Atlantic City Country Club

6,577 yards, 133 Slope from the Back tees

Course:  My recent trip down the Shore included a stop at the Atlantic City Country Club.  This is a course I’ve been trying to get to for a few years, as I’ve heard very good things.  ACCC opened in 1897 and is one of the most historical courses you can play.  For starters, the term “Birdie” was coined here in 1903.  Johnny McDermott was the club pro here.  A number of majors were hosted here and the current Champions Tour had its first tournament here in 1980.  Beyond the history, ACCC has long been considered one of the prestigious courses in the country for its design.  Originally laid out by John Reid, who was the club pro at Philadelphia country club, it was then revised by heavy weights Willie Park, Jr. in 1915, Howard Toomey and Billy Flynn in 1925 and Tom Doak in 1999.  Doak went through painstaking detail to make sure the course was restored to its original design, and “look.”  This included re working a lot of the holes and reverting to a more classic look instead of the over manicured style, allowing the long grass and fescue to grow. Further, Doak put in a new irrigation system to improve the efficient maintenance of the course.  ACCC turned public in 1998, when the Caesar’s casino conglomerate purchased it from the Fraser family.  As part of the golfing public, I am overjoyed that we are now allowed to play here if we’re willing to part with a healthy chunk of change.  Most of the well known courses with this much history are private and ultra exclusive.  To experience the history, design, clubhouse and even locker room of such a venerable course was a highlight of the season.

The McDermott room

Locker room
More of the Locker room

The course itself is classic golf course architecture masterfully done.  There are magnificent hazards, mainly bunkers, but also trees and the bordering marshlands and tide pools.  And if the wind makes an appearance, like it did for us in a big way, you have a lot to think about on each shot.  Mind you, the course does a great job of providing bail out shots, or ways to hit away from the trouble, so you’re able to decide when it’s best to get aggressive or stay conservative.  The routing is excellent and the ending holes along the marshlands to the Eighteenth going back to the clubhouse are world class.  Scenery is also top notch.  There are views of the AC skyline, the grand clubhouse and mansions in the middle of the course; even the bunkers are gorgeous.  Like many classic designs, you’re able to score if you play smart golf, but will end up with a higher score if you mis hit or mis calculate your plays around trouble.

I pulled up to the entrance and there was complimentary valet.  My bag taken care of, I made my way into the clubhouse.  Lots of rooms clad in leather furniture, plaques, trophies and photographs.  The place is so expansive and there are so many different rooms that I had to ask where the pro shop was.  Oh sure, it’s right through the locker room that’s bigger than my house.  After warming up at the range that has conditioning and bunkers just as nice as the course and the putting green that’s next to a pond with a number of rather vocal birds, we were off.

The First is a 450 yard par 4 (from the Back tees).  There is a tree line along the right side, then the first taste of cross bunkers closer to the green.

The First

Approach shot at the First

The Second is a 368 yard par 4.  This hole is a lot more forward with the bunkering, as the fairway is narrower, with the bunkers on either side of the fairways making an S shaped fairway out of a straightaway hole.  And a deeper bunker is carved out of the front right of the green, protecting that side.

The Second

Approach shot at the Second

The Third is a 353 yard par 4 and is one of the more memorable holes.  The hole heads out to the boundary of the marshlands and the AC skyline is in the background.  The creative use of elaborate bunkering on this course is effective.  Once again, there are cross bunkers, but the bunkers on the left of the fairway goad you into making your way up the right side of the fairway; only a large bunker complex protects the right front of the green.  So ultimately, you will have to play with fire so to speak and either carry the greenside bunker or flirt with the bunkers on the left for an easier approach.  Lots of decisions while a very gorgeous hole with a terrific background view is in front of you.  Very well done.

The Third

From the left side of the fairway

Approach shot distance to the green

View from the Third green

Another pic from same spot showing river inlet

The Fourth is a 144 par 3 and takes full advantage of the background scenery.  It’s a shorter par 3, but a waste bunker and area are on the right of the green while long grass awaits on the left.  And this was the first hole we got a taste of the wind.  But the view was spectacular, so who cares where the ball goes?

The Fourth

The Fifth is a 445 yard par 4.  The next few holes really stretch out and with the wind really blowing, it was quite an adventure.  There is one long bunker running up the left side of the fairway while trees are along the right and the green slopes pretty well from back to front.

