Fall Golf at the South Jersey Shore

By MIKE KERN
I was there when Shore Gate, which is located just off Route 9 right outside Sea Isle City, opened in 2002. Then McCulloughsagain, I’ve been fortunate enough to be at most golf courses at the South Jersey shore from the start. It comes with the job description.
So I’ve seen them evolve over time. And Shore Gate is no different. You could tell it was something special from the moment you set eyes on it. And it’s only gotten better, which isn’t easy to say when you were already so good to begin with.
Every time I go back, I’m left with pretty much the same impression: it’s probably the hardest public golf course down there. Especially if you play it from the wrong set of tees. And trust me, there’s more than enough to choose from, which in this case is a very good thing. I used to be able to play it from the Regulars, which measure about
6,400 yards. And I could handle that reasonably well. But that was when I hit the ball considerably longer than I do now. So you adapt. I had a chance to play it recently  during my annual summer vacation in Ocean City, for the first time in awhile. So I looked at the scorecard and figured the Seniors, which is more like 5,900, was much
more condusive to my skill level. Truth be told, what I’ve found is really the best way for me to proceed is to go to each hole and see what might work best. On some there’s not enough difference between the White or Yellows to warrant moving up, since there’s five par 4s of 350 or less. I can still handle that. And there’s a par 3 on the back
nine, No. 14, which is really short so I can actually go back to the Championships and not feel the least bit intimidated. Same with No. 5, where they had the tees pretty far up on the day I was there. So my advice is use your best discretion, see how you’re striking it and don’t necessarily try to bite off too much. As I’ve discovered, it’s a lot
more fun using a 7-iron into greens rather than a steady diet of fairway woods. And that goes for any course. And it is, after all, supposed to be fun, right? If it’s not, then why are you out there in the first place? Just saying. I’ve seen way too many guys playing from the Blues who had no business being back there. And they’ll shoot in
the 100s and complain about how unfair it was, when the real problem was with their
vanity. Or whatever. I can’t figure it out. I’d rather at least try to enjoy myself to some
degree. You still have to make shots, whatever the distance. But it doesn’t have to be
pure torture.
Anyway …If you don’t like sand, then Shore Gate might not be the place for you.
Because there is a decent amount of it, and much of that is in spots where players tend
to put their balls. Funny how a well-thought-out design works like that. So just be
careful, although it can be nearly unavoidable at times. Just try to go with the flow.
After a rather innocuous opening hole, No. 2 gets you right into the swing of
things. It’s a medium-length par 4, but you have to place your tee shot over water to a
narrow fairway that has the wet stuff on the left and trees on the opposite side. So fire
away. It’s a matter of what you feel comfortable trying to carry. And even if you’re in a
good position, the approach is hardly a gimme. And there is a bunker to carry. At least
the green is generous. You make a 4 there and you’re doing well. Trust me.
The third is another solid 2-shooter, a dogleg left over water with bunkers on the
right. And the closing three holes on that side are a wonderful stretch. The seventh
is a dogleg right over a quarry, with woods on the left. And the green can be tricky,
even if you get there relatively unscatched. The eighth is a fairly long par 3 with sand
in the front and sand on the left. And No. 9, the signature hole, is their version of the
18th at Pebble Beach. It’s a par 5 that keeps bending left, around a lake, to a green
that’s well-guarded and is a good two clubs in length. So pay attention to where the
pin is. A big hitter might be able to get close in two. Most people figure to be left with
a short to mid-iron approach. And once you get on the putting surface your work is
just beginning.
The home nine, which offers a nice mix of short and long, starts with a really
stout par 4 where you might have a semi-blind uphill second shot. Then there’s a few
holes that are a little more user-friendly before you end with a finishing kick that’s
just as challenging as that on the first nine. The 15th is a par 4 that demands two
well-placed balls. Off the tee is fairly open, although water can come into play on the
right and there’s bunkers to contend with if you go too far left. The second is about a
150-yarder to another 2-club kind of green, with water still on the right and sand to
the left. If you can block out all the danger it’s probably not that tough at all. Yeah,
right. The 16th is a par 5 that’s managable, though it does bend at the end to the left,
which can cause issues if you’re too far left on your second. Like who would ever do
that? The 17th is another mid-range par 3 where players of my ability will be using
hybrids or woods. So be it. A good shot will be rewarded, a not-so-good one might
lead to a double bogey. And the line between the two is thin. And 18 is a bona fide
keeper, particularly for an 18th. Just a longer par 4 that moves slightly left-to-right.
But you can’t go too far right because of the treeline. There’s nothing guarding the
front of the green, which helps. But there’s sand left and right, so there is that. You
make a 4 here, it gives you a reason to feel good about the rest of your day. If you don’t,
well, it’s really more of a par 41/2 anyway. Just keep telling yourself that. Works for
this balding midget.
While Shore Gate is certainly one of my favorites, I have no shortage. And many
of them are within a short drive of my rental house in OC. Always a good thing. You can tee off early and be back in time to do the family stuff on the beach. Win-win.
Twisted Dune, on Ocean Heights Avenue in Egg Harbor Township, could bestockton_seaview
