A Ghost Course in Southern New Jersey

The Great Trial, Blue Heron Pines East, October, 2003.

The Great Trial, Blue Heron Pines East, October, 2003.

On the morning of the second day of the Sunday Morning Group’s fourth annual autumn golf trip to Atlantic City, in 2003, Hacker (real name) gave everyone printed driving directions to Blue Heron Pines East, the course we were scheduled to play that day, but then drove himself and Harry, his navigator, to a course called Harbor Pines, which we weren’t playing until the next day and which was twenty-five minutes from Blue Heron. We had to shuffle the tee times while we waited for them to realize they’d screwed up. Then, after the round, we held a trial in the clubhouse—there were several lawyers on the trip—and sentenced the two of them to buy everybody’s lunch. Harry never fully understood why he was being forced to pay for so many bacon cheeseburgers, but everyone else, including Hacker, thought the whole thing was pretty funny.

That's Hacker in the middle and Harry on the right. Harry claimed later that he'd been represented by incompetent counsel.

The reading of the charges. That’s Hacker in the middle and Harry on the right. Harry claimed later that he’d been represented by incompetent counsel.

Blue Heron Pines East, which was designed by Steve Smyers, was one of our favorite golf courses, but in 2007 a real-estate developer bought it, and announced a plan to build an enormous condominium complex right on top of most of the holes. A year later, the global economic implosion helped to kill the condominium project, but the golf course remained closed and was allowed to revert to New Jersey. Earlier this month, during this year’s S.M.G. trip, Hacker and I drove over to have a look at the ruins, after playing a round at what used to be called Blue Heron Pines West. (It was designed by our close personal friend Stephen Kay and is still doing business, as Ron Jaworski’s Blue Heron Pines). Here’s what used to be the sign at the entrance of the East course:

P1100102And here’s the old driving range and part of the old parking lot:

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And here’s the ramp leading down into what used to be the cart barn:

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And here, through the opening in the trees, is what was once the fairway of the first hole, a really nice short, uphill par 4. The green was on the rise in front of that bank of trees in the distance:

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And here’s the patio outside the clubhouse. We held the trial on the other side of those double doors, in what was then the grillroom:

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And here’s another view of the clubhouse, and of what used to be the entrance of the golf shop:

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We learned during this year’s trip that the property has a new owner, who just received approval for a new condominium plan. That means, I guess, that people aren’t suddenly going to come to their senses and give us back our golf course. We like the surviving course a lot, but it would be nice to have both. And if the condominiums really do get built we won’t even be able to explore the remains.

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A few years ago, for The New Yorker, I wrote about another ghost course, on an island in the Outer Hebrides, in northwestern Scotland. You can read about that lost golf course here.

4 thoughts on “A Ghost Course in Southern New Jersey

  1. Years ago, when I was writing for the late lamented T&L Golf, Steve Smyers gave me and Brian McCallen a hole by hole, almost yard by yard designer’s eye view of his then-new BHPEast, a course I grew to love and have sorely missed. It was a privilege to see this course as its creator saw it and conceived it. It seemed to me there was meaning and purpose in every square yard, every dip and rise, every collection area, false front, tilt of the fairway and so on–partly to charm or fool the eye, but mostly to create rewards or penalties depending on where you landed the ball and on what trajectory. That day enhanced my appreciation of golf course design. Smyers was passionate, articulate, thoughtful and patient. I came away a Smyers fan.

  2. Always sad to see a golf course go. A couple of weeks ago I learned that one of my local par 3 course was being sold at the end of the season. I guess I should have seen this coming as it went from 18 to 13 to 11 to 7 holes over the last few years. It took me about 7 holes to recover as I played it twice…

    • this would make a great area for a Super Walmart and some fast food franchises. Its a shame to see such prime commercial property going to waste.

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