6,365 yards, 135 slope from the Blues
Deal is part of the that Central New Jersey conglomerate near the ocean rich with diverse, interesting and a bit under the radar golf. Deal G&CC happens to be one of those courses. Originating in the late 1800’s, the course began as nine holes designed by Lawrence Van Etten, which was the first golf built at this shore. It expanded in 1899 with another nine holes exclusively for women. The club thrived in the early 1900’s, with several famous industrialists and politicians among its members as the course was used for regional tournaments and played by the likes of Walter Travis and J.H. Taylor. In 1912, however, the club encountered financial issues that resulted in the sale of some of its course property to Hollywood Golf Club, which resides across the street. This land now comprises the Fourteenth, Fifteenth and Sixteenth at Hollywood.
As a result of the change in property, the club hired Donald Ross in 1915 for a re-design. His work focused on most of the front nine as well as the closing sequence. The Donald Ross Society recognizes three holes here as his own work. The club and its membership grew, which resulted in modernization and expansion of the clubhouse and facilities yet the course remained relatively unchanged after Ross’ work. In 2000, Kelly Blake Moran was brought in for restoration work to bunkers and trees, with changes also made to the Twelfth, Thirteenth and Fifteenth.
Deal is full of the quirk, character and ball striking prowess I love to see in the game. There are a few hills here and there as well as some water that comes into play every now and then, all of which is used effectively in contributing to variety of play. Bunkers and mounds are placed very well to maintain that variety and interest while the greens roll elegantly, deciding wisely not to overly rely on speed. Courses such as Deal that cannot resort to length have the benefit of creating tee shot decisions the golfer may not regularly encounter at most places. Instead of blindly taking the head cover off of driver for every par 4 or 5, Deal makes you think in places of another approach altogether, almost in a ploy to sneak up on the hole. What impressed me about Deal was its unique character in this regard. Instead of striving to be a more modern tournament style venue boasting impossible warp speed greens as a way to counteract its length, the course seems to relish in a lively assortment of blind shots, mischievous mounds and a full spectrum of ball striking and short game resources. This translates into a much more interesting round. One of the changes Ross imparted to the course was a par 3 finish, which I found to be the perfect ending to a solid round where the golfer is much more inclined to learn something new about the game than many other venues. This may be another way of saying the course focuses on the preferred virtues of course design to the benefit of us all.
This round found me in the still of Summer, yet I hadn’t been able to get out as much as I wanted because of other more pressing matters. With those matters now behind me, I was able to charge into the course at full sprint and romp about the hills to my heart’s content. This I did.
The First is a 308 yard par 4 (from the Blues). The round begins and ends within the shadows of the clubhouse and the starting tee is a few paces from the patio, where those dining are free to judge your opening shot. The fairway is before you in respectable width, a few sparse trees on the sides to frame things. A fairway bunker right then left are on the way to the green as a quartet of them guard the green at its corners. The hole allows all kinds of freedom with shots and tolerances thereof up until the green, when it seems to proclaim, enough. The approach must be an exact one to avoid the bunkers, the putting precise to follow up with a fine score.
The Second is a 430 yard par 4. Rounding the corner, the fairway is straight out with bunkers lurking on both sides off the tee. Regrettably I didn’t photograph the donut bunker closer to the green on the left, which were fashionable in some ways back in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s although I’m not sure if it’s an original feature. The green is rectangular and feeds in from the fairway, with bunkers below on each side. We’re getting a little deeper into the water.
The Third is a 345 yard par 4. Crossing Monmouth Road, we face a blind tee shot with the fairway disappearing below. In the distance, the Third at Hollywood is in view. Even though the tee shot is blind, the fairway is wide and the bunkers to avoid make themselves known. The green sets itself apart from its predecessors in being surrounded by rough and bunkers, forcing an aerial approach. Adding to the challenge is the green, which is fine in size with its shallow width but is mischievous in undulations and movement. Knowing its intricacies is certainly an advantage.
