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Golf Course Review - Ballamor Golf Club

11:51 AM, Nov 8, 2013   |    comments
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Egg Harbor Township, NJ (SportsNetwork.com) - FACTS AND STATS: Course Architect: Dan Schlegel. Course Designed: Ault, Clark & Associates. Year Opened: 2001. Location: Egg Harbor Township, N.J. Slope: 132. Rating: 74.5. Par: 72. Yardage: 7,098.

Hole-by-Hole:

1 - Par 5 557 Yds 10 - Par 5 578 Yds

2 - Par 4 422 Yds 11 - Par 4 418 Yds

3 - Par 4 326 Yds 12 - Par 3 160 Yds

4 - Par 4 446 Yds 13 - Par 4 444 Yds

5 - Par 5 625 Yds 14 - Par 3 190 Yds

6 - Par 3 168 Yds 15 - Par 4 366 Yds

7 - Par 4 396 Yds 16 - Par 4 458 Yds

8 - Par 3 223 Yds 17 - Par 4 332 Yds

9 - Par 4 466 Yds 18 - Par 5 523 Yds

Par 36 3,629 Yds Par 36 3,469 Yds

Awards Won: Ranked #10 by Golfweek - Best Courses you can play (N.J.) (2013), Rated 4th best public course in New Jersey - Golf Magazine (2010).

Website: www.ballamor.com.

HISTORY: When it first opened for business in 2001, Ballamor Golf Club was a private facility, but just eight years later, the club filed for bankruptcy.

The economy and the abundance of golf at the Jersey shore certainly had plenty to do with it.

Several months later in 2010, Ballamor reopened its doors as a daily fee, upscale golf course with rates from as low as $58 (November through March) to $105 on weekends during the summer months.

Designed by the long-standing firm of Ault, Clark & Associates, with Dan Schlegel leading the way, Ballamor received high marks when the first tee shot was hit.

Schlegel, who also designed a couple of other New Jersey courses while with the organization, left the design team just a few years later. "My own firm was started in January of 2005," Schlegel said. "Let's just say it was time for me to test the market when I started the firm, due to some restructuring and market conditions. I needed to take my own best interests into consideration. It was a time of uncertainty in the industry, but I was very busy quite quickly."

The course itself encompasses over 350 acres of the beautiful New Jersey pinelands and is not your typical layout, which usually includes home sites and the like. Not at Ballamor.

However, the process of crafting Ballamor was certainly not an easy task.

"There were significant environmental restrictions at Ballamor," Schlegel said. "The site has the head waters of English Creek running through it and it flows to Great Egg Harbor Bay. There were two tributaries that crossed the site. Each of these two tributaries had a 150-foot buffer along each side, making a total of a 300-foot total buffer. This broke the site into four quadrants and dictated the routing. We were not able to clear any trees or do any other construction activity in these buffers, except build paths and bridges."

Ballamor features four distinct sections or "pods" as they call it, carved through the pinelands. "It is spread out quite a bit," continued Schlegel. "However, this made each individual 'pod' of land quite intimate in terms of the playing experience. Other than staying out of the buffers, there were no other constraints."

The first grouping includes holes 1, 6 and 18, the nearest stretch to the clubhouse. Holes 2-5 are next, followed by the section of holes 7 and 15-17, and the final pod of 8-14.

"The owner had a specific vision in mind for his golf course," Schlegel said. "At the time, there were a lot of courses being built that were exposing native sand and trying to create the scraggly look of Pine Valley. Our owner wanted a very manicured look to his course with top conditioning. These were the marching orders. However, once we were under construction, they were very hands off and allowed me and the contractor (Pavelec Brothers) to work very closely and build what we thought was best. It was a great project to design and build. The whole process was a lot of fun."

In this day and age of course design, many architects have reverted back to the "less is more" concept or the minimalist aspect, but that was part of the case in 2001. "Even though the site did have some roll to it, we did move a moderate amount of earth," Schlegel said. "Much of the site was fairly flat. All the ponds on the golf course were dug as part of the design, providing a majority of the fill material. In fact, soil we did not need was hauled to the back of the practice area location. Hole No. 11 is the most natural hole on the course as far as topography goes. That hole was just sitting there."

Schlegel is certainly happy with his work at Ballamor, but he wouldn't mind a return visit to tinker ... just a bit.

"There are one or two holes where the bunkering could be simplified and achieve the same strategic effect," Schlegel said. "After going back, looking at the course, and playing it quite a few times, this is one thing I would like to modify. However, reflecting back on Ballamor is great. I spent a lot of time on site and the builder was excellent. The client was awesome to work with and was the biggest cheerleader for the team. We were all very proud after we opened it for play."

