When you pull into the
parking lot at Heron Glen GC, there is nothing that suggests you are in for a very good day of golf.
It’s a muni,
part of Hunterdon County Park and Recreation System, and if appearances mean anything, it’s doubtful
that any politician will be indicted any time soon for having squandered
taxpayer money on a posh clubhouse. What serves as the clubhouse at Heron Glen,
in fact, is one of those flat-roofed, pre-fab buildings
that you’d expect to find as the temporary office at a big construction site.
At Heron Glen, there is no grillroom, no banquet hall and no locker
room, although there is a snack bar, where you can generally find a young woman
behind a counter selling very tasty hotdogs. To accommodate outings and larger functions of all sorts,
they have erected a large, semi-permanent eyesore of a white tent next to the
"Look at that thing," said
one a Heron Glen
regular recently, shaking his head at the sight of the unsightly tent. "The county commissioners won’t spend
the money for a clubhouse, but for the rent they’ve paid on that tent over the
years, they could have built a million-dollar clubhouse."
Whatever. Heron Glen
is not about the clubhouse or the other amenities; it’s about the golf course,
which can proudly hold its head high among respected munis
in the region, such as Makefield Highlands GC in Bucks County, Lederach
GC in Harleysville and Deerfield Golf & Tennis Club in Newark, Del.
I had played one forgettable
round at Heron Glen on a lousy day not
long after it opened in 2002. I decided
at the time that it was too early pass judgment, so the course languished as a
faint blip on my radar screen.
Until recently, that is, when
a buddy who lives nearby in Ringoes informed me he
had finally quit his private golf club in a huff over the alarming increase in
dues and self-important jerks who were becoming members. He now proudly called Heron Glen
his home course. It was a heck of
a lot cheaper, he didn’t miss private-club amenities and, truth the told, he
said, the golf course was better.
Clearly, it was time for a return visit.
Designed by Dan Schlegel, then a senior architect
with the respected firm of Ault, Clark & Associates, now with his own design firm, Heron Glen
opened at the tail end of the golf course boom. Spread out over rolling terrain that was once the old Kuster Farm, it can play as long as 7,065 yards or as short as 5,177, from five sets of tees; the rating/slope
range from of 74.3/135 to 69.9/126, all respectable numbers. (Hole-by-hole here.)
For Hunterdon County residents, the green fees top out at $41, with cart, on the weekend. For non-residents, the top rate is $46 weekdays, $60 weekends and holidays. (Green fees here.)
In places, Heron Glen
is wide-open, treeless, not unlike Wyncote GC in Chester County,
another former farm that is now a popular links-style course. But there are stretches on both the
front and back nine where Heron Glen
is wooded and tighter.
While the terrain is
rolling, Heron Glen has nothing like
the elevation changes you find at, say, Pine
Hill GC, in Camden County, now Trump
National GC - Philadelphia. It is hard to think of any hole at Heron Glen
that could be considered strikingly dramatic holes, where you are captivated by
the view or intimidated by the shot at hand.
More often than not, the
fairway before you is not especially daunting. It might be slightly angled,
rising to a low crest, with flanking fairway bunkers, meandering toward a green
that is invariably large, slopped and protected by bunkers. Holes tend to be framed, or defined, by
mounds. Except for the big-finish
par 4 18th, there is nary a drop of water.
You can go all day and never
hit a ball out of bounds and never lose a ball. Heron Glen is a challenge
without beating you up or wearing you down. Except for one par 3 – the short 12th
designed every green without a forced carry, making the course user-friendly
for juniors, seniors, women and high-handicappers whose approach shots aren’t
always high and soft.
There’s an intriguing mix of
holes, including five par 5s and five par 3s, rather than the more common four
5s and four 3s.
The longest is No. 2, a 614-yard par 5 from the tips, which
makes it unreachable in two by the likes of me; but No. 2 is also the least
interesting of the par 5s. While the four other par 5s are only
512, 545, 514 and 473 from the blue tees, they have far more personality, and
you have at least a fighting chance of going for the green in two.
The par 5 8th ,
in particular, stands out because it requires an accurate tee shot through
stands of trees that serve as goal posts, and a second shot that must negotiate
new fewer than five large, strategically-placed fairway bunkers in the lay-up
My other favorite par 5 was
the 16th, which is the shortest of the bunch at only 473 yards from
the blue tees, yet has trouble lurking at every turn. You start with a tee shot that is up and over crest and
plays down to a wide ravine; then into an upper fairway that angles to the
right and is riddled with bunkers.
You will think twice, and gulp, before going for that green in two.
A couple of short par 4s
also stick out in my mind. No. 6,
a 395-yard par 4, has a ravine that
traverses the fairway just off the forward tee and another just short of the elevated
green; in between is a angled and slightly tiered fairway with three fairway
bunkers in play.
No. 11, only 308 yards from the blue tees, much of
that downhill, is a temptation for any long-hitter to try to drive the
green. It’s possible, so long as
you play toward the bailout area to the left of the green, not the greenside
bunker on the front right.
The bottom line on Heron Glen,
you know they are doing something right when the course is doing a brisk
business on a weekday morning.