the second-hardest course in those parts. Like Shore Gate, a lot depends on where you choose to play from. Twisted Dune is unlike mostly anything you’re going to play this side of Scotland. And I love Scottish golf. So I can’t get enough of this place. It’s simply that unique.
If you can manage to keep your ball out of the nasty stuff, you can navigate it. And they’ve cut some of the nasty stuff out through the years, which has given it better definition. But it can still bite you if you’re not careful, just because. Sort of like Scotland.
The fairways and greens for the most part of accessible. It’s one of those deals where what you see all around you can play tricks with your mind. That’s what architects do. It’s a between-the-ears battle. But if you really look at it, Twisted Dune doesn’t have too many forced carries. The trouble tends to be to the sides. And it can
be penal. So by all means try not to go there. If only it were that simple.
From the Whites it plays like 6,300. It’s about 500 less from the Yellows. So
guess where I went. The fun really starts on No. 2, a mid-length par 4 that seems to
play longer. The third is a long par 3 that’ll test your nerves more than a little. But for
all its many teeth, it gives you chances to get back at it, too. Like No. 5, a short par 4
that bends left into an inviting putting surface. Even I was somehow going for birdie
there. Maybe they need to do something about that, like stick a moat in front. Only
kidding. I have to take them where I can get them, because these days there’s not as
many. Yet the next three holes are each doable in their own right, although for some
reason everything appears to play longer than it says. Go figure. The eighth is a short
par 4 with a bailout area right. But even there they can put the pin in certain spots
that can cause headaches. And 9 is a par 5 with water all down the left and no bailout
right. The green slopes severely from right to left, so a right pin is downright nasty.
Still, I saw a guy I was playing with make an up and down from some serious cabbage
that was as good as it gets. It happens, I guess.
The 10th is another three-shotter that bends right around a hill, which means
the second shot is blind. Enjoy. The 13th is a par 3 that’s not too long but contains
trouble every which direction. I hit a 7-wood pin high left, which of course meant I
short-sideded myself and was left with a downhill bunker shot to a green that rolled
away from me toward the water. I made 4 and ran to the next tee. The 15th is a par
4 where the second shot is all downhill to the green, very interesting and different.
What follows is a really good par 3 over a ravine to a green that runs away from you
and uphill. There’s sand all over. But the green is at least large. Then you get a par 4
that’s every bit as memorable. The second shot is uphill to a smaller green, and you
have to carry a bunker. Nice. The last is just real long. I hit what I thought were two
decent shots, but my 3-wood still came up just short. It’s a good thing I can chip, and
I ran one up to about 3 feet for a rare par there. Felt good. Might even make me want
to go back. As if I needed to have my arm pulled.
McCullough’s Emerald Links, which is just down the road from Twisted, is a
course that’s grown on me. It was built on a landfill, and to be candid the first couple of times I played it I wasn’t what you’d call overwhelmed. But my perspective has changed. I’m not going to tell you it’s the top course in the greater Atlantic City region, but it can sure be a lot of fun. Lot to be said for that.
Each of the holes is inspired by something famous that exists elsewhere,
predominantly in the British Isles. The first, for instance, is supposed to resemble No. 1 at Royal Portrush. Not an exact replica, but in the vicinity. The biggest difference is a grass bunker in front of the green instead of sand, to cut down on the difficulty starting out. And you’re off. It’s not an easy assignment to pull off, and I’ve seen examples where it’s failed miserably, but Stephen Kay pulled it off rather well. He even
dedicated No. 7 to Alister MacKenzie (Augusta National, Cypress Point), who won an
award for the design but never saw it get built. Not shockingly, it’s the signature hole.
And so it proceeds along. There’s a rendition of the Biarritz hole that’s been redone
many times by C.B. Macdonald and Charles Banks. There are elevation changes here
that you rarely find in South Jersey, and some of the holes are downright hard. Usually
there’s a ton of wind going on, which only adds to the difficulty factor.
Some of the streteches that stand out are 8 and 9. The first is a par 4, where you’re
driving off an elevated tee to a wide fairway that has water on the left and garbage
on the right. It’s a dogleg right, to an open green with some decent undulation. Well
done, and based on the 10th at Turnberry. Next is a medium-length par 3 that’s all
carry, with wet stuff on the left. So there’s not much margin for error. And there’s four
bunkers in front. Like the 10th at Royal Dornoch.
The 10th is another Royal Dornoch (No. 14), it plays like a 41/2. The green is
treacherous, especially if they put the pin in the wrong spot. The 11th is a neat short
par 4, with a blind uphill tee shot. The 12th is a long par 4 with all kinds of sand
issues. Then comes a cool par 3, downhill kind of over water, to a two-tiered green.
You can’t go long, nor can you be short. And there’s a trap on the left.
I could play the 15th 18 times and call it a round. It’s a dogleg right par 4 of
about 285. A good player can try to drive the green. But there’s risk. The short or even
smart player hits it down the middle and wedges it up and might still have a great shot
at birdie. The green can give you fits, but hey, it’s only 285. Deal with it. And 18 is a
nice way to finish, a managable par 4 as long as you don’t push your tee ball right into
the water. It all depends how much of the dogleg you want to chew off. Shades of the
fourth at Prestwick, which I’ve played. I’m a lucky guy.
Greate Bay Country Club, in Somers Point just across the Ninth Street Bridge
from OC, is private. But they have a bunch of associate membership plans available for people who folks who might want to play there but aren’t full-time residents, etc.