HOLE-BY-HOLE REVIEW: The opening hole at Ballamor is a straightaway par-5 that can stretch to 557 yards from the championship tees. Bunkers down both sides of the landing area pinch the fairway, so accuracy will play a big part on the first. Your layup shot also will be required to avoid the massive bunker down the left side as you head toward the green. The putting surface is slightly elevated and if you can believe, at 32 yards, the shortest green on the front nine. Two additional bunkers protect the entrance, so your approach needs to be spot on. So much for an easy start.

It hardly gets easier when you reach the second, a sharp, dogleg-left par-4. At 422 yards, it's one of six par-4s over 400 yards in length. There are no fairway bunkers to avoid, just thick rough on the left, so trying to place your tee ball down this side will come with plenty of risk. With a medium iron, you must play toward the left-center of the green, as two bunkers fronting the right portion of the putting surface attract plenty of attention. The green is quite long with plenty of movement.

Although the third is a short par-4, it presents plenty of angst from your tee shot to your approach. With water down the entire right side of the hole and fronting the green, you'll need to place either a fairway metal or long iron to the landing area tightened by sand left and water right. Now the fun begins, as your second shot must carry the bulkhead that protects the green. The two-tiered green is 42 paces in depth and is quite fast from back to front. Miss on the wrong level and a three-putt awaits. Birdie chance, yes ... but double-bogey is not out of the question.

One of the more difficult holes at Ballamor, the fourth is an uphill and long par-4 of 446 yards. Sand guards the left side, while wispy rough protects the right, so control and length off the tee are a must. Even with a successful tee ball, you'll be left with a long iron or hybrid to a long and narrow putting surface. Stay below the hole for your best chance at par. That's right, this is hardly a birdie hole.

The fifth is the longest hole on the course and most likely the second-longest at the Jersey Shore behind Shoregate's massive ninth. Each shot on this par-5 is key, as your tee ball needs to reach the slope in the fairway to give you your best chance of getting on in regulation. Your second shot must avoid the lengthy fairway bunker down the left, so as to leave a reasonable third to the elevated and two-tiered putting surface. Bunkers on either side of the green are deep and sit well below the surface, so club selection on your approach is critical. It comes as no surprise that this is rated the most difficult on the course.

Number 6 is the first par-3 on the course at just 168 yards from the back markers. The green is very long and features a pair of bunkers and water down the entire left side. The putting surface is slightly elevated, so make sure you select the right club, otherwise, you'll be faced with a difficult two- putt. This is another green that features plenty of slope, so although the hole is rated the second-easiest, it can present many problems.

A favorite of the author, although not on my scorecard, is the seventh, a rock-solid par-4 of just under 400 yards. The zigzag fairway and water down the right certainly catch your eye, especially if the wind is in your face. When the elements are up, you'll need to power your tee shot over 230 yards to clear the pond on the right and your ball flight needs to avoid the bunker on the left. Choosing the correct club for your approach will not be easy, as this green is a whopping 42 yards in length with a quartet of traps guarding each section. Making a three here is like getting a free appetizer at your favorite watering hole.

At 223 yards, the eighth is the longest par-3 on the course. The green is slightly elevated, so you'll need a little extra push to get home. The putting surface runs from back to front, but has a lot of movement. Two deep bunkers on either side protect the entrance, so make sure your GPS gives you accurate yardage.

If it was not for the length of the fifth hole, the ninth would end up being the most difficult hole on the course. Although it features a slightly elevated teeing ground, this rough par-4 stretches 466 yards and starts the player with a forced carry over water of 200 yards just to reach the fairway. Even with a adequate tee ball, you're faced with an uphill approach with a hybrid of fairway metal to another long green. The putting surface slopes hard from left to right, so the best play is down the left and let gravity takes its course.

The inward nine starts with another lengthy par-5 of 578 yards. Playing downhill off the tee, bunkers guard both the landing area and then the layup section of the fairway on each side. After your first play, your next will be uphill to set up a modest approach. The big hitters can reach the base of the climb to the green, but the bottom of the flagstick will not be in view. This two-tiered green is fairly long and elevated, so picking the right stick is critical. A difficult hole, but with a lower-level pin, it can be had.

Ballamor has several signature holes and the 11th can certainly qualify as one. A 418-yard par-4, No. 11 features a winding fairway which is in full view from the elevated tee box. Bunkers down the right and left can certainly keep you on your toes, so missing the fairway is not an option. Your approach is played uphill toward the smallest green on the course, just 30 paces in length, with a ridge dissecting the center from front to back. Bunkers adorn the circumference of the green, so pinpoint control is needed.

