a tantalizingly short 315-yard par 4, with a bunker placed at the 275-yard mark. For long hitters hoping to drive the green, the bunker sits right in the landing area. A potential birdie (or eagle) can become a bogey if the tee shot finds the bunker.

The yardage alone will test top players. At a U.S. Open qualifier here in May, only one below-average score was posted. Professionals won't beat up this course, but amateurs have no fear of being overwhelmed, Mancill says.

"This course is very challenging for the good players," Mancill says, "but for the mid- and high-handicap players, this course won't be too rough on them.

"I think we achieve that balance by being big proponents of the ground game. You don't have to fly every shot in the air (over traps and water, etc.). You can hit your run shots and use the contour of the course to enjoy more of what you see on a Links style course."

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