6,581 yards, 131 slope from the Back tees
Course: In Egg Harbor Township, or the “Shore,” as everyone calls it, Hidden Creek is a course built by Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw that opened in 2002. Coore and Crenshaw spent a number of weeks on the property, getting a feel for the land to discover what holes were in the land. It’s a process Coore goes through and is minimalist design at its finest. By selecting sites with interesting terrain that lend themselves to golf design with minimal movement of land, the course is more placed on the land than it is built. It’s a process where both men spend a lot of time on the property. As a result, their policy is to only take on two projects a year, to allow themselves sufficient time on site, evaluating the routing, deciding whether the land is more inclined to go in other directions and leaving no detail overlooked. The other project they worked on the year of Hidden Creek? Friar’s Head. The result of this process at Hidden Creek is a course that highlights how sublime minimalist design can be. Subtle in appearance yet complex in play, Hidden Creek is an infinitely enjoyable inland course that incorporates strategy, course knowledge and terrain movement as some of its identifying features.
Restricting it to a minimalist design, however, is actually a disservice to C&C since their efforts and craftsmanship go well beyond figuring out how the land lends itself to golf. The course is also molded along the lines of those heathland courses mainly found in England. I touch on heathland courses a little in my Wyncote review, but a good way to think of them are as inland links courses. They also incorporate features of parkland courses, and can typically include trees in many spots. They’re typically in lowland areas with sandy soil, heather and gorse. The more well known heathland courses include Sunningdale Old and Walton Heath. As a true heathland, there are some features that are indeed manufactured. Several of the mounds and bunkers are dolled up, which is exactly the type of features these courses had, as a way to inject playability and (ironically) naturalism. And we’ve come full circle with the whole minimalism, manufactured, naturalism, artificial, golden age, modern, etc. discussion. There are no hard lines or either/or in my opinion. Most every course incorporates a little of every aspect of the above, so there really are just degrees of how much of each aspect can be found in each course. Here, the manufactured components were intentional to pay homage to an era. The sophisticated design has so much beneath the surface to be studied that repeat play only enriches its appreciation. In my opinion, it’s courses like Hidden Creek that further demonstrate why C&C are among the most influential, impactful and important architects of our time. One only needs to look at their portfolio to see how many courses have the same type of depth and brilliance to appreciate the level of work they perform day in and day out.
In terms of Hidden Creek, the course is a gentle walk through the pines and wetlands of the inner coastal region of South New Jersey. It plays firm and fast and is low profile, meaning the ground game is an important element. It goes beyond the fairway transitioning to green, but to the off green areas and slopes and oftentimes, 50-100 yards before the green. Tee shots are to wide and receptive fairways, which can be used to advance the ball once it lands, and/or to set up the approach shot. In terms of its subtlety, I once said of Jeffersonville that its subtlety makes you believe that any big score is more the result of your mistakes than the actual design forcing you into bad spots as a way to emphasize subtle challenge. That is true here as well. What appears to be in front of you and for the taking is much more than that, yet after a badly scored hole, you’re much more inclined to blame your swing than realize how the hole put you in that situation. Within that, hitting the green is much different than getting the ball close to the hole. All of this combines to form a spectacular heathland course that is a joy to play. Regardless of score, you’ll want to go right back out and do it over again before the ball hits the bottom of the Eighteenth cup.
As was the theme in 2018, Hidden Creek was yet another course nearby that I have wanted to play for years but never seemed to get to. I finally changed that last fall and am glad I did. It quickly became one of my favorites and as it’s so close, look forward to many more rounds there. The club was recently purchased by The Dormie Network, which is quickly putting together an impressive collection of courses. As they have done to a number of other courses, I believe they intend to build on site lodging and make general improvements to the club and course. With its splendid design and now with the backing of an upper tier outfit like the DN, Hidden Creek is a premier course in the area that looks to get even better.
The First is a 384 yard par 4 (from the Back tees). A dog leg left with plenty of room for the tee shot. The further right you end up, the further from the green you will be (even though there is much more room to the right). There are bunkers on either side on the approach, with the left side first and the one on the right green side. The approach needs to navigate the bunkers and the green, which moves from back to front in general.
The Second is a 366 yard par 4. A slight dog leg right with a bunkers strewn on the short right and left center of the fairway. Getting to the left side gives you a better angle into the green, especially with the bunker mound on the right side that juts up and blocks the view of the green on that side. This bunker is a good example of a feature that was detailed by C&C to emulate the characteristics of the classic heathland courses. The bunker decidedly affects your approach into the green if on the right side, and in turn makes the left side more appealing off the tee, regardless of the bunker in play on that side off the tee. I like going up the right side and then taking that bunker head on, using it as an aiming point on the approach. It’s a bolder line, but rewarded well.