If that sounds like you, it’s worth it. Greate Bay hosted the LPGA’s Shop-Rite Classic
for many years, and it’s way improved since those days. So by all means check it
out. When I played there the greens were in absolute pristine condition, as had been
promised. I mean, they rolled as well as anything I’ve played in some time. I wouldn’t
make that up. But the layout itself can stand on its own as well.
The 18th, a par 4 that bends slightly right and then downhill through treelines,
was also rated as the hardest finishing hole on the LPGA Tour. That’s a fact. I’ve only
made a few 4s there. And I’ve had plenty of opportunities. Some of my other faves are
No. 2, which I have trouble getting on in two anymore but where I once saw the club’s
head pro, who was playing in our scramble, drive the green (we made eagle). The fifth
is another tough two-shotter, which was made famous when Bob Clarke won a bet
with Steve Coates to have a tree guarding the right side of the fairway cut down a few
years back. Good thing, since Annika Sorenstam later told Mark Benavento, who runs
the place for Pat Croce, that it was the proper move. See, I can name drop with the
best of them. The 7th, which runs in the same direction, is equally imposing. And
9, one of the holes that have been added over time, is a picturesque par 3 over water.
The 12th, another addition to what was there when the women played, is a
wonderful par 4 that bends left around water. The second shot is uphill to a large,
well-protected green. And 14, which plays longer, offers a tricky approach into a green
that slopes from front to back. Even two good shots can leave you with a potential
3-putt. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Those, of course, are merely a sampling of what’s available. They were just the
ones I happened to play on my latest week away from home. If I had more time, I
would’ve have played till my arms fell off. Atlantic City, which is under new ownership,
has always been one of the places that literally get my heart pounding when I know I
have a tee time. It’s that indelible. And it’s always been in impeccable shape. I’m sure
that’s still the case, which is why I can’t wait for my next photo op. The holes along
the bay are particularly memorable. But there might not be a bad one on the premises.
If you’ve never been, it really should be on the old wish list.
I get to play the Bay Course at Seaview each spring as part of the annual media
day they hold for the new home of the Shop-Rite. It remains a taste treat, and not
because our group has won the scramble two years running. The setting across the
bay from AC is sublime, and so is the layout. The greens are small, the wind usually
blows, and you have to make shots. You can’t ask for much more. There are birdie
chances, but then there’s holes like the second, where you can be hitting 4-iron into
the green one day and maybe an 8 the next, thanks to Mother Nature. And the third,
a par 5, can become an eagle waiting to happen. Nothing wrong with that. And the
best lady golfers on the planet seem to enjoy it. The sister Pines course, which is inland
just across Route 9 in back of the resort’s timeless hotel, is quite a contrast. I think it’s
harder, even though they’ve taken out a bunch of trees to make it more playable. You
still have to hit a lot of shots through woods, and there’s an endless supply of doglegs.
There’s quite a few holes that’ll definitely test your skill level, particularly toward the
finish line. It’s the perfect place to do a 36-holer, sandwiched around lunch. I suggest
the crab cakes. But you could go almost any way and not be disappointed. Heck,
staying the night might be an unbeatable topper.
There’s two others I would heartily suggest, both of which are situated a little
further away from the beaches: Blue Heron Pines and the Vineyards at RenaultBlue Heron Pines Golf
Winery. But please don’t let the proximity factor deter you. I’m merely pointing it out. I’ve gladly made the drive to both, without thinking twice. Blue Heron was the course that was responsible for starting the higher-end public boom a little over two decades ago, and since Ron Jaworski took over in 2013 it’s dramatically benefitted.
He came in and removed most of the excess/unnecessary growth that had begun to make it a little too unplayable. Not only does it have a much cleaner look these days, but the pace of play has noticeably improved. The routing has never been a problem.
The back nine especially has some dramatic holes, such as 10 and 14. Me being me, I’ve always thought the short 7th was one of those holes you don’t see enough of but need more of. And No. 4 is a stellar par 3, followed by what might be the best par 4
there except for 14.
I’ve always had a fondness for Renault, which is subtle rather than overpowering.
Ed Shearon has done some real good stuff, such as Raven’s Claw. This is right up
there. He doesn’t knock you over the head nearly as much at the Vineyards, but the
experience is just as unique. There’s a lot of spots where the difference between a great
shot and semi-disaster is a few feet. And you have choices. There’s a lot of risk-reward.
There’s a hole with a dual fairway. There’s a par 3 where the teeing area keeps bending
around to the left to make it easier the more you move up. Why can’t more holes be
like that? I mean, there’s no reason for the 18-handicapper to be hitting over water
like the big hitter, even if it’s from 50 yards closer. Right? One of the best holes might
be 17th, which looks like a gimme. But looks can be deceiving. There’s a big falloff
on the green, and if you’re on the wrong side you’ll mostly be trying to avoid bogey
instead of going for bird. The 18th is a par 5 with a double dogleg and water to the
right of the green. There’s another hole on the front side that actually winds around
the vineyards. The fifth is another goodie, a short par 3 surrounded by bunkers with
perhaps the most difficult green on the course. But if you find the right slope off the
tee you’ll probably have a real good look at 2.
There you have it, some of my thoughts on heading down to the South Jersey
Shore. The fall is one of the best times to be there, since the weather tends to cooperate
and the tourists

