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Golf Course Review - Hidden Creek Golf Club

FACTS AND STATS: Course Architects: Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore. Year Opened: May, 2002. Location: Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. Slope: 127. Rating: 73.5. Par: 71. Yardage: 7,023.

Hole-by-Hole:

1 - Par 4 402 Yds 10 - Par 4 476 Yds

2 - Par 4 421 Yds 11 - Par 3 128 Yds

3 - Par 5 534 Yds 12 - Par 4 467 Yds

4 - Par 3 222 Yds 13 - Par 4 391 Yds

5 - Par 4 395 Yds 14 - Par 3 200 Yds

6 - Par 4 446 Yds 15 - Par 4 411 Yds

7 - Par 3 179 Yds 16 - Par 4 470 Yds

8 - Par 4 331 Yds 17 - Par 5 529 Yds

9 - Par 5 583 Yds 18 - Par 4 438 Yds

Par 36 3,513 Yds Par 35 3,510 Yds

Awards Won: Ranked by Golf Magazine - Best Courses in America (2003-08), #82 by GolfWeek - America's 100 Best Modern Courses (2011), Ranked by Golfweek - America's 100 Best Modern Courses (2003-11), #13 by GolfWorld Readers' Choice Top 50 Private Clubs (2010), #12 by Golf Digest - Best-in-State Rankings (NJ) (2011-12).

Key Events Held: U.S. Women's Open qualifier (2004), U.S. Senior Open qualifier (2004), U.S. Open local qualifier (2011), Skins Fore Kids Golf Tournament (2010-11).

Website: hiddencreekclub.com.

HISTORY: The history of Hidden Creek has just begun, as the course has only been open a very short period of time. In that span, Hidden Creek has already reached lofty status, as it has been ranked in the top 100 of best courses in the United States by many publications.

Owned and operated by Ole Hansen and Sons, Hidden Creek was the brainchild of president Roger Hansen.

For years, Hansen tried to lure Ben Crenshaw and Bill Coore to build a course for him at the Jersey Shore, but to no avail, as each time they declined. Continually reaching out, Hansen finally hit pay dirt, no pun intended, as a parcel of land just 10 miles from Atlantic City finally became available.

With an exciting piece of property, Crenshaw and Coore said yes and the project was underway. The 750-acre plot was located in a rough and rugged section of the Pine Barrens. What excited the duo was the untouched, natural surroundings.

"The Hidden Creek site required very little alteration to the landscape," commented Coore during the construction phase of the project. "The holes lay on the ground pretty much the way we found it. We look for projects in which the site lends itself to golf in its natural form." Crenshaw mentioned, "We stand for tradition and old-fashioned values. We tried to work with the land and create balance and variety in the design."

Since joining forces in 1986, Crenshaw and Coore have designed some outstanding layouts around the country. Sand Hills Golf Club (NE), The Plantation Course at Kapalua (HI) and Barton Creek Club (TX) to name a few.

Hansen was certainly pleased. "My vision was turned into reality. We have a really fine private club, nothing too fancy. A really good golf course where guys can have fun and enjoy the camaraderie of the game. And walk with caddies. It turned out about how I envisioned. It's wonderful to see."

Hidden Creek has been host to the Skins Fore Kids golf tournament since 2010. That year, Angela Stanford and John Daly graced the layout for charity. In 2011, Rocco Mediate and Mark Calcavecchia were on hand to benefit the Boys and Girls Club of Atlantic City and the First Tee program.

Since its opening in 2002, the accolades and awards have not stop coming in, as Golfweek Magazine ranked Hidden Creek 82nd on the list of America's 100 Best Modern Courses in 2011.

"We are very honored to have earned this distinction from Golfweek for the eighth consecutive year," said club General Manger Jim Mancill. "We take great pride in this honor."

HOLE-BY-HOLE REVIEW: The course opens with a solid par four, one of eight at Hidden Creek over 400 yards, bending slightly to the left and more often than not, into the wind. As is the case with most landing areas at Hidden Creek, the designers allowed for plenty of room off the tee, so you can be a little off the mark, however, don't stray to far, as trees guard both sides of the fairway. A mid-iron to the first green will set up a chance for birdie, but par is a good starting point to your round. Miss the green long and you'll find yourself in one of the numerous chipping areas which protect some of the greens.

The second is a definite birdie chance, unless you happen to catch the fairway bunker in the middle of the landing area, a 235-yard carry from the back buttons. The hole, which bends to the right, is protected with additional traps along the right with a deep bunker short and right of the green. The putting surface features severe slope around the green with another chipping area long. After two holes at Hidden Creek, the one thing that stands out is the spectacular bunkering. Every sand trap features aesthetically appealing fescue decorating the edges. And by the way, look out for the roaming hawk in the trees on the left.