The Third is a 507 yard par 5. Fairly straight away with the green tucked in on the right side, there are bunkers mainly on the left side to pay attention to while a large waste bunker is off to the right, ending just short of the green. Hanging off to the left with the second shot is a good way to avoid the colossal waste bunker, but catching a bunker on that side would defeat the whole purpose of that position. Mis hits on that left side are worse since the tree line hugs in closely. The green is deception. It’s back to front near the front, but then switches to front to back and right to left from the middle to rear. The second shot is one of those subtle ones, where deciding where to place it means deciding what hazards to take on. And safer options always have consequences, usually by way of sacrificing an ideal line or look to the green, or in this case, sacrificing a shorter distance to it.
The Fourth is a 202 yard par 3. One of the more well known holes, this longer Redan par 3 is a marvel. The green slopes well from right to left, towards the bunker encompassing that side. The green is diagonal, running from the front right to back left at its longest line, many golfers may opt at either ending up short of the green or long left as a way to take the bunkers out of play, but do at their own peril, as the long left rear of the green narrows considerably and any chip shot short of the green will be taking on a few different slope directions. I personally hit the shot I envisioned, ending up about 10 feet to the left and below the pin. Using the slope of the green, along with any wind that may be coming through, is imperative. A superb par 3.
The Fifth is a 379 yard par 4. The fairway actually widens as you advance to the green, until a group of mounds encroach from the right side. These mounds serve a few purposes, which muddles the view of the green and creates a carry hazard on that side, while those to the left of it certainly have the option of running their ball up and using the slope on the right to bring the ball back down to the pin. Again, the group of mounds were created by C&C even though they look natural in appearance. It’s a great par 4 and one of my favorite green complexes on the course, as the area above the green is appetizing to use, yet shots in that area may stay up there, which creates a very tough play getting it back down close to the hole.
The Sixth is a 425 yard par 4. Straightaway with a slightly elevated tee shot, the tree line on the right makes you want to swing out left, although that would make a long approach shot even longer. A tiger bunker comes into play on the right while the width here on the approach allows the freedom to do what one wishes to get the ball to the hole. There is a lot of room to the right of the green, but similar to the Fifth, this area is above the green and using it comes with the risks inherent with being uphill from the pin in the face of firm and fast conditions.
The Seventh is a 164 yard par 3. The green is fairly wide but there is not a whole lot of room off the green to miss. So while the ample room off the tee may comfort you, know that staying relatively on line is a necessity, or you may be left with a challenging recovery shot.
The Eighth is a 298 yard par 4. A short par 4 with a center line bunker, where the fairway slopes down after the bunker to the green, creating a blind shot off the tee and/or blind approach. I imagine getting a feel for this hole takes multiple plays, as where the ball goes beyond the ridge, and how it rolls, are all aspects of the hole you can only learn with experience. This includes deciding what club to take off the tee and in what direction to go, which is also dictated by the day’s pin position. It’s a fantastic short par 4 that is a lot of fun with how many directions and ways to play it.
The Ninth is a 559 yard par 5. Another blind tee shot that’s just as devious with the slopes that hit just after the ridge you see from the tee. Essentially, the fairway rolls downward and to the left, before the fairway ends completely into rough. After the rough, the second fairway starts to proceed diagonally to the left, to the green, which is set to the right of the fairway. There are bunkers along the right side as well, as a way to force you left, into the tree line. Take on those bunkers or lay up to the completely for the third shot. The green is deep and the tree line switches to the right side, abutting the green. The switches in directions and blind tee shot can get you off kilter here.
The front nine loops the southwest side of the property through the pines and features a diverse collection of holes, all of which are subtle in appearance yet all are more complex and challenging once you are in the trenches with them. There are some all world holes, yet all of them are intriguing. I would rank them 4, 5, 8, 2, 3, 1, 6, 9, 7.
The back nine starts with the 447 yard par 4 Tenth. A slight dog leg left where the slopes of the fairway off to the right can help advance the ball forward, but those who try to cut the turn from the tee should realize while you’ll be closer to the hole (provided you don’t find the small bunker on that side), and have a better look at the green. It will still likely be a long shot in to the deep yet shallow green, whose contours and off green mounding seem to repel the ball further away from the hole no matter the pin location.
The Eleventh is a 121 yard par 3. The hole kind of arises out of no where, as a rare visual that breaks a little from the subtlety of the rest of the course. A short par 3 that is blind for the most part, moving from back to front. Course knowledge comes in handy here and really, distance control is a must or there’s enough trouble to ensure par is elusive. It’s a refreshing hole, at the right time of the round.
The Twelfth is a 441 yard par 4. The tee is set on a hill, with the fairway dipping before rising yet again and cresting, then dipping yet again before reach the green, which is above the fairway. The fairway starts off wide, but then the left side collapses to the tree line at a bunker complex on that side. The fairway widens yet again before the green, which then tightens just before it with bunkers on either side. Lots of fluctuations here and deciding where to place your ball and line to take is a little more interesting because of it.
