Except for the pines and hemlocks, the trees are mostly barren, the holidays are approaching, and many “golfers” are putting their sticks in the closet. But you know better. If you really love the game you won’t allow your clubs to gather dust this winter.
Just because the calendar is flipping to a new year doesn’t mean it’s time to give up our favorite game for two or three months. Weather permitting, many courses in New Jersey stay open year round. While your buddies are watching football and professional golf tournaments from some warm weather retreats, you can still be knocking seven-irons stiff to the flags at a number of courses.
Tom Sullivan, general manager at McCullough’s Emerald Links, says that eh Atlantic City area is a very viable and affordable year-round golf destination. It is typically warmer down at the shore as the salt air and warmer temperatures allow for more golfing days than in Philadelphia, Northern Jersey and beyond. “It’s the same Atlantic City experience at a great rate.”
Mike Attara, president and founder of Spirit Golf, adds that winter golf in New Jersey can offer a great opportunity to enjoy a round of golf on the Jersey Shore and elsewhere. Rates are lower, the courses are not packed and more often than not the weather in the Ocean County region can be pretty mild, as snowfall dissipates quicker or never hits the shore areas.
While it is true that courses along the coast usually face less severe winters, especially when it comes to long-lasting snowfall, inland tracks will remain open as long as Old Man Winter doesn’t get too nasty from December through February.
Often, whether or not a track is open is on a course-by-course or even day-to-day basis. Some may prefer to not deal with slow days caused by cold temperatures, others may choose to open on selected days if the weather cooperates, while some keep their fairways open throughout the winter, again, as long as the snow or ice doesn’t pile up and stick around for too long. You may have to put up with some chilly temperatures if you play in the morning, but even on days of short daylight it’s easy to fit 18 holes in.
Here are some courses that will remain open this winter, again weather permitting. Call ahead before visiting a course just to make sure it’s open for business, even if the weather seems favorable.
Seaview Golf Resort (www.StocktonSeaview.com) in Galloway is a massive 297-room complex in Absecon that features two championship golf courses–The Bay and Pines courses. The links-style Bay Course hosted the 1942 PGA won by Sam Snead and was designed by Donald Ross.
The Bay Course is loaded with superb holes and, like Atlantic City Country Club, offers cool views of the Atlantic City skyline across the bay. Several of the holes either end or start near the bay or run along it. While not overly long at 6,247 yards from the tips, the course is nonetheless is a good test of course management and proper club selection. Tall fescue grasses line many of the fairways during the warm months and there are ample bunkers and occasional wetlands or water to catch the wayward shot.
The brainchild of the design team of Toomey and Flynn, the Pines Course was carved from woodlands surrounding the resort and features tight fairways and well-protected landing areas. Longer (6,731 yards from the tips) than the Bay Course, the Pines demands precision off the tee and steady approaches to the ample greens. Three of the four par-fives can be reached in two by big hitters, but there are five par-fours–including the monstrous 468-yard 17th–that play over 400 yards from the tips. The back side features three par-threes, including back-to-back holes on 15 and 16, both of which measure well over 200 yards.
When you are done with golf, make sure you hang out in the resort’s tap room located in the hotel. It’s got a wonderful feel to it and lots of photos showing the greats that have visited the resort and played the courses.
The Golf Course at Renault (www.RenaultWinery.com) in Egg Harbor City is a piece of a package that includes the Tuscany Hotel, a winery and the “gourmet” Restaurant at the Renault Winery. The course winds its way through and past grapevines and orchards. The track was designed by Ed Shearon and kept to owner Joseph Milza’s vision of a layout that is challenging for good players but also approachable for visitors of all skill levels.
The Links at Brigantine Beach (www.BrigantineGolf.com) is yet another historic course designed by Wayne Stiles and John Van Kleek, who created some fine courses at the turn of the 20th century. Brigantine has a sense of being a Scottish links layout, with berms, gently rolling fairways that are almost devoid of trees, tall grasses off the fairways, mounds and smallish, tricky greens typical of links courses. Brigantine, opened in 1927, has its own rich golf history. It is said that Walter Hagen and Harry Vardon played at Brigantine to acquire a feel for links courses before setting sail to play in Scotland at the British Open.