Spring Golf Comes to Jersey Shore – Atlantic City Country Club

By MIKE KERN

Atlantic City Country Club.

There are few places I get more juiced up to play. It’s always been one of my ultimate taste treats, going back to the days when it was private adn owned by the Fraser family. I mean, what’s not to deep like about it? From the setting to the layout to the clubhouse to the views to whatever it is that makes a destination special, AC has it all. That’s why it’s such an experience. And now that round to savor is only getting better.

When Hilton Hotels assumed ownership in 1998, they made a bunch of changes that took AC to another level. Last April, the Ottinger family took control from Caesars Entertainment Corporation. The same family that owns Scotland Run and Ballamor. And one of the first things they did was announce several major construction and renovation projects that are taking place this spring.

These days, of course, AC is open to the public (call or book online), although annual memberships are available. And, not shockingly, it was rated the No. 1 Public Course in New Jersey by Golfweek. Easy to understand. And I didn’t even get a vote.

In case you didn’t know, Atlantic City is now 117 years young. It was the birthplace of the term “birdie,” for all you trivial pursuiters, which was supposedly coined in 1903. Sitting just across the bay from the casinos, it’s a par-70 that measures close to 6,600 yards. It’s hosted six USGA championships, most recently the 1997 U.S. Women’s Mid-Amateur. It was the site of the 1901 U.S. Amateur and three Women’s Opens, including one, its first, that was won by the legendary Babe Zaharias in 1948. So it’s certainly got more than enough history going for it. And that doesn’t even include the bell that serves as its logo, which was originally used in the early 1900s to remind golfers that the last trolley for Atlantic City was set to leave. They still ring it at the end of each day as a reminder of where you’re at and what it continues to mean.

Did we forget to mention that the inaugural PGA Senior Tour event was played there in 1980? Or even that Don January was the winner? Well, how about this: Bob Hope was an AC regular back in the day. So was Arnold Palmer, in the early 1950s, when he was enlisted in the Coast Guard and stationed in Cape May.

As for the facility, improvements include a complete re-do of the entryway and lobby, the John J. McDermott (U.S. Open champion in 1911 and ‘12) Room, the James “Sonny” Fraser Room, the Leo Fraser Library, the Grand Ballroom, two private dining rooms, an all-new bridal suite overlooking the course and a new exterior facade.

On the course, all greenside bunkers at holes 4, 6, 8, 12, 15 and 17 will be completely made-over and restored. Work is expected to be completed by early May. In addition, a halfway house is being built and should be open for the summer season. There was a time when an older woman operated such a rest stop on I believe the 11th hole, if memory serves. I’m pretty sure it was near one of the short par 3s. Anyway, she served some of the best hot dogs anywhere. Funny the things you remember and miss.

By the way, Scotland Run — which is located in Williamstown — is also undergoing bunker renovations. That project is even larger in scope, since it includes every greenside and fairway bunker on the course.

Both will remain open while the work is being done.