The Fifth

The bunker running along the left side

The Sixth is a 592 yard par 5.  The wind was gusting directly into us, so it played every inch of its distance.  Bunkers are strategically placed on both sides of the fairway, leading up to a green that has a narrow opening on the left, as the front and right are protected by greenside bunkers.  More choices, do you carry the bunkers to get to the green, or hit to the left so you can run it to the hole?  In my case, I was at the wind’s mercy, yet miscalculated and flew the green.  Maybe they could figure out how to turn off the wind?

Tee shot at the Sixth

The right side of the Sixth fairway

Approaching the Sixth green

The Seventh is a 452 yard par 4.  Although we turned around, it felt like the wind was still against us some how.  The hole dog legs right and there’s bunkers along the right side up to the green.  If you know your distances, stay to the left and don’t hit it too far of the tee.

The Seventh

Approach shot at the Seventh.  The bunkers are deeper than they look here

The Eighth is a 196 yard par 3, but the wind made it feel like 376 yards. Maybe the Bloody Mary kicked in or the wind was knocking me silly, but i felt like I could get the ball a little lower and run it up to the green. Some how it worked out and the ball started getting close to the hole. There was a split second when I wondered if it would go in, but I’m sure the wind took care of that for me. I don’t think I could hit that shot again if I had to. Well, maybe after another Bloody Mary, which were pretty good by the way. I thankfully made the tap in.

The Eighth

The tap in

The Ninth is a 452 yard par 4 and is the number 1 handicap hole.  It’s a dog leg left leading back to the clubhouse.  Trees and a generous sized bunker will make you reconsider cutting too much off the leg, but going right is fine as long as you don’t over hit.  The green is well protected by bunkers, so going right means a long approach shot, which needs to be pretty accurate to avoid trouble.  A tough test to end the front nine.  

The Ninth

Approach shot at the Ninth

The front nine takes you out to the boundary of the marshlands, then quickly brings you back in to the clubhouse.  The routing is very well done, as all the holes exude character, yet meld into one another.  You get most of the inland holes on the front, yet the creative use of bunkering and trees, along with the scenery of the skyline and the mini mansion neighborhood in the middle of the course, does not make you impatient for the marshland holes.  My ranking of the front nine would be 3, 4, 8, 9, 6, 2, 5, 7, 1.  There was not a weak one in the bunch.  

The Tenth is a 488 yard par 5.  The course has yet to let up on distance, but it’s in the right spot of the round.  It’s a dog leg right, but as seen on previous holes, the dog leg is well protected and there’s repercussions if you don’t execute your game plan correctly.  Trees and bunkers protect the dog leg and there is water on the left if you overshoot your attempt to go around the dog leg for a clearer look at the green.  The green is also one of the tougher on the course, sloping from back to front and right to left.  

The Tenth
A look at the green from the dog leg

A closer look at the green

The Eleventh is a 432 par 4.  A large sector of bunkers completely bisect the fairway to the green.  The smart play is to lay up to them instead of trying to carry them, but obviously your approach will be longer.  The bunkers are rather deep, so you’ll have your work cut out for you if you go in.  

The Eleventh

The bunkers, waiting for you

The Twelfth is the shortest par 3 on the course at 134 yards, but also features the deepest bunkers on the course to the left of the green.  We had the wind blazing against us, so I went 2 clubs up and hit it much harder than I wanted.  I thought it was airmailing the green when the wind suddenly picked the ball straight up 100 feet in the air, making it come straight down on the front of the green.  I guess the wind felt bad about messing me up on the Sixth.

The Twelfth

The Thirteenth is a 553 yard par 5 and of course, we were against the wind.  It’s a slight dog leg left with water on the right and the fairway slopes towards it.  The green is amply protected by bunkers.  The best approach is from the right side of the fairway.  You know, assuming you don’t blow away.

The Thirteenth

Further down the Thirteenth

The Fourteenth is a 339 par 4.  Still going against the wind.  The marshlands start to creep into the holes, as the tee shot must carry the marsh tidal pools to the fairway.  Once you do that, there is a long bunker intruding from the right side of the fairway, then bunkers left further up, and bunkers again close to the green on the right.  If you nail your tee shot, you’ll have a pretty short approach and shouldn’t have to worry about the bunkers.  If your tee shot is off, plan your line accordingly.  The wind was blowing hard towards us and into the marsh by the way.

