Atlantic City Golf Is A Great Bet

By Alan B. Nichols, Special Contributor to


ATLANTIC CITY, NJ -- As the summer season approaches, tourists and vacationing golfers are well advised to investigate the charms and allures of Atlantic City, perhaps the most exciting seaside resort area in the Mid-Atlantic Region.


Downtown Atlantic City is, of course, dominated by Harrah's and the other gigantic casino/hotel complexes that not only draw the gambling crowd but world class entertainers. Seventies rock band Three Dog Night, Johnny Mathis, Ray Charles, and comics Don Rickles and Jerry Seinfeld are among this summer's headliners.


Shoregate Golf Club's 4th hole. Photo Courtesy of Shoregate Golf Club.

Atlantic City also means beaches and sand castles, cotton candy and saltwater taffy, rides on the boardwalk, and ocean or inlet fishing and crabbing. It also means outstanding golf.


The south Jersey coast has some of the finest courses in the Mid-Atlantic region. These courses didn't come into existence by accident. Forward-looking planners recognize that first-class golf is a major tourist attraction, an invaluable revenue producer for the area and one reason for high return visits to the area.


Within an easy drive of the city are some 10 daily fee tracks that include Brigantine, a flat, windswept, oceanside design located directly north of the city on the barrier island of the same name. Inland and slightly south of the city is Mays Landing, a similar mid-level fee course also suitable for very casual players. At the high end of the spectrum is the spectacular Pines course, one of two great courses operated by Seaview Marriott Resort, located in north Absecon directly across the bay from the city. The other Seaview course, the Donald Ross-designed Bay Course, hosts the LPGA's ShopRite Classic.


Golfers of particularly discriminating standards should also put the following courses on their must-play list:


The 5th Hole at Sand Barrens' West nine. Photo Courtesy of Sand Barrens.

Sand Barrens

Sand Barrens is 27 magnificent holes complete with a first-class clubhouse and an equally outstanding menu, superior instruction for adults and kids, and service to match.


Located in Swainton near Cape May off exit 13 on the Garden State Parkway, the complex has garnered all kinds of awards and justifiably so. With multiple tee markers stretching up to about 3450 yards, each of the 9's complement the others beautifully and collectively feature consistently interesting holes on turf that is superbly maintained in a peaceful pine and oak forest setting completely devoid of houses.


At Sand Barrens, service is not an empty phrase, according to General Manager Michael Gaffney, who says that with the south Jersey shore being a family vacation spot, golfers don't want to spend all day on the golf course. Pace of play is maintained by the pleasant prodding of helpful marshals.


Yet, golfers might be excused from time to time if they stop and admire the surroundings: a 200 plus acre hardwood and Jersey pine forested landscape of resplendent low-lying maritime vegetation, ponds and wetlands -- the home of abundant wildlife. A few elevated tee boxes on a couple of par 5's offer riveting views of the course.

The 7th Hole at Sand Barrens' North nine. Photo Courtesy of Sand Barrens.


A key feature of the course design, as the name confers, are the ubiquitous huge waste and sand bunkers that figure prominently on every hole. A few transect the exquisite fairways and many are very deep. Greenside bunkers guard huge undulating greens. These bunkers notwithstanding, the course is very fair, featuring wide inviting fairways and superbly tended natural areas immediately bordering the fairways that make it possible to get back into the hole without too much stress.


I have played here a dozen times and can attest that it is well worth your visit.


Blue Heron Pines

Blue Heron Pines Golf Club is a 36-hole club featuring two superior golf courses, the West and the East courses. The club is located just west of Absecon in the village of Cologne off Parkway exit 38.


Blue Heron Pines' West Course. Photo Courtesy of Blue Heron Pines.

Blue Heron Pines West is a Stephen Kay creation, which opened in 1993 to rave reviews. Atlantic City Magazine named it the best 18-hole course at the Jersey shore. Meandering through an ancient pine forest, this parkland style course, which measures between 5053 and 6810 yards from five tee sets, has abundant sand and modest elevation changes with a few lakes thrown in.


The course's best and toughest stretch of holes is on the slightly more challenging back 9 and begins with #14, a 518-yard beauty requiring a carry over a 100-yard long waste bunker planted with native long grasses to a slightly raised green. Many golfers could be undone by this arguably controversial hole if they are not careful, but once they've completed it, there is still more challenge ahead. The 421-yard 15th is quite spectacular, featuring an elevated green bordering a lake on the left, a fairway marked by bunkers on the right that tempt players to carry them (230 yards) to set up an easier approach shot, and a right to left sloping fairway that will promote overly hooked tee shots toward the lake. A redan style long par 3 and long straight par 4 follow this gem, and the course finishes with reachable par 5.


