7/16/2009 - As one enters Buena Vista CC and walks to the pro shop, you will pass plastic swans in an artificial pond that is backing the 9th green, presumably for an unfortunate wedding photo. As you continue on your journey you might notice plastic cacti that appear randomly around the practice green; how anyone could think this is good landscaping is beyond me. However, it is a harbinger of what is to come; on the course you will find stone retaining walls and crisp bunkering that have as much a place on a rugged Pinelands course as a plastic cactus does next to a practice green.
For years I had heard of Buena Vista, and always in a positive light. It was consistently mentioned as one of the best public courses in South Jersey prior to the construction boom of the early 90ís. Always included in a discussion of Buena Vista was the (in?)famous tenth hole. Add to that, the pedigree of its designer, William Gordon, and it was enough to get me to make a drive south to check it out. Sadly, I have to say, it really wasnít worth the trip.
Buena Vista is a perfectly fun golf course, but there really is nothing here that is worth a drive to see. Itís a narrow course, heavily treed, with many sharp doglegs that have not stood the test of time in the face of new equipment. Better players will be laying up on a lot of holes, and hitting driver only on straight, unremarkable holes. Truly, many of the holes look the same.
The greens have some movement and interest, and the bunkering is bold and flashed up high on many holes. However, the course appears to have some serious drainage issues, so much of that movement in and around the greens is put to waste as the aerial game is really the only option with soft, slow turf eliminating the ground game. It is possible, however, that I played the course during a bad time. If it typically plays firm and fast then that would certainly elevate the experience.
Aesthetically, the course seems to be out of sync with its surroundings. Cut through a pine forest, with plenty of unkempt sandy soil, the crisply cut, scalloped bunkering looks totally out of place with the rough hewn edges that are inherent in the NJ Pinelands. If anything, the bunkering would fare well with some benign neglect. If they focused more on draining the water from bunkers, and less on cutting them with razor sharp edges, they would go a long way toward improving the look and playability of the course. The stone retaining walls, precise landscaping, and spouting fountain that highlight the signature 17th are equally disturbing and perhaps the best evidence of this courseís visual schizophrenia.
Since no discussion of Buena Vista ever seems to ignore the 10th, neither will I. Even after forgiving the totally unnecessary bunker that wraps around and the tee box, the 10th is really nothing more than an average par 5, with some aggressive fairway bunkering, that has been made difficult by the encroachment of large trees on both sides. There is no real strategy on the hole, only the need to make the counterintuitive play to the right side of the hole on both your tee shot and second shot. Doing so gives you a clear line of play on subsequent shots, rendering the hole as little more than a narrow par 5 with a well bunkered green.
Buena Vista has its moments, but they are fleeting. After laying up your tee shot into the narrow dogleg on the par 5 13th, the meandering fairway that rolls into the green, with the land falling off to a riverbed that lies in the forest below, is a beautiful sight and makes you think you are someplace else. However, you are not. You are at Buena Vista, a very average golf course buried in South Jersey; far away from anywhere, including someplace else.
- by JD