Number three is a straightaway par five, reachable in two on a calm day (rare at the Jersey Shore). From 160 yards and in, a large waste area occupies the right side to just short of the green. At one time, this abandoned quarry had sand and gravel excavated for use in nearby road construction. In some spots, the quarry is eight feet deep and fifty yards wide. Yikes! The putting surface slopes from back to front and right to left. Remember, it's a par five, so take advantage of this one.

The longest par three on the course, the fourth is a beaute and a brute, stretching 222 yards from the tips. Although playing downhill, the green actually sits on top of a ridge with a huge putting surface, probably the most severe green on the course. Sand protects short, left and right. Par here is outstanding, bogey in some instances might not be bad either. The play is a sweeping draw and let the green funnel your ball to the hole. You'll need to play the third several times before you get the hang of it. By the way, if your playing with a knowledgeable caddie, he will point out, as you walk up to the green, the "Hidden Creek" in the left trees. We make mention of this because the name of the course is a misnomer, as there is no water at all, sans the irrigation lake near the 10th hole.

Another realistic birdie chance, the par-four fifth can be just that, as it's just 395 yards in length. A solid drive down the right side, will leave just a short iron to a relatively simple green, which slopes from the outside in. But don't be misled, the green is the second-longest on the course at 48 yards and is partially hidden from the right side of the fairway. My scorecard said three when all was said and done.

The most difficult hole on the front side is the sixth. At 446 yards and open to the elements, this par four requires a long and straight tee ball which will still leave a mid to long iron to a green that slopes from back to front. Wildlife once again comes into play, as you'll see deer roaming the course, from one tree-lined hole to the next. Staying focused and avoiding the fairway bunker down the right is key.

One of the easier holes on the course, the par-three seventh is just 179 yards in length and is flanked left and right by sand and features a fairly flat putting surface. A well-struck tee shot can yield a deuce.

A great short hole, the eighth possesses a couple of choices. Go for it and make an easy birdie or layup left and do it the old fashioned way. The best play...bombs away. You'll need a big drive over the bunker in the center of the fairway, but once over the top of the raised fairway (yes, there are elevation changes at Hidden Creek!) the hole filters down towards the green. The putting surface features a somewhat out-of-character hump in the center of the green, so eagle could be tough, but birdies should populate the card.

The outward nine finishes with the longest hole on the course at 583 yards. This par five bends right after the tee shot and then left towards the green. Key to mastering this hole is the tee ball, which must find the fairway. Sandy waste and trees off the landing area will doom your score. Five menacing bunkers and fescue blanket the right side of the landing area, while trees and sand cover the left. Negotiate your layup and you're left with a wedge to one of the flatter greens on the course. Although its long, the ninth can be had, as the putting surface is benign with just gentle slopes.

After stopping for a libation at the clubhouse, play moves to the difficult 10th. One of the strongest par four's at Hidden Creek, this monster bends from right to left and is the longest par four on the course. Premium on the 10th is an accurate and long tee shot, drawing to the left. Even with a successful tee shot, which needs to clear the fairway plateau, a long iron will remain to a surface that slopes away from the player towards the back of the green. Making bogey or worse is a certainty if your errant off the tee, or for that matter, your approach.

In contrast, the par-three 11th is the shortest and probably the easiest hole. Just 128 yards, this one-shotter plays directly uphill to the smallest green on the course (just 4,400 square feet). Bunkers guard all sides of the surface, while the green slopes from right to left. Any shot offline to the right will result in sand and a miss left will bound down towards the trees.

The 12th is rated as the most difficult hole on the course, and with good reason. Long and lean at 467 yards, you'll need to bust a drive and avoid the sandy displeasures placed strategically around the fairway. The view from the slightly elevated tee deceives the player into false hope, as the landing area is not quite as it seems. A well-placed tee ball with still leave the player with a mid-to-long iron to reach the uphill green, which is flanked short and right by more sand. The putting surface features several undulations, so getting up and down for par might not be as easy as it looks.

A true dogleg, the 13th is an outstanding hole that bends hard to the right. Don't be fooled by the length of the hole at just 391 yards from the tips. This hole is anything but easy, as you must find the fairway off the tee. As is the case around Hidden Creek, not only do the bunkers protect the landing areas, they also serve as aiming targets throughout the course. With a sandy grouping at the bend, a nice fade would be the call, setting up a short iron to a well-guarded green. Three is possible, but worse-case scenario is a par.

Everything is right in front of you on the par-three 14th. No hidden surprises, just a solid long iron to the longest surface on the course, 51 yards in depth. Of course, bunkers guard the green, but sometimes, simple is not so easy. Hands down, the hardest putting surface on the course to read.

Reminiscent of courses in the Carolinas, the 15th is a great dogleg left, downhill off the tee and uphill to the green. Your tee shot must be far enough past the corner, as trees protrude out, blocking any tee ball that's not hit 250 yards or more. The elevated green slopes from back to front and is quick, so stay below the hole. If the pin is up front, your approach shot, if short of the mark, will most certainly slide back off the green. The key, take enough club!

