6,335 yards, 125 Slope from the Blues
Somers Point, New Jersey is just before the bridges you would take the shore line of the Atlantic, inland yet mere minutes from the beaches of Ocean City. Enter Greate Bay CC, which is nearly on the tip of Somers Point, Patcong Creek on one side, Drag Channel at the tip and Great Egg Harbor Bay on the other side. When it was built, I’m sure views of the marshland just before the harbors were spectacular, the pines finally giving way to the horizon. Designed by Willie Park, Jr. in 1923, Tom and George Fazio in 1972, amongst others, the course strayed from its original design over the decades. Salvation came as Archie Struthers in the early 2000’s, founder of Twisted Dunes. Archie began to restore many of the lost Park features to the course and brought back a much more coherent classic style. Nowadays, I would call Greate Bay a local’s secret. An enjoyable classic with a healthy dose of expansive and sharp bunkering on an eclectic routing. While the New Jersey shore is full of notable courses, Greate Bay should be in that discussion. An emphasis on shotmaking, flexible for a myriad of weather and wind, sophisticated greens; I already laid the ground work with my wife that this would be the perfect retirement spot.
I tell anyone who will listen and have wrote about it often, how I began my deep dive into golf course architecture when I realized just how much I loved playing Jeffersonville over several other local courses, ultimately discovered Donald Ross, then realized how much I enjoyed his courses over others. The same can be said for Wille Park. There is a lot of Park left in the course and without fail, I have a blast on all of the ones I play that have maintained Park’s design. There seems to be a lot of diversity in the holes, fun in the greens and overall excitement with most of the shots. Greate Bay was no different. Spotty play began to plague me late Summer and this round was no exception. Regardless, I enjoyed myself immensely and am raring to get back here and have another go at it.
The First is a 359 yard par 4 (from the Blues). A straightforward enough starter, slightly uphill, with a larger fairway bunker short left and trees on either side. Near the green, the trees give way more on the right, but the greenside bunker on that side tempers how far over you can go on the approach. A green that moves back to front, it’s a much more demanding shot than it looks because of the green movement, trees on the left and the greenside bunker in a position to collect any overambitious chips or pitches from the other side.
The Second is a 409 yard par 4. Things escalate quickly with a forced carry tee shot over a waste area to a fairway that angles in on the right from the tee. Setting the right line from the tee for a clear approach while avoiding the fairway bunker off to the right is a task in itself and then you have the approach, which is one of the better on the course. There’s also a large center bunker in the middle of the fairway which needs to be navigated around or over. The green sits well above the fairway and perpendicular to it, a massive bunker just below. Most approaches will need to carry that bunker but there are slopes that lead up around it to the green, adding to the options. The green moves well from left to right and is wide, yet shallow, so the approach carrying over said monster bunker must not be too powerful or will end up over the green. What the hole really does is promote shot shaping, both off the tee and the approach. A right to left flight is ideal off the tee while either left to right or right to left approach is much better than a straight flight. A great looking hole to boot. One of my favorite on the course and it’s only the second played!
The Third is a 121 yard par 3. A short par 3 to a raised green on all sides that’s set at an angle from the tee. Sure there’s room to miss short, but then you’re left with a tougher short shot to the raised green. The green falls off suddenly on all sides and into a pot bunker short right, so when all is said and done, the hole is politely suggesting to hit the green or end up in a world of shit.
The Fourth is a 357 yard par 4. Forced carry tee shot over a waste area to a wide enough fairway with trees on either side. The fairway bottlenecks to the green, pinched by bunkers in front of the green. The bunkers push up against the green, creating slopes, with the green on the smaller side. The trees on the right do not give way, so are very much in play for any shot too far off to the right on every shot. A left to right approach seems to be most accommodating here.
The Fifth is a 390 yard par 4. The configuration of the tee to the fairway goes a long way in setting the character of the hole on several of the holes and this is one of them. Set off to the right with the fairway at a 2:00 angle, figuring out a well suited line down the fairway from the tee is half the battle. The fairway runs straight before ending into rough and bunkers with the tree line on the left running along closely. The green is set off to the left with a larger apron ramping up to it. The green runs in a few directions, with a ridge running diagnonally through it. Shotmaking extravaganza thus far.
The Sixth is a 535 yard par 5. We now reverse direction for the first par 5 of the course, a dog leg left. The dog leg comes into play off the tee with bunkers set on either side on the outer edges. After the turn, the hole gives way to the green ahead, vast waste areas on both sides adding to the visuals and melding into the larger green. There’s a temptation to go for the second on the second shot because of all the room in front of you but it’s an illusion, friend. Like the Sirens luring ships to their destruction, the sand and slopes of the green will take those longer second shots and send them into the abyss, making for much more difficult recovery shots to a green that moves a lot more than it looks for afar. A very nice green complex with the waste areas.
The Seventh is a 405 yard par 4. The tee shot is to a fairway that dog legs right, with bunkers off to the left to collect those shots trying to clear the trees on the right a little too much. The fairway is narrower than usual, leading to the green with bunkers on either side that impacts the movement of the green with its lips pushing into it. Essentially, the green moves towards the center from the sides, then back to front.
The Eighth is a 391 yard par 4. Pretty much the same length as the Seventh but we dog leg left here instead of right, and the green is much different. The green is surrounded by bunkers below it, with steeper walls for those shots just missing the green. The green has a lot of movement from back to front and internally moves to different sides horizontally depending on where you are. While the tee shot is to an inviting fairway, you realize it’s an opportunity to set up for the approach, which must be well executed to avoid the tough bunker set.
