Twenty-five signifies silver in the wedding-anniversary world.
It means gold in the golf world at Blue Heron Pines. The Galloway facility, which tied the knot with this area as its first high-end, daily-fee course in 1993, celebrates anniversary 25 by highlighting the gold medal it won in the Best of the Press 2017 Awards. Thousands of readers voted in it. A recorded phone message at the general number promotes its association with this publication.
“Being recognized by the Press means a lot to us,” says Steve Marini, the club’s general manager. “There is a lot of competition down here and many tremendous courses. We think our customer service, pace of play and course conditions are what set us apart from everybody else.”
Blue Heron started the trend of enabling players to essentially rent a country club for a day. Patrons pay roughly $100 at peak times for amenities like plush fairways, fast greens and bag drops. Many courses followed this lead, anointing Atlantic and Cape May counties as significant golf hotbeds.
The distinction carried a price. New gleaming facilities relieved the problem of insufficient area courses, yet they also vied for the shrinking leisure-activity dollar.
“When the economy was bad, everybody took a little dip,” Marini says, “but the energy is coming back now into Atlantic City (with newly opened Hard Rock and Ocean Resorts casinos) and it’s going to be a benefit to us.”
So will celebrity panache. Former Eagles quarterback Ron Jaworski purchased the club in 2012, linking his name recognition and the marketing muscle of several clubs he owns in South Jersey and Pennsylvania to this one. An outgoing personality with ties to celebrities and the knowledge for staging events, “Jaws” literally “drives” business. One of his innovations addresses slow play, “the Kryptonite of the golf world,” he says. Blue Heron has clocks on the 7th and 13th holes, subtly telling players if they are measuring up to the suggested speed of the round.
Other upgrades involved TLC. Tree limbs were cleaned up, bunkers re-done and greens fertilized. The rough was trimmed to a manageable level and the woods thinned to let people find their shots. Blue Heron had been born with pedigree, designed by award-winning Stephen Kay, who has been involved in more than 300 new and renovated projects.
“We are always putting money back into the course,” Marini says. “The greens and the tees are full, the whole course is manicured nicely, we did drainage work and bunker upgrades, and more. We are excited about being in this area right now.”
Finally, Blue Heron expanded to service weddings for up to 175 people and to offer full-course amenities in its 7-Tap Tavern. That’s a significant element with non-golf revenue accounting for about half of the facility’s business.
Regarding golf, Marini considers Blue Heron a walkable course. It has two distinct nine-hole layouts with the front being more open and the back tighter. The layout includes five five sets of tees with yardage ranging from 6,810-5,108 yards.
And it has character.
It is part fundamental, part fun, part academy, part arcade.
Fourteen is designed after the seventh at Pine Valley, probably the world’s most renown golf course. A huge area of sand, about 60 by 90 yards, covers the fairway enough to affect the second shot. Players need to carry the sand area to set up a pitch to the green. A strong drive, safe second shot over the sand and a pitch to the well-bunkered green is one recipe for success on this hole. Players who hit the tee shot short may have to lay up in front of the sand and take a long difficult third shot to the green. From the back tees, this is a formidable 518-yard par 5.
Fifteen may be the club’s signature hole. It has a willow tree, water, a waste bunker and a sense of beauty. The par-4 plays about 390 yards.
Marini also loves the seventh, a drivable par 4 for some long hitters. Most people, however, would fare best by placing a drive in the fairway, allowing about 90 yards to a green protected by bunkers.
TAP-INS: Blue Heron also is headquarters for the New Jersey Academy of Golf, under the direction of Bruce Chelucci, a long-time teaching instructor. Several clinics and programs are available. Contact him at 609-703-4658.