The next signature hole is the wonderful, par-3 12th hole. The shortest on the course at just 160 yards, it is a forced carry over wispy grasses to a two- tiered putting surface that runs hard from back to front. Although fairly large in length, the green is quite small in square feet compared to the rest of the course. Sand left is a good bail out spot if the pin is up, but when the flag is in the rear, all bets are off. This hole is only rated the easiest because it's the shortest, so don't be fooled.

Another 400-plus par-4, the 13th requires length off the tee. Although the fairway is quite generous, it plays uphill from the start. If you can reach the top crest, you'll have an easier second, but any drive just offline, will result in a fairway metal or long iron into this very long putting surface. To make matters worse, the green is protected on the left side by a very deep bunker, so if you need to miss, play right.

The final one-shotter on the course is the 190-yard 14th. A fairly straightforward hole, it is sheltered by trees down the right side, so wind might not be a factor when deciding on which club to use off the tee. The key is pin placement, as the green is almost 40 yards in length and is pinched in front by sand on either side. Par here is a bonus!

With most of the difficult holes out of the way, the final stretch can provide some real excitement on the scorecard, starting off with the 15th. A short par-4 that doglegs hard to the left, it requires just a 3-metal off the tee to land in the short grass, dissecting the large fairway bunkers. Now it's just a short iron to the longest green on the course, a whopping 46 paces from back to front. The putting surface is slightly raised, so any shot to a front pin location that comes up short will slide back down the fairway.

The hardest of the bunch coming in is the 458-yard 16th. Mostly straightaway, this hole requires one key ingredient ... a big tee shot. The landing area is very accessible, but you'll need a mid to a long iron to reach the green. Although devoid of sand, the green features tightly mown grass around surface, so anything offline can roll away from you. The slope runs left to right, so play accordingly.

The final two holes are not easy by any stretch, but they are definite birdie chances. Number 17 is a driveable, 332-yard par-4 which doglegs to the right. Your tee shot, if you're so inclined to go for it, must carry the 70-yard bunker down the right side. In addition, tall pines stand guard in this area, so be aware of what awaits. If you're like most mortals, a hybrid or fairway metal down the left will set up a straight-on approach to the long, and slightly elevated green. Stay below the hole and you can make birdie.

Number 18 is risk-reward at its best. A relatively short par-5 by today's standards at 523 yards, this hole can be attacked ... if the first shot is true. Water runs down the entire length of the hole on the right, so your tee ball needs to favor the right-center if you're to go for the green in two. That means flirting with the water, but if you need a four, then don't hold back. With a fairway metal, you can go green-hunting, but you must carry the corner of the lake and a large bunker fronting the green. It's worth the risk and if you're going to bail, then play left for a little pitch to the pin. The green is small, but it features a distinct drop on the front-left portion. When the match is on the line, this is a wonderful way to finish.

FINAL WORD: One of the longest courses at the Jersey Shore, Ballamor Golf Club will certainly test your ability.

Having said that, the course is quite fair, featuring five sets of tees, ranging from 5,200 to 7,100 yards in length. You most definitely need to pick the correct markers to play from, as this course will bury you if you select the wrong set.

For example, the championship tees feature six par-4s over 415 yards in length and the par-5s are monsters, except the 18th. However, if you play from the white markers, there are only two par-4s over 400 yards and only one long par-5.

Now that the course has been open a dozen years and is a public venue, Ballamor will see its rounds of golf increased as the word gets out. "Wow, 12 years," Schlegel said. "It seems like we just opened it! "Initially as a private club, I think they tried to build the membership through word of mouth, referrals, etc., so there was never a lot of advertisement. Now that it is daily fee, the word will spread more quickly."

I believe that one of the strongest aspects of the course are the foursome of par 3s. The variety, length and styles of each are completely different from one another.

The one key drawback might be the realistic inability to walk the course. Although walking is allowed, why would you, as the distances between the pods are quite extensive, especially from five to six, six to seven and seven to eight. Playing those three holes will take at least an hour.

Of the several times I have played the course, the conditions were always pretty good, with lush fairways (wet in spots) and fairly quick greens. To me, that's the key. Having good greens to putt on always makes the round more enjoyable, and the greens here are quite challenging in spots, such as the third, 10th and 12th holes. Plenty of movement and size of these putting surfaces will definitely keep you guessing.

Working around rough spots in the fairways or the tees is really not an issue, but when a course has poor putting surfaces, your round will be less memorable and they'll have little chance of repeat business. This does not happen at Ballamor.

Obviously, Schlegel was proud of his work, but how many architects play courses they have designed on a regular basis? "I always enjoyed going to play the course and took many groups of my friends there to play because it is fun, offers a lot of variety, and was always in great shape," he said

When all is said and done, Ballamor is worth a visit, but make sure you take a cart. The price is right, the course is solid and after your round, you can drive to the casinos and win your greens fee back ... and more!

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

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