Surviving a major hurricane and other unfavorable factors, this gutsy coastal town is the proverbial “come back kid.”
By Donna Carter
Casinos, golf and the famous New Jersey shore are the major attractions that have largely shaped the character of Atlantic City, the engaging oceanfront community historically known as “America’s Favourite Playground.” Yet in spite of its ideal location and immense entertainment value, just under two years ago things there suddenly took a turn nobody expected with this popular resort destination looking like “a hard luck kid.” In 2013, Hurricane Sandy devastated the Jersey Shore and if that wasn’t bad enough, the U.S. economy was simultaneously in serious distress. Both of these factors had a detrimental effect on the city with tourism numbers dropping dramatically. In addition, with smaller casino cities cropping up across America, the tourism pie was cut into much smaller pieces with Atlantic City feeling the pinch. However, all that was yesterday and today the community is moving forward with “come back kid” enthusiasm that can be seen everywhere from gambling halls to golf courses.
Good news for travelling golfers is that the spate of bad luck had little effect on the city’s 17 stellar courses. In spite of the latter day adversities, the local golf scene has been the steadying influence even a hurricane was unable to devastate. Surprisingly, area courses sustained little or no damage and post-hurricane play has steadily increased. Atlantic City golf promoters are quick to point out that golf there can be played year-round unless the state is pounded by an unusually harsh winter in which case November through March can be iffy. Mike Charlton, a local golf marketer, also stresses that the city is only half the drive distance to Myrtle Beach. Moreover, getting to Atlantic City just got a lot quicker with Air Canada announcing the launch of a non-stop service between its Toronto Pearson hub and the Atlantic City International Airport. The seasonal service will run four times a week between May and September.
Inspired by the area’s reputation, I joined a group there last fall and while I left the gambling to my travel buddies, both golf and the beach—together with the city’s renowned Boardwalk—were top drawer. Add warm weather, warm ocean waters, great nightlife and excellent dining to the mix and anybody would be hard pressed to deny that Atlantic City is a prime golf destination. With my visit there being time-compressed, I was obviously unable to play all of the area courses (12 of them are four star) but here’s a sampling of those I got to experience.
Atlantic City Country Club
Founded in 1897, this historic club just over six miles from city-center is the place where the terms “birdie” and “eagle” were coined. Sam Snead played here and so did Arnold Palmer in his early days. Comedian Bob Hope, was a regular as well as other big names in sport such as boxer Joe Louis and quarterback Joe Namath. Garnering a rating of the #1 course in New Jersey, this par-70, 6,577-yard layout that was renovated in 1999 by architect Tom Doak, is a classic design that winds alongside marshlands and Atlantic Ocean bays. Greens are undulating with masses of gnarly native grasses girding fairways and bunkers. The front nine is not for the weak of heart with several monster par 4s measuring over 445 yards, including the opening hole. The back nine is shorter but considerably tighter which balances the level of difficulty of the track overall. This course that has hosted six USGA championships and other professional tournaments should be high on the play list of any Atlantic City golf getaway.
Seaview Bay Course
Built in 1914, the Seaview Golf Resort’s Donald Ross-designed Bay course is the club’s original track followed by the tree-lined Pines course in 1927. While our group played the Bay layout, it’s fair to say the resort overall is the gold standard of its kind along the Jersey Shore. Measuring a relatively short 6,247-yards from the back tees, the Bay’s seaside layout is a links-style track with 94 bunkers, mostly raised greens and gnarly fescue grass is everywhere on gently rolling fairways. Currently a Troon-managed resort, this is where Sam Snead won his first PGA major in 1942 and where the LPGA ShopRite Classic is currently held. Though not a long course, this in no way suggests less challenge.
Shore Gate Golf Club
This is a premier course that winds through a heavily forested area known as the New Jersey “pine barrens” where the landscape also provides an ample amount of elevation changes. All in all, this is an impressive track that opened in 2002 and is repeatedly ranked among the best in the state. Its design combines a mix of parkland and links-style golf where a total of seven lakes bring serious water into play. Frequently touted as a “thinking man’s course,” strategic game management is required to deal with the layout’s forced carries, critical bunkering, large waste areas and a bumper crop of tangled fescue. Local folklore contends the surrounding area is the stomping ground of the New Jersey Devil, a mysterious creature said to have created havoc and mayhem for more than 250 years. Hence, if you’re game at Shore Gate happens to “go south,” blame it on the Devil.
Greate Bay Country Club
Lying just a few miles southwest of the city, this course features a traditional links-style layout measuring 6,705 yards from the back blocks. Built in 1922 and designed by Scotsman and two-time British Open winner, Willie Park Jr., it was redesigned by Tom and George Fazio in 1972. The first rule of play here is accurate shot making which can be markedly influenced by frequently present winds off the nearby bay. With wide fairways and relatively small greens this medium length course embodies a good amount of challenge, yet well managed it can be a forgiving track. Over many years, Greate Bay has earned a reputation for impeccably maintained fairways and greens. From 1988-1997, Greate Bay hosted the LPGA ShopRite Classic.
Beyond the fairways
If there’s one not-to-be-missed, apres-golf activity it’s a visit to The Irish Pub, one of the city’s most renowned nightspots. Housed in a building that was once a speakeasy back in the days of Prohibition, today this popular gathering place is a cross between everything Irish and the atmosphere of Cheers, the pub that was the film location of the long-running TV series by the same name. Its authenticity provides an atmosphere that is as genuine as if it was situated in the heart of Dublin or Belfast. Located near the Boardwalk and casino hotels, this is truly a must-do visit on any golf trip. Plenty of Irish beer, plus brew from around the world, together with great food and the always-circulating pub owner, Cathy Burke, who makes certain everybody in the place is having an Irish good time.