The Fourth is a 349 yard par 4. Without knowing about it, Harvey Brook decides to join us here. Off in the trees to the right, it quietly moves along on that side then wraps around the outer edges of the course before joining a larger tributary that flows into Deal Lake, all of it then moving out to the Atlantic and perhaps making its way to Deal, England just for comparison sake. At any rate, the golfer shouldn’t encounter Harvey unless they hit a particularly awful shot out to the right which I wouldn’t know anything about. The tee shot for most of us is straight out and semi-blind. A decision must be made with the dog leg to the right. Less than driver gets most golfers to the turn, at which point the fairway plunges downhill to the green. Longer players and/or the veterans of the course that know what they’re doing can negotiate the tree line on the right and vie for the end of the fairway at the bottom of the hill, which would leave a comfy wedge in. The green is nestled in wavy mounds and if you stop and listen, you can hear Harvey babbling nearby, in the trees.
The Fifth is a 399 yard par 4. Harvey decides enough is enough and comes out of the trees into plain view. Moving along the right side and with the trees on the left, the tee shot is a precarious one, all to get into ideal position for a carry over the pond to the green. While blind shots and decisions were with us the last couple holes, this hole is more direct in its inquiry of the golfer’s skills. It is also more direct in the penalty served should the golfer waver in his soldiering to the green.
The Sixth is a 196 yard par 3. I call them gateway mounds for how they frame the green on top of the hill. They make the hole in my opinion, a longer par 3, and also hide the bunkers that reside on either side of the green. An aggressive shot is needed here, although there is plenty of room for those who are content laying up short and safe.
The Seventh is a 375 yard par 4. Perhaps for the first time since the First tee shot, a wealth of width is at our disposal even with the trees gracing the horizon. Those trees show us the fairway progresses off to the left yet we soon realize that the further right means a better angle into the green. Two linear bunkers on the left dictate the entire play of the hole by pinching the fairway closer to the green and concealing the green altogether from most tee shots, unless you’re on that right side. Indeed, the right side gives the advantage of view and options into the green since the entry point is also on that side, whereas those in the center and left of the fairway will need to blindly carry the bunkers and reach a green that initially runs away from them. A very well done par 4.
The Eighth is a 191 yard par 3. A long par 3 where most of the hazards are before the green and a ridge running through the green has it moving towards the sides. There is safety short and right as well and with the larger green, most golfers will be tested with their lagging acumen.
The Ninth is a 482 yard par 5. There is width, but there are bunkers, scattered about seemingly every where. From the tee, we only need to concern ourselves with a couple on the right. The second shot is the more deliberative, as decisions need to be made whether to go for the green that appears tantalizingly close albeit above, or settle on two safer shots with short irons where we can craft our approach in with more control. The green on top of the hill is indifferent with the path the golfer takes to reach it, so long as it isn’t short where an array of bunkers reside.
The front nine starts off in gentlemanly fashion before interjecting with a bit of strategy, deception, then gets outright demanding. A little bit of everything and there’s a nice transition from one to the next. I would rank them 7, 4, 3, 6, 1, 9, 2, 5, 8.
The back nine starts with the 361 yard par 4 Tenth. One of the notable characteristics of the course on this side of Monmouth Road is the property is more or less the shape of a rectangle. The holes on its outer edge run at right angles, yet a couple of the interior holes (including the Tenth) run diagonally to and from the southeast corner, which makes room for the Eighth and an extra par 4 that normally would not have been possible otherwise. Here, we tee off on top of the same hill of the Ninth green. The tee shot is inviting enough while the vice seems to tighten on the approach. The fairway narrows and bunkers more prevalent. The green is actually smaller than we’ve become accustomed but the apron short of it is large enough to keep in mind on the approach.
The Eleventh is a 343 yard par 4. Our time on this side of Monmouth Road is almost over as we head up the hill to cross back over. The fairway is nice and wide and like the hole prior, the approach is where we must bear down and be our best selves. The green is blind on approach, rough and bunkers must be carried to reach it and there are lower left and upper right tiers to contend with. As my grandmother used to say, time to put your boots on and salute.