The second most difficult hole on the course is the 16th, a great par four of 470 yards in length. A fescue target stands at the end of the fairway, some 285 yards from the tee. Miss this fairway off the tee and you'll have no choice but to punch out from the tree-lined corridor. A mid-to-long iron is left to a slightly uphill green that is not without subtle undulations. Although sand does not come into play around the surface, as a crossing bunker is well short of the green, par is well protected by shaved areas.

In a tight battle, the 17th could serve as the deciding hole in a match. Just 495 yards, the only par five on the back nine features elements of risk and reward. Players can try to carry the bunkers down the right side in an effort to reach the green in two, but a 245-yard poke will be needed to do so. Bail left and you'll catch the myriad of bunkers that stretch diagonally into the fairway. The hole now bends slightly to the right, with sand and trees dotting both sides of the fairway. A fairway metal or long iron can get you home, but you'll need to be precise, as it tightens towards the putting surface. The green is long and slopes left towards the protecting sand. Shortside yourself right and you'll find sand or worse, some of the tall pines that encroach the green.

The closing hole is a dogleg right and plays, on most days, directly into the wind and setting sun. What a great way to finish your round. A solid tee shot, played slightly uphill to a plateau, will leave a medium iron to a downhill green that is protected by deep bunkers on either side. The putting surface features very subtle breaks and slopes quickly from back to front. Not the hardest hole on the course, but certainly not the easiest. In three tries, six has been my best score.

FINAL WORD: In a time when golf courses were in full bloom, and developers were building, just for the sake of building, Hidden Creek came along with a purpose.

"The easy part was building the golf course," added Hansen. "Customer service is what it's all about and it's not an easy business, but we have a great staff. The hard part was creating a club and it's been a lot of fun. We must be doing something right."

Hidden Creek has many unique features.

Let's start with the bunkering. Except for Pine Valley, there are none any better. The sand complexes are sculptured to perfection...yes, perfect. Beautifully molded and shaped, they not only are exactly placed, but also serve as excellent targets off the tee. The fescue surrounding them stands out and brings a rugged beauty to a hazard that will gobble up your errant shot.

Next...design. Every hole at Hidden Creek is completely different from the last. Whether it be the double-dogleg ninth, the short, uphill 11th or the menacing 16th, Hidden Creek forces you to use all the clubs in your bag.

Seclusion. Another unique aspect of the course is that all of the holes on the front side, and most of the back, are secluded amongst the trees. It's like you have the whole course to yourself. Your own private sanctuary, with abundant wildlife. Hawks and deer have been spotted throughout the course (even a snake here and there).

Hidden Creek is for all levels of play, not just the single-digit golfer. "It's a nice golf course for a lot of different levels of player," added Mancill. "But if you play from the right tee, it doesn't have to beat you up. There's a lot of subtle breaks on the green, because of their size. But if you play from the right set of tees, you feel like you can compete on every hole."

How about conditioning? The greens are bent grass and can roll in upwards of 13 on the stimpmeter, the fairways are framed by the natural beauty of the woodlands and the bunkers are filled with the native sand of the region, making them look weathered like they have been there for hundreds of years.

Even the practice facility is outstanding, with numerous teeing areas and target greens. In fact, it was rated as the top practice facility in the United States by GolfWorld magazine.

Best of all, Hidden Creek is a walker's delight. All tee boxes feature a cutout through the fescue towards the fairway and are easily reached from one green to the next. In fact, the 18th tee box was originally set up to be 30 yards longer, but the designers felt the extra walk did not fit the course. There are no cart paths and asphalt, just crushed clam shells used for paths. Additionally, the caddie program also ranks in the top-five in the country.

Hidden Creek is not the most difficult golf course around, but it certainly can hold its own. During a recent U.S. Open local qualifier, only two players broke par with the low score a two-under-par 70.

What the club is, is a traditional golfing and social experience. "We try to provide an atmosphere for everyone to come in and have a great time, whether you're a serious player or a non-traditional player," commented Mancill. "And we have a lot of serious players."

The fairways are generous and most of the greens are simple with little undulation. However, Hidden Creek is a club you want to keep playing over and over. The enjoyment of walking down the corridors of tree-lined fairways, set amongst the splendor and beauty of the Jersey Pine Barrens, is second to none.

"When you leave," continued Mancill, "we want you to feel like you'd do better the next time. You can make pars and birdies. We don't want to feel like you got beat up."

Although joining Hidden Creek is not inexpensive, the club has not turned a blind eye to the economy, making adjustments to its initiation and membership dues. Mancill added, "Our greatest asset and resource is our members. We're creating an opportunity for others to be part of that."

As the club heads into its second decade, The Lodge at Hidden Creek has been added, great for overnight stays, with all the necessities.

So what, one week you'll go without the certain daily necessities of life. The bottom line, Hidden Creek Golf Club is a must play.

Aces, pars or bogeys, send your thoughts to psokol@sportsnetwork.com.