“It is important to the Ottinger family that all of our golf courses are maintained to the highest standard for our members and guests,” said Director of Marketing Liz Norton-Scanga.

That would also include the care that goes into Ballamor, in Egg Harbor Township.

In case you’ve never played Atlantic City, the thing that’s always impressed me the most are the immaculate tee-to-green conditions. You might not play well, but you won’t be able to blame anything except your swing. So who can’t look forward to that?

Hey, I’ve played there in the media day for Ron Jaworski’s annual celebrity tournament, with both him and Mike Quick. So it’s never been dull. The best stretch is probably the closing five holes, although there’s certainly a lot of real good stuff going on before you reachg that point. The 14th is a short par-4 that doglegs right around water. A big-time player can even try to drive the green, but any kind of straight shot or even a slight fade leaves a fairly managable approach. The 15th is a par-3, again over wetlands, that’s pretty stout. Especially if the wind is blowing, which it often is. It’s about 180, but you can hit almost anything from a medium iron to a wood depending on Mother Nature. That’s followed by a 400-yard dogleg right with water all down the right side. The wind can come very much into play here as well. The 17th is an uphill par-3 of about 155 to a hidden green. It can yield a birdie op or a double bogey just as easily. And 18, which once upon a time was a par-5, is a 2-shooter that bends sharply right around the practice range back to the veranda. Which means there’s a good chance somebody might be watching you finish while they’re sipping a cold one. Or two. Enjoy.

If Atlantic City were the only course down that way, it would be worth the trip. But that’s hardly the case. Good for us. Fortunatley I’ve been able to tee it up on most of them.

In you’ve got the right connections in the private sector, Galloway National is about as good as it gets. I think it’s one of Tom Fazio’s best. Surely one of his hardest. I haven’t been there in awhile. My bad. Have to rectify that, hopefully soon. Personally, I’d put the opening 2-hole stretch and the closing 2-hole stretch right up there with any. And I’m not the only one who feels that way. In 2012 it hosted the USGA Men’s State Team Championship. Which was only fitting, since head professional Mike Killian was a member of the victorious 1973 U.S. Walker Cup team.

Hidden Creek is different, maybe a little less severe, but just as entertaining. At either one, you’d better be hitting your ball or you’re going to pay the price. The landing areas and greens are generous here. And this fall it’s going to host its first USGA Championship, the Senior Amateur from Sept. 26-Oct. 1. If people didn’t know as much about it before, they will now. That’s a good thing. And probably overdue. Remember it was owner Roger Hansen who got the USGA to bring the 2003 U.S. Amateur Public Links (which was won by Brandt Snedeker) to Blue Heron Pines East, which is no longer there. Shame. I still miss it.

OK, now in no particular order let’s go through some of my other favorites. Hope you find as much to like about them as I do every time I go back.

Scotland Run, which you can actually play on your way to the shore, is built in and around an old sand quarry. It features expansive waste areas, links-style holes and even cliffs. So in a sense it’s rather unique. And I’m OK with that. There’s a few holes that might bring you to your knees, and others that you can attack. I always like to see if I can drive it over the ravine on the par-4 16th. Makes me feel like a real golfer, even if I mess up my approach. Which I often do. Reality stinks. But somebody in the world has to be a bogey kind of guy.

Ballamor, another former private club, is carved out of woods over some gently rolling terrain. Very pleasant, even though there’s plenty of fescue, waste areas, water and bunkering to test your skill level. What sticks out most about this course are the greens, which are large. In some cases almost too large. And they all have multiple tiers and a good amount of undulation. If you’re on the wrong side of the putting surface you can have serious issues. Trust me, I know. Obviously, there’s a premium on placement of your approaches. Which usually means you have to play it a couple of times to really know your way around. Good luck.

One of the reasons I like Greate Bay so much is the people. OK, to be honest, that’s why I like so many of these places. But at Greate Bay, you might run into Pat Croce or his right-hand man, Mark Benevento, whose son Michael can really play. Or you might be in the group behind Bob Clarke or Steve Coates. It’s that kind of a club. Very welcoming. And they’ve done a lot to keep making it better since they took it over. When the LPGA Shop-Rite Classic was held there, the 18th hole always ranked as the toughest finishing hole on the women’s tour. It’s almost hard to believe I’ve actually parred it the last two times I’ve been there. I must have been playing from the midget tees. But I’ve never had a bad day there, even when it was chewing me up. They offer just about every kind of membership package you could want, from Summer to Weekday to Associate to Social. And the food and ambiance there are so good you don’t even have to be a golfer to make the most of it. It’s first-class all the way.