Blue Heron Pines Golf Club (www.BlueHeronPines.com) in Cologne is one of Jersey architect Stephen Kay’s best designs. It takes full advantage of the natural beauty of the area’s pinelands and is a pleasing blend of short and long par-fours, solid par-fives–several of which are reachable in two by big boppers–and great par-threes. There are numerous bunkers that come into play both off the tee and on approach shots to the medium-sized greens.
Sand Barrens Golf Club (www.SandBarrensGolf.com) in Cape May Court House, designed by Dana Fry of Hurzdan/Fry, is another of the better newer tracks to open. Fry said he designed Sand Barrens to be reminiscent of Pine Valley Golf Club–with fairways and greens surrounded by monstrous waste areas, evergreens and oak trees–when visiting the site in preparation for construction. Although the gleaming white bunkers pose challenges for even the best players, Fry designed a course that has plenty of room to land the ball off the tee and large, receptive greens.
Harbor Pines Golf Club ( www.HarborPines.com) in Egg Harbor is a rather open layout that has plenty of water and bunkers. The track feels good and looks pleasing to the eye. Number 12 is one of the most photographed holes in New Jersey and visually a stunner. The tee shot on this 339-yard par-four must clear a large pond and land in a small fairway that sits before the green. The putting surface is protected by bunkers all around and water to the rear. You can make birdie or double bogey here, depending upon your accuracy and length off the tee. It’s an example of a great, short par-four.
Sea Oaks Golf Club (www.SeaOaksCC.com) in Little Egg Harbor became a destination course a few years ago with the opening of The Inn at Sea Oaks. The Inn has 31 units in all, 17 “standard rooms,” and the rest either executive or master suites. The course at Sea Oaks is a Ray Hearn-design that fits naturally into the environment, with sandy waste areas, tall pines and water incorporated into this thinking golfer’s track.
Twisted Dune Golf Club ( www.TwistedDune.com) in Egg Harbor is a links-style course that was built in a residential area, but it works well. The course was designed by Archie Struthers in a links style, with the track winding through a “twisted” landscape, and offering dramatic elevation changes and contoured fairways. There are over 100 bunkers on this beast but the fairways are wide and the greens accepting of approach shots.
Shore Gate Golf Club (www.ShoreGateGolf.com) in Oceanview is both interesting and intimidating. The Ron Fream-David Dale creation has deep greenside bunkers capped off by chocolate drop mounding that often presents a somewhat disconcerting scene when standing on the fairways and preparing to hit approach shots.
McCullough’s Emerald Golf Links (www.McCulloughsGolf.com), located in Egg Harbor and designed by noted New Jersey-based golf course architect Stephen Kay, is a tribute to famed European layouts, such as St. Andrew’s, Prestwick, Gleneagles and Turnberry. McCullough’s 16th hole, for instance, is a replica of the “Postage Stamp” par-three hole at Scotland’s Royal Troon. McCullough’s, quite appropriately, presents a decidedly Irish-Scottish feel, with wide open fairways, tricky winds, grass mounds, bunkers, natural waste areas and undulating greens.
Mays Landing Golf and Country Club (www.MaysLandingGolf.com) in Mays Landing has been delighting golfers of all skill levels for a number of years. The track plays 6,633 yards from the back markers and has several par-fours that can be reached with driver, as well as a couple of four pars that will demand a lusty tee shot and a mid- or long-iron to reach. The course owners claim the 220-yard par-three 15th may be the toughest short hole you will ever face. The green is small and elevated and angled directly toward water that sits in front of the putting surface. The green is also surrounded by bunkers, which makes finding the narrow target rather difficult.
Greate Bay Country Club (www.GreateBay.com) in Somers Point, hosted an LPGA event from 1988 to 1997 and is a true championship-caliber layout. It plays 6,721 yards from the tips and nine of the par-fours measure over 400 yards. Some of the best holes are the ninth, a 216-yard par-three that has bunkers in front and left of the green and water further left; the 12th, a stellar par-four that plays 410 yards. The tee shot must be strong and true to set up a mid-iron approach across a pond; the 15th, a 549-yard par-five that has bunkers guarding the tee shot and second shot landing areas; and the 16th, a short par-three, playing 151 yards. But choose your club carefully as there is a pond to the rear of the green.