Stone Harbor Golf Club
|Golf Professional||Matt Crowley||(609) 465-9270|
|General Manager||Carol Blum-Barnoski||(609) 465-9270|
|Superintendent||Dean Ferguson||(609) 465-8673|
|Tee Sheet||Front 9||Back 9||Course|
In 1987, Gordon Shaffner, president of Stone Harbor Golf Club, determined—the word is not used loosely—to build an innovative golf course on the site of the rather nondescript Jersey Devil eighteen, located in the village of Swainton, a few miles inland from Stone Harbor and Avalon. He commissioned Desmond Muirhead to design the course. It was this decision that guaranteed the result to be unlike any other course in the world.
English-born Muirhead, known in the 1950s as a landscape planner and designer of retirement villages (and never better than a high-handicap golfer), had made a quick study of the great courses of America and Britain and concluded that the field of golf architecture was overdue for the kind of fresh thinking he could bring to it. “Those courses have no mystique whatsoever,” he once said. “I owe very little allegiance to St. Andrews.”
He joined with Jack Nicklaus on a couple of projects, most notably Muirfield Village (it is not easy to know which of the two should get the lion’s share of credit for this splendid achievement, a course that may fairly be labeled perfect). Prior to Gordon Shaffner’s invitation, Muirhead laid out the highly controversial Aberdeen course, in Boynton Beach, Florida (the mermaid hole, the Marilyn Monroe hole, etc.)
The eighteen that Muirhead found at Stone Harbor was of no use to him. In effect, he started from scratch. He created 30 acres worth of lakes (nine bodies of water, in all shapes and sizes) and used the excavated dirt to fashion mounds and valleys, to elevate tees (a couple of them as high as 40 feet) and greens. In the end he would move a million cubic yards of earth, yet go to great pains to preserve an entire oak and pine forest.
Striving for the unique at every turn—and at any cost— the poet/artist/fantasist created a handful of the most unusual holes on the globe. The 160-yard 4th, for instance, that looks like nothing so much as an elegant scimitar, with a green that is bludgeon-shaped and set on the bias, and, among its several sand bunkers (it has more than several grass bunkers) one that calls to mind the head of a horse. It is this bunker that is the key to the meaning of the hole, which takes its cue from the myth of the Greek hero Bellerophon and the winged horse Pegasus. Bellerophon mounted the horse with a golden bridle from Athena and killed the monster Chimera. Later, Bellerophon got a little too cocky and Pegasus threw him. Muirhead spells out the lesson for golfers: pride goeth before a fall.
The original 7th, a chilling golf hole.
The 7th needed no explaining. It was an experience in pure terror. From a peninsular tee high above the water, the play on this 148-yarder was across a lake to an island green 30 yards deep by perhaps no more than two feet wide at the front and two feet wide at the rear. Imagine a squashed football, the air squeezed out of it, and you have the green. There was essentially no margin for error, because at its most generous point the putting surface was a mere 17 paces across. As for the two flanking bunkers, both sawtoothed, they, too, were islands, floating free and clear of the target island, which is to say the green. The recovery from either of these sandy hazards was almost as nightmarish a shot as the 6- or 7-iron from the tee.
It might be pointed out that seven of the 18 greens jut more or less aggressively into lakes. Fortunately for the beleaguered golfer, the big water, the Atlantic Ocean, is a couple of miles down the road, and Muirhead did not have access to it.
Difficult as it was for many observers to believe, this eighteen was, and indeed is, full of superlative golf holes. But the Disneyland (Daliesque?) nature of its unforgettable moments tended to obscure the excellence of so much that is here. Some claimed that on a windy day—not at all rare in these parts—two dozen balls were needed to complete the round.
In any event, over the nine years since the course opened, Gordon Shaffner has moved to mitigate the excesses. The island fairway on the unnervingly brilliant 6th has been lengthened. The sawtooth bunkers on the nonpareil 7th are now part of the same land mass as the green (so there is only one island instead of three, and it is bigger). The bulkheads at the 9th and 15th have been replaced by life-saving grassy banks. The fairways on 10 and 11 have been broadened and the approach to the 14th green has been opened up by removing the bunkers at the left front. And finally, on the “death or glory” 18th, the safe landing area to the right of the green has been enlarged. The net of all this is that there is considerably less chance of going off the deep end today than when the course opened in 1988.
Stone Harbor needed to be toned down, and it has been. But the tiger has scarcely been defanged. And if it is no longer quite so frightening, quite so punishing, it is still an enormously challenging (Slope 136) and exhilarating test, with shot values of a very high order hole after hole after hole. There has to be a place in golf for a visionary—indeed, an iconoclast—like Desmond Muirhead and for a risktaking club owner such as Gordon Shaffner, who must at times have felt like a Medici prince, a patron of the arts.