Shore Gate, to me, is one of the toughest courses at the shore. Especially if you play it from the wrong set of tees. And there’s five to choose from. So pick wisely. This is a terrific test, from start to finish, with more than a few holes that you won’t soon forget. The set of par-3s is strong. And the closing hole on each side will keep you coming back. Unless maybe they punish you a little too much. The ninth is a par-5 that’s got a little Pebble Beach 18 in it. Make a birdie there and it feels almost like an eagle. And 18 is a really good par-4 that demands two keeper shots. And then you still might have a tough time 2-putting if you’re not careful. Wonderful stuff, all the way around. And in Harry Bittner they have one of the top pros down there.

There’s nothing really like Twisted Dune. Unless you go across the pond. There’s nothing subtle about it. Just a whole bunch of dramatic and risk-reward. If you’ve ever played in Scotland or Ireland you’ll know what I’m talking about. It’s so much fun. And extremely treacherous in spots. I could play the 16th and 17th over and over again and never get tired of it. First you’ve got a neat par-3 that’s all carry over some nasty terrain and bunkers all around the green. It plays some 190 from the back. For reasons I can’t fathom, it’s the 18th handicap hole. Go figure. Trust me there aren’t 17 easier holes to make par on. And 17 is a fairly lengthy par-4 where the second shot has to carry similar gunk. You play those two in par-par and you feel like you’ve conquered the world. And if you remember, stop by Chester’s Bakery in Somers Point and bring head pro Scott Dunn some of their sinful donuts. He’s a good man.

I don’t know what I like best about The Vineyards at Renault Winery: the food or the golf. Or maybe even the wine. Tough choices. The golf is sublimely challenging. The work of Ed Shearon, who also did Raven’s Club in the western Philly suburbs. While that one has a little more wow factor, he did a great job here of just letting the layout sort of flow. Nice mix of short and long holes. Some of the shorter ones are really good. And I’ve always felt that’s the toughest thing to create. I got to play there with Ed once, and gaine a lot of insight into what he was trying to do. It’s the kind of course you could play several times a week and not get tired of, which is about the best compliment I can give. Then you can go eat in the award-winning restaurant, or tour the wine shop, or even stay in the hotel. Not a bad trifecta. If the blueberry cheesecake is on the menu, by all means go for it. Doesn’t get any better.

I hadn’t been to Cape May National in way too long. Then last summer I had a chance to revisit the southernmost option along the coast. And I left wondering why I’d stayed away. It’s known as “The Natural” for obvious reasons, since it surrounds a 50-acre bird sanctuary. But that’s not what makes it so good. Many of the holes have made it onto best-of lists. Half the holes have some kind of water hazard on them. Many have doglegs. So there’s a little bit of everything. It’s a shotmaker’s course. You can rest assured it won’t take me anywhere near as long to play my next round there. Well worth the little extra drive, if only for the last green alone. The pin was cut in the front, I hit my approach to the left fringe and then putted into the front fringe. And there was nothing I could do about it. I want another chance. That kind of thing tends to stay with you.

Harbor Pines was another course I hadn’t seen in awhile. Then I played it three times in a little over a month. So sue me. Maybe it had something to do with the burger, wings and beer special in the grill room, which was unanimously given a must-do status with every group I went there with. But trust me, the golf is every bit as good. This parkland course winds every which way, with few parallel holes. There’s water everywhere, and the conditions were just as pristine as I remembered them. Much to be said for that. The greens are inviting, and the bunkering well done. The ninth is about as stout of a par-4 as you’re going to find, long and straightaway with water on the left and woods protecting the opposite side. I think I’ve parred it once. And I might have been forced to use a mulligan. But I’ll keep trying, even if it’s an excuse to eat more wings.

The Seaview Resort, which is now operated by Stockton College, is the site of the LPGA’s Shop-Rite Classic every late May into early June. It’s held on the Bay Course, which might be the more user-friendly of the two tracks there. Unless the wind isn’t cooperating. Then you could be hitting a 3-wood into the second green instead of maybe a 6-iron. It happens. The greens are small, so you have to be accurate with your short clubs. Or else. The Pines Course has lost a good number of trees recently, which really opened things up. It’s still a lot tighter, since it’s cut through woods. And longer. The back-to-back par-3s at 15 and 16 are ferocious. The wind isn’t as much of a factor on that side of Route 9, but you can’t spray the ball around as much either. If you do you’ll be chipping back onto the fairway with regularity. And who really wants to be doing. They also have fine dining in the hotel, which is a throwback to another era. Overall, it’s hard to beat.