In Blue Heron Pines East, which opened in 2000, designer Steve Smyers has created a links style track that has all the earmarks of greatness. Its wide-open windswept and largely treeless setting is reminiscent of the famous Scottish links. The course, winding over hill and dale on some 300 pristine acres, is the host of the 2003 U.S. Amateur Public Links Championship.


Smyers, who apprenticed with Tom Fazio and who was on the University of Florida golf team with several former PGA stars, loves the open, rustic look, as evidenced by some of his other courses, including Southern Dunes in Haines City, near Orlando. Smyers also designed Old Memorial, a fabulous layout outside Tampa that is at the head of his growing portfolio of superior designs.


Blue Heron Pines' East Course. Photo Courtesy of Blue Heron Pines.

At Blue Heron Pines, Smyers' has brought back the bump and run shot on a hard and fast playing surface. His homage to the Scots is over all this course whose rolling, pitched fairways follow the natural contours of the land. Five tee markers ranging from 5165 to 7221 yards offer a challenging but very fair experience.


The courses are the prize of a large decidedly upscale residential and hospitality community that will eventually include a hotel, elegant homes, and rental suites. The backdrop of the front nine of the West Course is already being modified by development. The courses are separated by a rural road and are each serviced by their own separate clubhouses, each offering individual and group instruction through the pro shop or the on-site Golf Digest School. Golfers can also take advantage of benefit -- conferring private memberships.


Twisted Dune Golf Club

Located off Parkway Exit 30 in Egg Harbor Township is a linksland-style layout with an unmistakable Scottish feel. The course was designed by local golf enthusiast Archie Struthers, who toured courses in the Old Country and put what he had learned into this dramatic site. For a designer with no formal design training, Twisted Dune is a remarkable achievement.


Construction began in 1999, the course was completed in 2001 and it opened in May of 2001. The course required the movement of over 4 million tons of dirt to create majestic mounds that frame most of the holes. The layout was built on an old horse farm, and 45 acres of trees were cleared to create the links look. The property is approximately 210 acres in size.

Photo Courtesy of Twisted Dune Golf Club.


As befitting its name, ribbons of fine bent grass fairways twist and turn around the high constructed dunes as they meander toward the large greens. Elevations, water and heavy rough stand ready to capture and often keep wayward shots. But if you can keep the ball in play, you are in for a rewarding round on a course with some spectacular holes including the long-uphill par 5 5th, featuring a huge waste bunker right, tall mounds on the left and a narrow opening to a well bunkered elevated green that offers a view of most of the course. The course is monstrously long from the very back, but it is very playable from the right tee markers.


Maintained to exacting standards, the course has earned high marks from many local and national publications.


Shoregate Golf Club

Opened in 2002, Shoregate quickly earned Top Ten New Courses honors by Golf Magazine. It may eventually be the class of the south Jersey shore. It is that good. In fact, representatives from each of the pro tours have looked at it as a possible site for a tournament.


Shoregate Golf Club's 10th hole. Photo Courtesy of Shoregate Golf Club.

Designed by the California-based team of Ron Fream and David Dale, who have designed scores of great venues throughout the world, Shoregate is owned by the Douglas Turner family, which owns a hugely successful motor campground nearby. The Turners knew nothing about golf but they had the good sense to trust the experts.


Fream and Dale didn't disappoint. The designers embellished this magnificent forested site with numerous lakes and contoured fairways that fall away on some holes toward dense, environmentally-protected woods or wetlands.


The course stretches to over 7300 yards from the back tees but is definitely manageable from the forward markers. Still, be advised to bring your 'A' game. The course features some towering lipped waste bunkers created by uncovering the natural sand dunes underlying this site, which lay along the shoreline eons ago. Half of this collection of dramatic holes feature water, superbly maintained turf conditions and immense bent grass greens. Low-lying terrain and several elevation changes guarantee an exciting tour of this masterpiece.


The Turners are gracious, hospitable people who are dedicated to providing a level of service to match a layout guaranteed to make your visit to Shoregate a real treat

Sand Barrens
1765 Route 9 North
Swainton, NJ 08210

Blue Heron Pines

Twisted Dune Golf Club

Shoregate Golf Club
View, NJ

Alan B. Nichols
is a veteran golf writer in Bethesda, MD. His web site is

Related Links   Comments on this article?
Maryland National Golf Club
Hollow Creek Golf Club
Rocky Gap Resort
PB Dye Golf Club in Ijamsville
Whiskey Creek Golf Club
E-mail Jeff Rendall, Editor: