Atlantic City’s Golf Scene a Shore Bet, Even for Non-Gamblers
Story by: Steve Donahue
Photography courtesy of Atlantic City & Resorts
Tropicana, or Trop to which it’s affectionately referred, offers a stroll on the world-famous Boardwalk, which bisects the line of casino hotels and the beach.
|Ballamor (hole #1 above), a course in Egg Harbor Township, is a broad-shouldered, public-access layout designed by Dan Schlegel of Ault, Clark & Associates.
Running Deer Golf Club in Pittsgrove is owned and operated by Ron Jaworski Golf with 18 distinct, memorable holes that wind through the woods.
Golf-and-gaming destinations — Atlantic City, N.J., included — understandably heavily promote those attractive attributes to lure prospective golfers.
However, without trying to sound like a heretic, I’m convinced Atlantic City’s outstanding collection of courses can stand on its own merits as a world-class golf destination without assistance from AC’s world-famous gaming angle.
Fact is, not every golfer is an ardent gambler, yours truly included. The golf, not the gaming, determines if I occasionally stay at casino hotels, although I do feel compelled to set aside five or fewer minutes to donate $20 or $30 to the casino’s slots. During a three-night, late-October 2013 stay at AC’s Tropicana Casino & Resort, there were enough non-casino diversions — more than 24 restaurants, 23 shops, 17 bars and lounges, two pools, a spa and an IMAX Theatre — that I was never bored after full 36-hole days.
|Atlantic City is located on the Atlantic Ocean’s shore in southeastern New Jersey. It is a golf haven when you consider its area courses are not only mainstays in national and regional publications’ “best-of” rankings, but they’re all also open year round.
Atlantic City — located on the Atlantic Ocean’s shore in southeastern New Jersey — is an even more attractive golf haven when you consider its area courses are not only mainstays in national and regional publications’ “best-of” rankings, but they’re all also open year round. My four-day playing itinerary included Shore Gate Golf Club, Atlantic City Country Club, Ballamor Golf Club, Scotland Run Golf Club, Running Deer Golf Club, Seaview Hotel & Golf Club’s Pines Course and Twisted Dune Golf Club.
The first thing you notice atop any tee box at Shore Gate, in Ocean View, are the massive, menacing bunkers, 88 all told, although it appears there are three times that amount. The extensive bunkering and waste areas, surrounding forest, seven ponds and lakes, and waving fescue rough create a magnificent-looking, very-challenging design by Ron Fream and David Dale.
The scenic 7,227-yard, par-72 stunner, which opened in 2002, sprawls across 245 acres as a combination of parkland and links-like holes atop rolling topography.
There are numerous unforgettable holes, with the uber-intimidating 648-yard ninth providing quite a front-side exclamation point. A monstrously long left-side fairway bunker gives way to water lining the rest of the hole’s left side and fronting the green.
The next day officially dawned five minutes before my tee time at historic Atlantic City Country Club in Northfield, providing a stunning panoramic view of the sun rising above AC’s skyline across the bay as I walked from the practice putting green to the first tee, which is actually part of the practice green.
The prestigious club, founded in 1897, was private until 2005. Perhaps coincidentally, I had my best ball-striking round of the year on the superb 6,577-yard, par-70 classic, including four birdies, one of which was on the 488-yard, par-5 10th, the hole where the term “birdie” actually originated. The club also claims it coined the term “eagle,” but I came up empty on that front.
I was joined on the 144-yard fourth’s tee box by a fox, who seemed intent on snatching either non-existent food from my cart or my ball off the tee, but finally laid down and watched my tee shot finish a foot from the hole for my first birdie, then followed me to the green, then trotted back into the woods off the fourth tee after I hit my drive on the brutish uphill 445-yard, par-four fifth.
| The 9th hole of Shore Gate golf course.
ACCC was originally designed in 1897 by John Reid, renovated in 1915 by Willie Park, Jr., Howard C. Toomey and William S. Flynn renovated the course again in 1925 and Tom Doak performed an $8 million update makeover in 1999. The course features six par 4s of 430-plus yards, including three — Nos. 1, 7 and 9 — measuring 450 or more yards.
The entire layout is sublime, particularly the Nos. 13 through 16 stretch hugging the marshland with the AC skyline views across the bay beyond. In fact, the rear tee of the 339-yard 14th sits on a tiny, hidden island among the reeds from which your tee shot has to fly over the marsh to the fairway. The 17th is a fabulous 157-yard gem, requiring a shot that carries a tall, fescue-covered sand dune to a blind pulpit green that’s shallow front to back.
ACCC has hosted many golf legends and celebrities over the years, as well as six major U.S. Golf Association championships and, in 1980, the inaugural PGA Senior Tour event, the precursor to today’s Champions Tour. Be sure to check out the classic men’s locker room and Taproom Bar & Grille for historic memorabilia.
Highly acclaimed Ballamor, formerly a private course in Egg Harbor Township, is a broad-shouldered, public-access layout designed by Dan Schlegel of Ault, Clark & Associates. Schlegel carved his 7,098-yard, par-72 creation out of dense woods and laid a wonderful collection of holes over gently rolling land.
Brawny bunkering and waste areas, waving fescue in the rough and plenty of water will keep you honest. The putting surfaces are very large — in some cases three clubs large — with heaving undulations and multiple tiers. Fortunately, green speeds are fair and the greens immaculate so putts, regardless of length or roller-coaster lines, have a chance of finding the hole.
Every hole seemingly has its own identity, but a couple of holes stick in my mind. Water abuts the entire right side of the 168-yard sixth, with the tee shot from the rear tees actually having to carry the water. If your shot lands on the wrong tier, you can face a 100-foot putt that breaks about 20 feet.
The 523-yard 18th is a great finishing hole, with water all the way down the right side and fairway bunkers lurking on both sides of the fairway. The green complex curls away from the fairway to the right, so your final approach must carry water and a large green-front bunker in order to locate the putting surface.
|A view of New York City skyline is seen from several of the Atlantic City golf courses.
A visit to the Ballamor Grill Room will be rewarded if you order the filling Corn Crab Chowder and Pub Club.
After returning to the Tropicana, or Trop to which it’s affectionately referred, take a stroll on the world-famous Boardwalk, which bisects the line of casino hotels and the beach. It was amazing to see the Boardwalk, and honkey-tonk eateries and shops, repaired and better than ever exactly a year after Superstorm Sandy caused billions of dollars worth of damage to the Jersey shore.
Back in the Trop, I ventured into The Quarter, the hotel’s 200,000 square foot entertainment complex, where I decided to dine at Ri Ra, a very authentic Irish pub, right down to the servers and bartender, who hail from Ireland. The latter, I’m glad to report, pours a slow, proper pint of Guinness, unlike most American bartenders I’ve encountered. I actually dined there two nights. The authentic cottage pie is outstanding, as is the Irish Mac with Cheese, an Emerald Isle twist on an American classic.
For a quick takeout dinner you can’t go wrong with a Philly Cheesesteak from Jersey Mike’s sub sandwiches, in the hotel’s Marketplace.
Scotland Run, in Williamstown, is 45 minutes west of Atlantic City and 20 minutes from downtown Philadelphia. The 6,801-yard, par-71 stunner — Ballamor’s sister course — is a superb, fun layout designed by Stephen Kay, a South Jersey resident.
Kay routed this outstanding course in and around an old sand quarry. Not only is the quarry a fearsome hazard, it pays homage to the property’s former life. The final four holes play around the massive, deep pit, upon whose bottom sits large pieces of old quarrying equipment and an actual airplane belonging to the quarry’s owner, who was also a pilot.
Besides the unforgettable quarry holes, Scotland Run also features a great mix of wooded and open links-style holes, expansive waste areas and imposing cliffs. The 406-yard eighth features a huge sandy expanse stretching down the left side from the landing area, around the green’s front and left side, and beyond. Unless you can belt a 350-yard drive, your approach is all carry over the deep pit to the green. The sand also affects play on the next two holes.
|The beautiful 13th hole of Seaview Pines golf course.
Perhaps my trip’s most-pleasant surprise was Running Deer Golf Club in Pittsgrove. The 7,104-yard, par-72 masterpiece — owned and operated by Ron Jaworski Golf — has 18 distinct, memorable holes that wind through the woods. I knew of, but not much about, Running Deer, other than it’s a strong course. Well, that’s an understatement. Running Deer is a superb course.
The fairways roll over an undulating canvas while greens of various sizes have unique degrees of difficulty, from multiple tiers producing topsy-turvy putts to flatter surfaces with subtle breaks. In other words, every hole provides a different experience. In addition, each hole is set apart, so you feel as though you’re the only group on the course.
Hey, a peaceful round is great, but make no mistake — Running Deer’s strength is its design. You’ll encounter 74 bunkers of various shapes and sizes, but 14 of them are on the 408-yard 10th hole alone. Water also can wreak havoc, but it only affects four holes. The rest of the resistance to scoring can be chalked up to the land — rumpled fairways, elevation changes, trees and/or natural ravines. Heck, the brutal No. 2 handicap hole is the 492-yard, uphill fourth — a par 4 with zero hazards — and the No. 1 handicap hole, the 478-yard, par-4 12th, only has three small greenside bunkers, although water does abut the entire right side of the dogleg-right hole.