The Ninth is a 197 yard par 3. More of an out and back routing, the front nine takes us to one of the further points of the course away from the clubhouse. This par 3 is much different from the last we encountered. Long and mostly a forced carry over water. This part of the course is also more suscepitble to wind, so you likely will be dealing with that. The green is large, however, a fitting landing spot for those hearty tee shots. I suspect the trees on the right come into play a lot more often than it appears, as left is so treacherous that many likely over hedge and send their tee shots way too far off to the right, hurling into the thickets of those trees.
The front nine is a nice collection of holes that tests your ability to shape shots and get creative with recovery shots off the green. I would rank them 2, 6, 9, 5, 3, 1, 8, 7, 4.
The back nine starts with the 419 yard par 4 Tenth. A slight dog leg left, the fairway sweeps around the trees from the tee, mind the wind. The green is in view, the first fairway ending at a raised road, a couple bunkers fronting the road and hiding it. The green is raised a bit with fun movement and bunkers on either side below.
The Eleventh is a 374 yard par 4. One of the narrower landing areas from the tee, the hole dog legs so early on that it’s more of a turn as you head to the more rear tees. A well hit tee shot is rewarded with a wide open approach to another terrific green that moves in general from back to front. While most holes emphasize an easier tee shot for a more challenging approach, this hole is the exact opposite. It’s all about pulling it off from the tee.
The Twelfth is a 390 yard par 4. We start to wade in to the more confined, tighter area of the course, where trees come into play more than usual. A much more pronounced forced carry approach shot than we’ve encountered thus far. This one completely over water. The tee shot can be less than driver so long as it gets you in a position for the approach and the wide green is receptive, running from back to front. Mis hits here will be flast out penalized.
The Thirteenth is a 175 yard par 3. A terrific green complex that’s fairly small, but the area short of the green is much larger and allows for an array of shorter shots. The two center bunkers create a false front while the greenside bunkers on either side are rather large and sit well below the green, its walls ramped up on the steep side. The hole is in a clearing of trees, so any shots well off to the sides is probably lost.
The Fourteenth is a 362 yard par 4. The trees continue to assert their presence yet show you the extent to which the hole bends to the right, which must be taken into account off the tee. The green is larger than we’ve seen in a while, with bunkers guarding both sides on the front. The tee shot is the emphasis here. It’s critical to clear the trees and hit the fairway for a clear approach and if that’s pulled off, the approach is on the easier side.
The Fifteenth is a 540 yard par 5. Just a tad more width here than in previous holes but bunker placement tempers that width by challenging the landing areas of each shot, starting off the tee. The bunkers on the right invade the fairway, forcing you to the left or to carry them altogether. Bunkers on both sides present the same issue for the second shot, narrowing the fairway considerably and making you think twice as to where to end up. The green is receptive and the fairway feeds right into it, so the closer you get to it, the more accessible it is.
The Sixteenth is a 141 yard par 3. The expansive waste area short of the green gives this hole much of its character and comes into play more than it probably should. Like the other par 3’s though, they’re not visually intimidating or appear overly difficult. If anything, they suggest where to hit and with the visible slopes, a shaped shot always seems better than straight. This hole fits into that character as well; a shot starts out towards the bunkers on either side then turns towards the center of the green seems much more receptive than a straight shot where you would need to get the line absolutely precise.
The Seventeenth is a 380 yard par 4. A slight dog leg right with a narrower tree lined fairway leading to a deep green with veryy good bunkering on either side. I wish I had more photos but the trees kept me occupied the entire hole, first on the right then on the left.
The Eighteenth is a 390 yard par 4. If the trees on the left and housing beyond that weren’t there, we would get that view of the marshes and bay beyond, which makes me wonder if the original finishing hole was routed in the same direction. It’s there in spirit and as of now, the trees make their final stand, coming into play more blatant than before. The tee shot almost seems like you’re hitting directly into trees in fact but seems to insist on a left to right ball flight. After the break in trees, the fairway heads a touch downhill to the green, giving way to width and rewarding those who survived the tee shot. The green is large and seems like an oasis, guiding you home and allowing you to finish the round with dignity, a final memory to reinvigorate for those rounds to come.
The back nine is much tighter than the front but still has versatility yet underscores the shotmaking challenge the course presents. My ranking of them would be 10, 16, 15, 11, 13, 18, 12, 17, 14.
Generally, Greate Bay’s bunkering, diverse set of interesting greens and use of trees on fairly flat terrain make for an enjoyable classic that rewards finesse and is versatile enough for an array of skill sets, styles of play and weather. I was surprised at the slope rating, as it’s a stiff challenge and there’s plenty of holes where most poorly hit shots cannot be resuscitated. The greens are a lot of fun and present a different challenge from hole to hole, which most of the time extend to the play of the hole in general. There was contrast between the nines as well, with the wider more open front allowing you to get acquainted with controlling your ball before the back nine becomes much more insistent on the matter. As it stands, Greate Bay is a pleasant walk that presents the type of classic balanced challenge in shotmaking that is getting more and more sparse, mainly because it’s so difficult to achieve that balance between rewarding those that pull off the shot and having enough flexibility to accept other shots. There’s always the risk of going too far on one side and becoming one dimensional or too far on the other and becoming amorphous. It’s a different type of strategic emphasis. I’d equate it to some where like Harbour Town, except here, the greens are more interesting, the hazards less bold and a bit more freedom on shot selection.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Well suited and functional.
Practice area: A decent range, but the star of the show is the putting green. Spend as much time as you can there.