A South Jersey resident all of her life, Jackie Souders has always had an appreciation for local history. She has wrinten articles on the paint mills in Gibbsboro, which was once the location of the greatest paint manufacturer in the world, and the chronicles of Jonas Cattell, who ran from Haddonfield to Fort Mercer (National Park) to warn American soldiers of an impending British attack.
Her latest project tackles the mystique of the top-ranked golf course in the country—one that almost no one in the U.S. even knows exits.
Her book, titled Pine Valley Golf Club: 100 Years of Mystery at the World's No. 1 Golf Course in Pine Valley, NJ, looks into what make the South Jersey course and the borough in which it is located so mysterious.
Time and time again Pine Valley Golf Course is hailed as the best in the nation—it been voted America’s top golf course by Golf Digest every year but two since 1985—yet the average person’s chances of playing there are about the same as hitting the lottery. Souders, who spent parts of four years penning the book, said that her piece of nonfiction is much more about the history of Pine Valley than it is the actual ins and outs of the golf course.
Jackie and her husband, Bill, live in Stratford and are both real estate agents with Prudential Fox & Roach Realtors. They spent 18 years working in an office located on Blackwood Clementon Road, in Gloucester Township, and also conduct business from a Haddonfield office. Her proximity to the famed course, along with her husband’s passion for golf, led her to dig a little deeper into why Pine Valley is such a great mystery.
“Year after year this is labeled the best golf course in the country and yet most people don’t even know it’s in their own backyard,” Souders said. “I found that interesting, and In wanted to find out as much as I could about why that is the case.”
The book is broken down in two sections, appropriately named “The Front Nine” and “The Back Nine.”
The first half of the book is a historical look at how the course came to be. From stories of a woman named Virginia Ireland, who bought up more than 1,000 acres in Pine Hill and Clementon, to course designer George A. Crump, who died with four holes yet to be completed.
Souders had a personal interest in Ireland because her husband’s family once owned land that formerly belonged to her. She also describes Crump as an artist who was in the midst of producing his great work of art. The book looks into the mystery surrounding Crump’s death. To this day there are those who claim he died of a tooth abscess, while others believe it was a gunshot to the head that killed him.
The story also gets into legendary mobster Al Capone. Sounders said her research led to the discovery that Capone was a frequent visitor to the Ireland guest house, a property located across Timber Lake, and just a short walk from the golf course.
Beyond the people, the book also delves into what makes Pine Valley such a highly regarded golf course. To get that information, she spoke with an archaeologist who helped her understand what makes the terrain in Pine Valley so ideal for golf.
The second half of the book focuses on the community of Pine Valley and how it is able to operate as its own municipality. Pine Valley, which borders Clementon and Pine Hill, has just 21 homes—the majority of which are inhabited on a part-time basis, yet has its own school, police department and municipal hall. The 2010 U.S. Census report had the borough population at 12.
In a chapter titled “The Elephant in the Room,” Souders speaks of the controversy of the small community being its own borough and how it affects state taxes. The whole community is guarded by a fence topped with barbed wire, and only residents or invited guests are permitted to enter, raising red flags, Sounders said.
“How can you keep anyone from entering into the municipality?” she questioned. “Legally, I don’t know how it’s possible to have a borough hall and police department, and yet you have the right to not let people in.”
Over the years there have been many stories about the visitors of Pine Valley and it is hard to tell what is fact and what is fiction. Souders closes the book with a section titled “The 19th Hole”, where she discusses these stories.
“Those are the stories that are out there that can’t be proved,” Souders said. “I interviewed some very good sources to get the information.”
Some of the famous people that have played at Pine Valley include former President George Herbert Walker Bush, Bob Hope, Sean Connery and PGA legend Arnold Palmer.
Souders talked to hundreds of people, dug through Census records and collected as much research as she could while composing the book. She said she was surprised to see just how little opposition there was to the club's refusal to allow women to play on the course, with the exception of Sundays after 3 p.m. Women are also only allowed to be a part of the community if they are married.
Souders finds the outdated codes a bit ironic, considering the land was owned by Virginia—who sold it for just $1.
“There may be about 10 or 12 courses in the country that don’t include women,” Souders said. “I think what I am most surprised about is that no one discusses it and no one is bothered by it.”
According to Souders’ research there are around 1,000 members of the course scattered around the globe, although the exact number is unknown. The members don’t talk about it, she said, noting the owners of the club wish to keep the aura that surrounds the club.
Souders—who said she had sold 220 of her 500 copies as of Wednesday—hopes her new book gives readers an appreciation for a South Jersey treasure that very few people around the country know about.
“You hear things all the time on shows like Saturday Night Live where New Jersey is made fun of,” Souders said. “Here, we have the No. 1 golf course in the country, created by a man from Camden, and there is so little written about it and so few people even know it exists.”
Anyone interesting in meeting the author can attend a book signing at Viana’s Restaurant, located on 300 White Horse Road in Voorhees, on Dec. 6, from 5 to 8 p.m.