The Thirteenth is a 378 yard par 4. The hole bends to the right in general, but the tree line stays tight on that side while the fairway sweeps wide left, until it reaches some bunkers on the side and tightens. It’s similar to the Twelfth, but this hole is much flatter. The bunkers on either side near the green make the approach accessible from any point of the fairway, so long as you carry the bunkers. But the freedom of angles and lines to the green remain.
The Fourteenth is a 185 yard par 3. A longer par 3 that looks more like a short par 4. A fairway essentially leads up to and melds with the green. You would think that would make shorter shots easy to chip close to the pin, but with the tightly mown areas, gauging touch and getting the right contact proves more difficult. Again, it’s minimalism, with the ground and terrain laid bare tee to green, to great effect.
The Fifteenth is a 395 yard par 4. An “S” shaped fairway that turns left off the tee before turning right into the green. The tee shot tempts you into a draw to get the ball as far down the fairway as possible, but straight down the left takes the bunker on the right out of play. The further left you are, the better look at the green, which runs from back to front in a semi punch bowl. I liked how the back side of the green invited low running shots into it, and the angle from the fairway to the green. I talk a lot about lines and angles and that’s because it really sets up how you many ways you can attack the green. Here, with the green off center and curling away from the fairway, you realize that the far left fully opens up the green and allows virtually any play, while extreme right means you need to carry bunkers and either straight or a fade are available. It’s one of my favorite greens on the course.
The Sixteenth is a 447 yard par 4. The elevated tee shot looks out to the fairway and green straight ahead. There’s also a set of mounds running diagonally across the fairway. In mentioning subtlety, this hole is a great example of it. While looking like a relatively straight forward hole, the sloping of the fairway to the diagonal mounds, the right sided bunker, even the slopes of the green, all conspire as doubt starts creeping in. Will the ball roll into those mounds? Am I able to carry the bunker on the right? Will the ball start moving away from the pin after that ridge? There’s even a bunker just to the left of the tee, for no reason it seems. But I guess a low screamer to the left would hit it, how odd; has anyone been in it before? What if you’re the first? That lip looks too steep for the second shot. Why am I even thinking about this silly bunker?
See what I mean?
The Seventeenth is a 499 yard par 5. The hole bends right generally, with an array of bunkers spattered as you move down the fairway. The bunkers on the left encroach to the center enough to make it look like they meet with the bunkers on the right, which confounds the tee shot. Bunkers spaced on each side of the fairway have the same effect on the second shot. Longer hitters have a chance at reaching the green in two shots, provided the tee shot was well executed. The bunkers are to be avoided, as the lips are fairly steep and as such, are fairly penal. The green is on the smaller side, running from back to front. This helps defend the hole from longer hitters trying to get away with reckless length.
The Eighteenth is a 384 yard par 4. A tiny bend to the right with a fairway that crests, blocking the view of where the ball lands in most cases. A bunker short right I suppose has you guessing, but it really shouldn’t come into play. As we’ve seen a number of times, bunker positioning leading up to the green creates visuals and perhaps muddles depth perception. Like the fairway, the green crests at the back, which I personally always have issues gauging and I typically end up hitting it 20 yards short, so scared I am of my ball hitting that crest and some how falling into the abyss that is surely behind the green. While by any standard the last three holes are a great closing stretch, this especially holes true for match play; the subtle Sixteenth full of options, the gettable yet dangerous Seventeenth and the Eighteenth, on the shorter side yet rather unforgiving off the fairway and a devious green to end things. Shot selection, approach shot position and pin location all help close out the round in the same aura as the course itself – subtle yet below the surface, the proper stage for drama.
The back nine circles the northern side of the property and the range of holes is a little broader and the subtlety a little more here than the front. All are great holes. My ranking of them would be 10, 15, 12, 11, 18, 14, 18, 17, 16.
Generally, Hidden Creek is a course meant to be played over and over again. It can be enjoyed on a number of levels, but it’s my personal take that those taking the time to study what has been done here will enjoy the round much more. The resemblance to the classic English heathland courses and how those were played, the firm and fast conditions where running the ball is occasionally the best play, to the subtle features that affect play more than it appears at first blush, Hidden Creek is the work of craftsmen whom value the virtues of the game, which they strive to evoke through their art. As wind wisps through the pines and the gentle calm of the wetlands washes over the golfer walking to his ball, he has to think about the softness of the ground, the movement of the land, the force of the wind and take note of the hazards before deciding on his shot. He then swings, watches his ball interact with it all, walks to his ball and does it again. I like to think Coore and Crenshaw think long and hard on each of their projects how to make that golfer’s experience as serene and pure as possible. They certainly did at Hidden Creek.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: The clubhouse is nicely done with a great locker room. The pro shop is stocked accordingly with a wide selection of attire and a respectable insignia. I’m sure the Dormie Network will be doing their best to improve all of the facilities in the near future.
Practice area: Great range and putting green. I believe a short game area may be in one corner of the range area.