Those familiar with a more rural lifestyle could easily imagine a range of livestock wandering the rolling hills of central New Jersey, grazing the tall, native grass. Such an era is bygone in the region but fortunately, for golfers at least, the property has transitioned nicely into a municipal golf offering.
The farmland surrounding Heron Glen Golf Course was rapidly developed into subdivisions at the turn of the century, but that trend was not continued here, leaving a golf-and-golf-alone experience.
The work is from Maryland-based architect Dan Schlegel, who is more renowned for his work at Atlantic City’s Ballamor Golf Club. The course uses the natural contours as its primary defense, with bunkers positioned to good effect. Although there are no lakes or ponds, wetlands dot the property and Schlegel uses them, especially during the par fives; if the players is awry from the tee on almost all of the long holes at Heron Glen, they’ll need to think twice about pulling a long club for their second shot, lest they end up where the property’s namesake waterbirds lurk.
The biggest issue facing stand-alone municipal courses -- more accurately defined as taxpayer-owned facilities -- is successfully combining strategic interest, along with a clear conjunction for playability for the broader masses.
Heron Glen arrived on the Garden State golf scene in 2002 and remains the only course owned and operated by Hunterdon County.
Architect Dan Schlegel's design hits the difficult bulls-eye with a spot-on effort. Heron Glen gives ample width on nearly all the non-par-3 holes. However, in order to score low, you'll need to hit quality approaches close enough to have opportunities for birdies.
The putting surfaces are appropriately contoured and large enough to accommodate the traffic that comes from such layouts.
The competitive scene in the public ranks in New Jersey really took off starting around 1990 when such places as Crystal Springs and Blue Heron Pines entered the scene.
Heron Glen is a strong enough layout to make a top 6-7 grouping of such taxpayer-owned layouts. That competition is quite intense when you include such stalwarts as Hominy Hill in Colts Neck and Neshanic Valley in Somerset, along with the recent updating of such venues as Galloping Hill in Kenilworth.
For many coming to the Garden State the probability in playing the elite echelon of private clubs -- Pine Valley, Somerset Hills, Plainfield, et al, may prove hard to accomplish without some sort of membership invitation. Fortunately, the public side of the golf aisle is quite good and Heron Glen provides a fun, challenging layout handling the broader masses of golfers and doing so at a very reasonable cost.
Well worth checking out.
M. James Ward