Philadelphia sports a nice geographical advantage of its proximity to much more moderate climates that can be reached fairly quickly. While it may snow, then freeze, then stay on the ground for weeks here (like it is right now as I write this), there are places a relatively short drive away where the temperatures are warmer and snow melts a lot faster. The closest of these places happens to have a lot of really good golf, which you can play for absolutely stunning rates compared to what you would pay if you returned in a few months.
Indeed, one of my favorite pastimes during the winter is to look at the 10-day weather forecast. Then, I look at the 10-day forecast for the Shore, and most of the time, my day gets better right then and there. I don’t particularly enjoy simulator golf all that much and even though I’ve lived here for over twenty years, that Southern California blood is still with me and needs to get outside in the fresh air every now and then. Walking the fairways down at the shore, the ocean in view with everything quiet and unattended; it’s peaceful golf. Things have a way of slowing down, which helps me get acquainted with the new year and build up anticipation for the coming season. I am decidedly not a winter person, but golf at the Jersey Shore is one of the few bright spots I actually look forward to.
A few caveats. Like most places this time of year, the courses are most always walking only. I prefer walking so it’s fine with me, but just wanted to mention it for those who are expecting a cart. Also, there are plenty of others looking to get out so it’s not out of the ordinary to find the course busy. I try to find times and days when it may be less busy but just be mindful of the very real possibility there will be days when the course is busy, especially during the weekends. Still, there’s less traffic and it’s less crowded than it will be in season. Conditions are what they are. Most often I find them surprisingly good but a more roll with the punches mentality in this regard suits the season much better. In fact, I embrace some downright nasty lies; I look at it as getting me battle ready for the season.
The below are my ranking of what courses I enjoy playing the most during the winter. The list is for public courses only; private courses all have different winter playing policies and if you’re a member of one and/or get invited to play, then you have a place to play already. I only put this in there because I love a lot of the privates down there and I don’t want them to feel excluded from this glorious list. The ranking is solely based on my preference and experience during the winter, which could be a lot different in season. Considerations include, strength of design, walkability, crowds, green fee, conditions (which includes how often they’re open during the winter). The list only includes courses I have played in the winter. Most courses have been fully reviewed as well.
In descending order.
Tip of the Iceberg:
Brigantine Golf Links: I have never played here in season but love it in the winter. I never find it crowded, very reasonable green fees and there’s enough interest to keep the round spirited. There’s some forced carries over water, varied par 3’s and nice width to accommodate the wind that blows through most of the time. It’s a relatively easy walk as well. Conditions vary but it seems to be open a lot. Housing intrudes in spots and be sure to account for wind when thinking about heading out. BGL has a nice local tone to it. The course winds through residential neighborhoods and across streets, making it feel fused to the community. There’s a good deal of challenge at the greens and with the forced carries, especially when the wind is up, while it strives for width for the most part that is almost necessary based on that wind. Perhaps a more spartan option, it’s right up my alley in terms of what I’m looking for off season.
Blue Heron Pines: Large bunkers dictate movement and many shots in a more tree lined parkland where forced carries over water appear, especially on par 3’s. The shotmaking here can be engaging even if it gets a little rote. Its reliance on bunkers make it very hit or miss during the winter and I’ve never had a whole lot of success figuring out when it’s open. Still, it’s a nice romp through the pines.
Harbor Pines Golf Club: I need to give this course another play but one of its strengths is it seems to be open more often than not. Trees dominate play in a more traditional parkland that shelters the wind some what. Bunkers are liberally placed as well. It’s one of my latter options but it’s in the rotation. I’ll get back for more detail.
Middle of the Ice Pack:
Ballamor: A good course that seems to get lost in the shuffle down there but I was impressed with its design. The routing takes a hit, making it a tough walk with very long gaps between some of the holes and some of the lower lying areas take longer to drain, so if carts are allowed on the course, it’s in the conversation. It’s popular, so can get crowded as well. The structure of play makes all of this worth it if you get out there on the right day.
Scotland Run: Technically on the way to the Shore, the weather here still seems to be more moderate than Philadelphia proper. With a shorter drive, a willingness to stay open through a lot of the season and a fine walk if they implement cart path only, this is a good winter option. In fact, I have never played here in season. The rub is normally the green fee, which always seems a bit stiff but I’m willing to pay and I think it keeps the crowds at bay a good amount of the time. It’s a fun course and before all the pandemic stuff, I enjoyed the ambiance at the nineteenth hole.
Twisted Dune: One of my favorite courses down there. Exudes a distinct character with its setting and plays terrifically. A links feel in what I believe was a quarry at some point, the undulations are moderate yet effective in creating quirk and character that comes into play often. It gets a lot of play and it seemed to be hit or miss whether it would be open. The times I went, it was very crowded. I try to find the days when it’s walking only, which seems to temper play a little. Finding those times when the course is wide open are some of my favorite of the season. The main challenge is actually finding those.
The Wee Iceman Elite:
Vineyard National: This is one of the courses I played last year for the first time but withheld on a full review since the photos were all too off season to show it in its typical light. In terms of a winter round, I enjoyed it a lot. There was variety from hole to hole that kept things lively and the green complexes followed suit. The terrain has a lot of short jutting knobs and a few more gentle rolling slopes along with a bit of water, all of which adds to that variety in the routing. The crowds weren’t bad when I was there and they seemed to have a nice Nineteenth hole set up even for the winter. I kind of liked teeing off over one of the vineyards. Maybe you accidentally top your shot in season and have to wander in those vineyards. