It’s their fault and they’re not afraid to admit it. The powers that be in Atlantic City, New Jersey know they have depended on casino gambling for too long. It was easy money.
Through the 1970’s and 80’s, as casino after casino rose along the Jersey Shore, the roads appeared to be paved with gold. Unfortunately it could only last so long.
The realization that you could not depend on gambling alone as a way to attract tourists, the key component to the local economy, was a harsh one. As more and more destinations around the country dipped their foot into the gaming pool, Atlantic City, a city that once stood out as among one of very few where you could drop a nickel into a slot machine, was all of sudden facing daunting competition.
Now Atlantic City has more hope as they alter their path slightly to diversify and look beyond gaming as a way to attract tourists and money into their economy. While casinos are still the primary source of revenue, emphasis is now being put on other attractions, including the beach, the return of the Miss America pageant, new stores and restaurants, and of interest to many, golf.
A Rich Past
This may make it sound as if golf is a recent pursuit in South Jersey but is far from the case. This is fertile land for the playing of the game, with the sandy soil so reminiscent of the Scottish links land, able to easily foster the development of playing grounds.
The local inventory includes some nineteen member courses of the Greater Atlantic City Golf Association and it’s a stunning selection.
“Atlantic City is little known for golf and it shouldn’t be that way,” says Tom Sullivan, General Manager of the McCullough’s Emerald Links Golf Course and the current President of the GACGA. “We have a wide array of value and there is no other place like Atlantic City when it comes to golf and entertainment.”
After a recent visit there, I’d have a hard time disagreeing. While the volume of courses might not be overwhelming they are equal in quality to any region with at least five of them being among the best that the entire State of New Jersey has to offer for public play. And away from the course? Believe me, you’ll have no problem filling every twenty-four hours.
Backing Sullivan’s assertions about golf in Atlantic City is Stephen Kay, the noted architect has crafted two courses in the region (Blue Heron Pines and McCullough’s Emerald Golf Links) and has called the area home for more than a decade. “We certainly can’t compare the golf here to Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head when it comes to the number of courses but I’ll say we have the best mix of architectural styles you can find anywhere.”
That is high praise from a man who has worked on some 300 courses in his lengthy career and after witnessing a sampling of it for myself, I too can verify his claims.
In a tasting of just six courses I experienced everything from a layout that pays tribute to the best courses of the British Isles, to a classic Donald Ross masterpiece, to a parkland/sand barrens style course with some of the best greens I have ever rolled a ball on.
I started my brief survey of the Atlantic City golf scene at McCullough’s Emerald Golf Links. Named for the mayor who fought for years to have a former landfill turned into a facility much more useful to the local constituents, Emerald Golf Links can be found on a six mile stretch of Ocean Heights Avenue that is home to a half a dozen courses, five of them publicly accessible.
Open for just over two decades, this course gives a nod to the great links courses of the British Isles with holes modeled after some of the greats. Never had a chance to play the King’s Course at Gleneagles or Royal Dornoch? This place can give you a feel of that, especially when the wind is blowing across its wind-swept property.
An extra special touch at McCullough’s is the 7th hole, which is based on a design from a magazine contest submission by Dr. Alister MacKenzie (famed co-designer of Augusta National). Brought to life by designer Stephen Kay at the suggestion of golf writer Brad Klein, it’s a hole that will leave an impression.
Tucked away in 245 acres in the Ocean View area south of Atlantic City is the ShoreGate Golf Club. Carved from forest and a rich, sandy base, the presence of endless bunkering gives this course its definition. A stern test from the full length, it’s easy to see why it has garnered many awards and much recognition.
One of the greatest pleasures of Atlantic City Golf is exploring its roots at the Atlantic City Country Club and the Stockton Seaview Resort. Playing them both in a single day, as our group did, is a golf history lesson to be savored.
Exploring the Atlantic City Country Club clubhouse is a walk through history, with walls adorned with photos and newspaper clippings honouring the events held on its grounds since its founding in 1897. On the course you’ll find the best layout in the area with a design touched up by Tom Doak just over a decade ago. Stunning views of the casino-heavy skyline provide the backdrop to eighteen succulent holes, many playing along the shore of Lakes Bay.
That is the same theme at the Stockton Seaview Resort which currently hosts an LPGA Tour event and was the site of the 1942 PGA Championship over their Pine and Bay courses. We tipped it up at the Bay and between the long grasses and classic crowned Donald Ross greens, found more than enough to challenge our skills.
The stop in Atlantic City wrapped up with two very contrary looks at golf, the dramatic Twisted Dune and Blue Heron Pines.
The claim is that Twisted Dune is like no other golf course in New Jersey. Designer Archie Struthers pushed around 2 million cubic yards of earth to create the moonscape of sand that it winds through. Wide fairways temper the disasters that lurk off the defined line of play and more than a hundred greedy bunkers will get your attention. At 7,200 yards making the right tee choice is a must. Struthers work isolated each of the holes on the property, keeping you focused on the test ahead and helping to give each memorable character.
Liz Jaworski was beaming with pride as she engaged our group upon completion of Blue Heron Pines Golf Club. She and husband Ron Jaworski Blue(yes, the former NFL Quarterback and current TV analyst) acquired the course last June, making it the 5th they operate under Ron Jaworski Golf, and she has every right to be delighted. Exemplary turf conditions (the exquisite greens mentioned earlier) and a varied design that all golfers will find interesting and playable make it a welcome addition to any Jersey Shore golf stay.
To take care of your accommodation and entertainment needs in Atlantic City, the obvious choice is a casino stay. There are a dozen main casinos, many located along the famous Boardwalk that parallels the stunning oceanfront.
Each of the “big boys” is a city of its own with seemingly endless dining, nightlife, and shopping option – not to mention the gaming opportunities.
For those looking for a modern feel The Borgata delivers with a bay-side location, sophisticated appeal and non-stop action as one of the most popular casinos in the region.
Those looking for an option right on the Boardwalk, the Tropicana sports more than 2000 rooms, a massive gaming floor and The Quarter, an entertainment section packed with clubs, restaurants and shops. It’s a massive complex, much like what you can find at all the Atlantic City casinos, and finding some form of entertainment, even in the wee hours of the morning, is always possible.
Growing In Stature
With greater emphasis on golf as an attraction in Atlantic City expect to hear a lot more about it in the future. All the elements are there for success with great golf courses as the core. A concerted effort to bring attention to their many great properties, blended with the already significant attractions of the casinos and boardwalk area, should build this part of the Jersey Shore into something very enticing for more than those coming here for the traditional reasons.
It’s no gamble to take a trip to Atlantic City for golf; even if you lose in the casinos you’re guaranteed to hit the jackpot on the courses.
Atlantic City Tourism
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Greater Atlantic City Golf Association
Atlantic City Country Club
900 Shore Road, Northfield
Ron Jaworski’s Blue Heron Pines Golf Club
550 W. Country Club Drive, Cologne
McCullough’s Emerald Golf Links
3016 Ocean Heights Avenue, Egg Harbor Township
2101 Ocean Heights Avenue, Egg Harbor Township
Stockton Seaview Hotel and Golf Club
401 S. New York Road, Galloway
Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa
Tropicana Casino and Resort