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In Pine Valley, electorate is just three foursomes

It's election day in Pine Valley, population 12. And if all 12 residents don't turn out, it's assumed somebody is either deathly ill or stuck in one the borough's infamous 18th-hole bunkers.

With a home in the background, a volunteer walked along a Pine Valley fairway in 2002. Elections in the borough are genteel affairs. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)
With a home in the background, a volunteer walked along a Pine Valley fairway in 2002. Elections in the borough are genteel affairs. (YONG KIM / Staff Photographer)Read more

It's election day in Pine Valley, population 12.

And if all 12 residents don't turn out, it's assumed somebody is either deathly ill or stuck in one the borough's infamous 18th-hole bunkers.

Behind the gates of the Pine Valley Golf Club, home to one of the world's finest and most exclusive golf courses, lies a one-square-mile borough where residents reportedly brush shoulders with visiting U.S. presidents and Arab sheikhs.

Borough elections are genteel affairs, where running against an incumbent just isn't done, and the less said by candidates about their neighbors, the better.

"I don't know what to tell you. It's a good place to live, like anywhere else," said Mike Kennedy, a former partner with PricewaterhouseCoopers, who is running for borough commissioner.

Bob Mather, borough deputy clerk and former golf-course manager, has been working in Pine Valley for almost 60 years and said residents valued their privacy.

"Pine Valley is Pine Valley," he said. "They're not ones to elaborate. Maybe that's what makes it what it is."

Incorporated in 1929, the Borough of Pine Valley was born from the famed golf course designed by George Crump, a Philadelphia hotelier. Observing the throngs of Philadelphia businessman headed out to the Shore for their tee times, Crump reasoned a course closer to the city was needed and opened the Pine Valley Golf Club in 1912, Mather said.

Golf Magazine describes the course maintained by the 1,000-plus-member club this way: "this 620-acre tract in the Jersey pines occupies a world all its own - simple, serene, the clubhouse an old L-shaped pebbledash short on style and grace but long on welcoming warmth."

That same reserve and austerity applies as much to elections as it does to securing a table at the clubhouse for dinner. Campaign signs and slogans are unnecessary. Interested candidates get the OK from other residents before running, but once approved never face opposition. The nonpartisan election for the three seats on the board of commissioners will be held Tuesday.

Kennedy, a member of the club for 15 years, purchased one of Pine Valley's 22 homes last year after the owner, the former mayor, had died; homes are available only to club members. Though new to town, he and his wife, Deborah, decided to run for two commission seats, but not before consulting with their neighbors.

"We're renovating a home there, which we hope will be finished soon. We're pretty excited," he said. "The neighbors know each other fairly well. It's almost like any community. You have common interests and bond a little bit."

Three years ago, the borough came under fire from a state assemblyman and the Camden County government for its unwillingness to consolidate services with neighboring municipalities; Pine Valley maintains a police force of six officers, largely to keep trespassers off the golf course.

"As far as I know, it's not an issue anymore," Mather said. "Nothing ever came down to us."

For the most part, outsiders are kept at bay.

Robert Venuti, chairman of the Camden County Board of Elections, once visited the club to check on the borough's one polling location - a formality considering everyone votes by mail.

Upon arriving at Pine Valley, situated at the end of an unmarked, wooded road, Venuti said he was turned away at the gate.

"They did eventually let me in," he said.