You’ll also encounter plenty of wildlife, including perhaps the world’s largest wild turkeys. We saw eight of them. My playing partner — Running Deer golf services director John Tyrell — thinks the turkeys are larger than the course’s namesake deer.
Antlers Pub has a large, wrap-around bar that seats 30, cold beer and great food. Whatever menu item you choose, include the thick, roasted corn and crab chowder.
The Stockton Seaview Hotel & Golf Club, in Galloway, is home to the Pines and Bay courses. Both par-71 tracks are outstanding — the linksy Bay is a 6,271-yard layout overlooking AC’s skyline across the bay. The Donald Ross design, which opened in 1915, is the site of the LPGA’s annual ShopRite LPGA Classic.
I’ve played both courses, but this time only tackled Pines, a 6,731-yard dandy designed by Flynn and Toomey, responsible for a number of classic courses in the Philadelphia area. The Pines, which opened in 1929, is a classic test of golf with no hidden agendas — all the trouble is in full view. Six of the par 4s play longer than 400 yards, including the 468-yard 17th. In fact, the final five holes provide for a very tough finish, respectively measuring 436, 236 (par 3), 219 (par 3), 468 and 505 (uphill par 5) yards. While the putting surfaces aren’t wildly undulating like some other AC-area layouts, subtle breaks will keep you honest.
|Twisted Dune is a visually arresting, links-style course whose serpentine fairways wind up and down between towering fescue-covered dunes en route to wildly tiered putting surfaces.
Time permitting, play the Turtle Course, a nine-hole, bent-grass putting course that opened in 2012. The course’s name was derived from the Diamond Back Terrapins that inhabit and mate on the Bay Course during summer.
My Atlantic City sojourn concluded at wild and wooly Twisted Dune, in Egg Harbor Township. This 7,248-yard, par-72 Archie Struthers design has a 74.9/130 course rating/slope, and I suggest if your name isn’t on your bag avoid the tips.
Twisted Dune is a visually arresting, links-style course whose serpentine fairways wind up and down between towering fescue-covered dunes en route to wildly tiered putting surfaces. Deep ravines, and more than 100 bunkers and deep sand pits cover the memorable layout. Fairways are generous, but accurate approach shots are paramount.
Struthers was provided a canvas upon which he moved two million cubic yards of earth to create a course quite reminiscent of a Scottish or Irish links course — minus an adjacent ocean or bay, of course. Eight of Twisted Dunes’ 10 par 4s measure longer than 400 yards, and that number would be nine if the 399-yard opening hole was one yard longer. The longest two-shotter is the 486-yard 18th, where I was thrilled with my five until I realized it was a bogey. The four par 5s are longer than 525 yards, with the fourth (571), ninth (564) and 12th (565) measuring more than 560 yards.
Twisted Dune is chock-a-block with great holes, but one that remains seared into my mind is the do-or-die 217-yard 16th, which necessitates a visually intimidating, into-the-wind tee shot over a deep tee-to-green ravine to a narrow-but-deep putting surface that slopes sharply from back to front and is guarded by six sand pits. Anything short is gone, so you have to make a choice — either move up a tee if you can’t reach the green, or take a few extra clubs. I had to smoke a choked-down 3-wood to reach the front pin position. After putting out, I walked to the rear of the green and barely touched the ball with my putter and it rolled off the front, so my advice is to not go long or find one of the bunkers.
Like many holes you’ll play during a golf trip to Atlantic City, Twisted Dune’s 16th requires a fearless gambler’s mentality. The good news is you don’t have to be one in order to have a great time.
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Steve Donahue is a veteran freelance writer and editor who has played nearly 900 golf courses in all 50 states and 10 countries. He is based in Watertown, Conn. He can be reached at email@example.com.
FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Atlantic City Golf Packages
Atlantic City Country Club
One Leo Fraser Drive
Northfield, NJ 08225
Ballamor Golf Club
6071 English Creek Avenue
Egg Harbor Township, NJ 08234
Running Deer Golf Club
1111 Parvins Mill Road
Pittsgrove, NJ 08318
Scotland Run Golf Club
2626 Fries Mill Road
Williamstown, NJ 08094
Shore Gate Golf Club
35 School House Lane
Ocean View, NJ 08230
Stockton Seaview Hotel & Golf Club
401 South New York Road
Galloway, NJ 08205
Twisted Dune Golf Club
2101 Ocean Heights Avenue
Egg Harbor Township, NJ 08234
Tropicana Casino & Resort
Atlantic City, NJ 08401