And then there’s McCullough Emerald Links, which I’ve grown rather fond of in the last few years. Maybe it had something to do with getting to play there with the guy whose idea it was to turn a landfill into 18 holes, James “Sonny” McCullough. Who knew? But it obviously worked. Plus I also get to play there with a friend of mine and his buddies, who spend the entire round busting on each other. Hard to beat that. I don’t even mind that some of them are New York fans. All I know is the 8th and 9th provide a great finish to the front side, a dogleg-right par-4 followed by a 175-yard par-3 that’s all carry. Nice. The 18th is neat, too, a par-4 off an elevated tee with water all down the right. But my favorite hole, in fact one of my favorite holes at the shore, is the 14th. Based on the fifth at Scotland’s Royal Dornoch, it’s only 285 yards. My kind of length. It’s a dogleg right, around trees. But if you feel up to it you can go for the green. Folks of my ability try to poke it down the middle, which I usually can pull off, and then hit some kind of wedge onto a 2-tiered putting surface and hope you’re on the right tier. I could play it 18 times. That’s what happens when you get old and can’t hit it as far as you used to. A good man has to know his limitations.

Blue Heron was the course that mostly started the public-golf renaissance in the Greater AC area. And since Ron Jaworski took it over in 2013, most folks seem to feel it’s as good or better than it’s ever been. That’s because Jaws came in and cleaned the place out, a much-needed overhaul. A lot of the growth along the periphery of the layout had simply gotten out of hand. And at a public facility, that’s only going to slow down the pace of play. Not to mention take away from the overall look. So now it’s a lot more playable, never a bad thing. Hospitality was never a problem here to begin with, and the presence of the one-time Eagles quarterback has merely enhanced that. There’s plenty of holes where you can score, and just as many that are lurking to seriously mess with your card. The fifth, a really strong par-4, fits into the latter category. As does 10, 12 and 15, three more 2-shotters. The 15th might be the signature hole, with a medium-length approach over water to a difficult green. That’s assuming you’ve hit a good drive. On the other hand, the seventh is a neat little par-4 that doesn’t even demand a wood off the tee. I like short. The 11th measures 120 or so yards, yet I’m always amazed at how many times people make bogey or worse there. Don’t say you weren’t warned. And if you see Jaws please tell him that he still owes me for that bet from last year’s International Network of Golf conference where he said I couldn’t even get my night-golf 9-iron in the air and I hit it to within gimme birdie range. It happens.

Anyway, that’s it for now. Hope to see you down there. We can always do burgers and wings. Or donuts. Knowing me, probably both.

Atlantic City-Area Courses Dominate GOLF Magazine’s 2014 Rankings of New Jersey’s Best

ATLANTIC CITY. N.J. (August 2014) — No surprise to golfers who tee it up regularly around famed Atlantic City, N.J., but the area received some well-deserved recognition in the September issue of GOLF Magazine featuring the “Top 100 Courses You Can Play.”

Atlantic City-area courses dominated the 2014 GOLF Magazine rankings in New Jersey. “Baby, you were born to run … to the Jersey Shore for golf,” writes GOLF Magazine Architectural Editor Joe Passov.

In addition, as part of GOLF’s biennial rankings of the best public golf courses in the United States, the magazine also ranked the best courses in every state.

Atlantic City Country Club ranked No. 75 overall in America and No. 1 in New Jersey.

“If you’re serious about the game and great courses, spend the cash and play Atlantic City Country Club,” writes Passov. “The ACCC delivers on service, pace of play and a scenic, historic course restored by Tom Doak.”

Most importantly, further illustrating the quality of so many Atlantic City golf courses, six of GOLF Magazine’s Top 10 in New Jersey for 2014, as well as 10 of the Top 15 and 11 of the Top 20 in “The Best Courses Near You” are members of the Greater Atlantic City Golf Association (GACGA).

Ballamor in Egg Harbor Township comes in at No. 5 among New Jersey’s finest public access golf courses. “Ballamor was private until 2010, but its large lakes, vast sand splashes and multi-tiered greens are now open to all,” wrote Passov.

One spot back at No. 6 in the state is Ballamor’s friendly, Egg Harbor Township neighbor, Twisted Dune. “For faux-links fans,” wrote Passov, “Twisted Dune is a Garden State must.”

Rounding out GOLF’s 2014 Top 10 in New Jersey are Shore Gate in Ocean View (No. 8), Seaview (Bay) in Galloway (No. 9) and Scotland Run in Williamstown (No. 10).

GOLF’s next 10 in New Jersey included Sea Oaks in Little Egg Harbor Township (No. 11), Blue

Heron Pines in Cologne (No. 13), Seaview (Pines) in Galloway (No. 14), Vineyard at Renault in Egg Harbor (No. 15) and Sand Barrens in Swainton (No. 17).