The Twelfth is a 507 yard par 5. Trees are in the distance but the room seen at the tee still invigorates. We head straight out. The second shot is more about deciding on what distance the golfer would like his approach while of course the longer hitters can consider whether to go for the green. The fairway runs down into a valley, then rises back up to the green. Bunkers are along the right as we get closer to the green. The green tilts from right to left, essentially heading back down to the valley if the ball has enough momentum in that direction. Simplistic in presentation, there are ample ways to get in the hole here.
The Thirteenth is a 143 yard par 3. The shortest on the course, we tee off from one hill to the top of another, which is a wide but shallow affair. You either hit the shot or not. If you do, an easy par awaits and if you don’t, all bets are off.
The Fourteenth is a 482 yard par 5. Teeing off over the cart paths shows how the course leaves no square inch of the property unturned as we head out to a fairway that crooks to a two o’clock angle pretty early on. It then head straight to the green where staggered bunkers the view of the green, as well as advantageous landing areas before it. This livens up the second shot a bit as the golfer decides where exactly is an ideal position for the approach. Half of the green rests behind the right green side bunker while the front half leans forward towards the apron. Pin position can change a lot of the playing structure here.
This is a good spot to mention that the tree placement around the course is done well. We can appreciate the beauty of the occasional tree and their presence effects play to a moderate degree smartly. Instead of overly relying on them for tight corridors or decimating them altogether, there is a nice balance a lot of course have not yet mastered.
The Fifteenth is a 425 yard par 4. A dog leg left where just the right amount of trees guard the inside of the dog knee if you will. After the turn, a creek bisects the fairway and runs into a pond, which congregates to the left of the green. Perhaps longer hitters can reach the creek off the tee, but it seems more of a visual intimidation for the approach in. Along with the water, the hole seems to signal that this is yet another one of those shots you must get right. Sure, you can bail out right but with the green running towards the water, good luck with your shot over there. Once again, the water comes into play, waiting.
The Sixteenth is a 408 yard par 4. Some work was being done to this hole when I was here, just past the tee. Perhaps the creek was being extended, maybe they were working on drainage, I do not know. But the tee shot is typically a forced carry over long grass to a fairway that starts with bunkers on the right before a large one on the left. Another one on the left appears closer to the green, which creates some depth perception issues on the approach. The green is on the larger side, with a short grass collection area off to the left.
The Seventeenth is a 430 yard par 4. A hard dog leg right that starts the way in, the turn so dramatic that it commands your attention in deciding just how much of it to take on. However you fall in that decision, the approach is to a downhill green, some what hiding in a little bog with water to the right of the green. Those who want to bound the ball in are wise to stay along the left. It’s a fun, devious par 4 contouring strategy and creativity.
The Eighteenth is a 191 yard par 3. We are at the clubhouse and this charming final hole feels like swinging away in your backyard. Bunkers guard the front and left of the green while the right side falls off downhill. This is the time to close out the good rounds and redeem the bad. The river in which Harvey has become looks on from yonder.
The routing of the back nine separates itself from the front with two par 5’s early on and three par 3’s, yet the theme is consistent in how there’s a dance between quirk, strategy and creativity as well as outright challenge. It’s a melodic, pleasant stroll that remains engaging throughout. My ranking of them would be 17, 11, 13, 14, 10, 12, 15, 18, 16.
Generally, Deal has a personality of its own that makes for some pretty good golf. The strategy and need for the golfer to possess control over his ball is at a considerable degree yet those out of position are called upon for a nice mixture of resolve and inventiveness in recovery. The par 3’s were repetitive in distance for the most part and with their interest at and around the greens, a bit more variety in this regard may not be a bad thing. Ultimately, however, the course holds its own in engaging every set of golfer while countering length in some refreshing ways by ensuring every out there thinks things through. Its embrace of character and identity was impressive, adding another layer of intrigue to this area rich in golf history and course pedigree.
Clubhouse/Pro Shop: Perhaps Victorian, but nonetheless nicely sized and inviting. The pro shop is next to the entrance with a nice selection of accoutrements.
Practice area: There is a range and putting green while one side of range is dedicated to short game practice.