The Fourteenth
View of the clubhouse off to the left of the fairway

Second shot territory

The Fifteenth is a 190 yard par 3.  There are marshlands to carry and the green is elevated.  There really isn’t any bail out room and the wind was a big factor in club selection.  The hole is scenic and the green is wide enough to give you a fair shot at landing on the green for par.

The Fifteenth

The Sixteenth is a 400 yard par 4.  It’s similar to the Fourteenth in that your tee shot must carry marshlands and are against a severe wind (when it’s blowing), but it’s longer and the green is tucked further right against the marsh, complicating the approach.  A large bunker awaits at the end of the fairway to collect those shots that try to get too close to the green without actually going for it.

The Sixteenth

Approach shot at the Sixteenth.  The green is on the right, where the guy in the red is.

The Seventeenth is a remarkable par 3 at 157 yards.  The green is elevated, but is hidden by dunes and long grass.  At this point, I was fighting valiantly for a good score and was trying to hold on the last few holes, which are the most challenging, and scenic.  There are bunkers on the far side of the green, so you almost have to get as close as you can to the dunes to stick the pin and avoid the bunkers.  I naturally got caught up in the bunkers and didn’t fare as well as I wanted here.

The Seventeenth

The Eighteenth is a 432 yard par 4.  The hole is a hard dog leg right and the fairway then proceeds uphill to an elevated green sitting right in front of the clubhouse patio.  There are large bunkers on the near and far side of the dog leg, so your tee shot must be accurate.  The green slopes dramatically from back to front as well, so try to stay downhill of the hole.

Tee shot at the Eighteenth

Approach shot territory

The back nine was one of my favorite stretches of holes I’ve played.  Each hole was unique, made you think, was challenging and scenic.  The “look” of the course added to its character and there was a lot going on in the design, yet felt natural and seamless.  The course fit my eye and I ended up playing very well (for me at least).  Every hole was strong, but my ranking would go 16, 17, 14, 15, 11, 12, 18, 10, 13.  The par 3’s and 4’s were world class while the par 5’s were well done.

Generally, ACCC is now one of my favorite nearby courses.  I’m probably a broken record, but the history, pristine clubhouse, location, scenery and design make it a special place to play.  Very many options on each hole (I probably played a 3W off the tee lots to set up better approach shots) and the hazards are brilliantly placed.  Simply put, this is a gem of a course and among the top seaside courses in the country.  I am truly glad the public has the opportunity to enjoy it.

Obviously, ACCC will be making a significant splash in the PGG rankings.

By my count, ACCC and Bulle Rock have the highest green fees in the area.  So I’ve been asking myself lately, which one is more worth it to play?  I’d really like to punt on this, but let’s work it through.  In terms of challenge, Bulle Rock may have the edge.  In terms of clubhouse and location, ACCC has the edge.  Service and practice facilities at both are excellent and may be a push.  Scenery probably goes to ACCC, but BR is no slouch here either.  I’ll have to visit BR again to make sure the comparison is fair, but as of now ACCC has an extremely slight edge.  The design is a little more complex and the decision making really helps make for an enjoyable round while remaining a strict challenge.  BR is one of Pete Dye’s more subtle designs and demands your A game without being unfair.  I can’t imagine a better day of golf than hitting up one of these places in the a.m. and the other in the afternoon and am always glad both are close enough for me to visit when need be.

Gripes:  Steep green fees will deter some, but they are on a sliding scale and at the right time or date, you can play here for a bargain.  As far as value goes, I felt I got more than my money’s worth.  The wind is a major beast.

Bar/grill:  Top of the line.  The bar is elaborate; dark wood, large, my kind of place.  And the outdoor seating area is also first class.  Even the bar in the men’s locker room is nice.

Clubhouse:  Understated, but sufficient.  Lots of nice apparel and a television with large leather chairs.

Practice area:  The range is natural grass and has lots of target flags, some on raised greens, some behind bunkers, etc.  The putting green is also fairly large.

Getting there:  Its actually in Northfield, NJ, about ten minutes outside AC proper.