Golf Magazine’s 2014 Top Courses You Can Play in New Jersey:

  • No. 1 Atlantic City Country Club
  • No. 5 Ballamor
  • No. 6 Twisted Dune
  • No. 8 Shore Gate
  • No. 9 Seaview (Bay)
  • No. 10 Scotland Run
  • No. 11 Sea Oaks
  • No. 13 Blue Heron Pines
  • No. 14 Seaview (Pines)
  • No. 15 Vineyard at Renault
  • No. 17 Sand Barrens

Do AC in 2014

For all the glitz and glimmer of the high-rise gambling casinos that light up the night across this unique Atlantic Ocean-side city, there’s another side to the destination — a daylight version beyond the reimagined world-famous boardwalk and beaches. An easy drive from the major metropolitan areas along the East Coast, Atlantic City caters to golfers with a wide variety of accommodations from economy rooms to full-scale suites, casinos, more than 150 restaurants and bars, world-class spas, top name concerts and comedy shows, innovative nightlife, designer shopping, the beach, the boardwalk and pulsating casino games. These layouts range from links style to parkland style to classic gems to out-of control modern marvels. Whatever your passion, every golf course within the Atlantic City arsenal has been ordered to deliver an experience that you will not soon forget.

Learn more about all 18 Atlantic City courses and book your golf getaway at www.PlayACGolf.com.

Greate Bay Country Club – Somers Point

By Mike Kern
Greate Bay Country Club, conveniently located in Somers Point just across the
Ninth Street Bridge from Ocean City, always seems like a good idea. Hey, if Pat Croce
owns it and Bobby Clarke is a member, then you know there must be something going
on there that’s worth checking out. And there might never be a better time to do so
than right now.
If you’ve been thinking about joining for the 2015 season, here’s an incentive that’s
almost impossible to pass up. Anyone who signs up gets the remainder of this year for
free. As in nothing, nada, zip. And packages — which range from full to summer and
associate — start at just $39.95 a month.
What the club has to offer speaks for itself. The course hosted what is now the
LPGA’s Shop-Rite Classic for many years. It’s only gotten better in the last decade
or so, with changes that include the cutting down of the infamous Clarke tree for a
worthy cause. The par-4 18th annually ranked as the hardest closing hole the best
women players in the world had to face. And several other holes are also among the
best at the South Jersey Shore. Personally, I would put the par-3 ninth and par-4
12th in that category. Water comes intogreate_bay
play on both. The only problem at 9 is
the picture of Steve Coates on a billboard
beyond the green adjacent to the Garden
State Parkway that can divert anyone’s
attention. I suppose it’s one of those
necessary evils. But I digress.
As far as hospitality goes, it’s hard to
top this place. Croce’s business partner,
Mark Benevento, oversees the operation,
and he’s put a capable staff in charge of
making sure everybody has a memorable
experience. It’s the only way he knows.
And it shows.
“The thought process of this campaign
is to expose Greate Bay to people that
have thinking of joining a private club
here at the shore and just never had the
extra push to do so,” said Will Arabea,
the Chief Operating Officer. “This has
been a wonderful campaign to date, as
members from the Philly section are
finding another home for golf. The only
difference is we’re at the beach … sandals and flip flops are welcome.”
Now that’s a sales pitch.
Yet as wonderful as the golf is, life at Greate Bay goes far beyond that. They like to
bill it as a “Home Sweet Second Home.” The social calendar is crammed with events
for the whole family. And the food, whether it’s a quick sandwich in the pub or an
upscale meal in the dining room, is big-time. They have all the amenities, including
women’s/junior/senior programs and short-game practice facility.
This offseason the clubhouse, catering and restaurants will be part of an extensive
renovation that now features the area’s newest ballroom. In addition members can also
take advantage of the nearby Racquet and Fitness center, which as you’d expect from
someone with Croce’s background is state of the art. You can even get involved in
boxing or kickboxing as well as golf-specific programs and tennis and squash. Pretty
much your call.
You can schedule a tour with Ron Ralston, who’s the general manager and
membership director. He can be reached at 609-927-5071, extension 112. Really,
what do you have to lose? Whether you live down there or just make it a vacation
destination, they can come up with something to fit your needs.
“We feel that we have something unique to offer everyone who visits the shore,”
Ralston said. “Let’s face it, at the shore
it’s a lifestyle and retreat. And Greate Bay
has all the tools to accomodate the entire
family while providing a great membership
experience and amazing club that rivals
the traditional Philly clubs.”
Full memberships have no assessments,
ever. Same with corporate plans. There’s
also packages for weekdays, intermediates
(ages 30-39), associates, summer and
juniors (13-19). Chances are there’s
something for your needs and budget.
And if you just want to see what their
award-winning chef is up to there’s a
social offering that’s very reasonable and
includes bridge. As in cards, if that’s your
game. And other perks that have little to
do with birdies but might be exactly what
you’re looking for.
But you’ll never know until you get on
your phone. It could turn out to be the
best number you’ll dial.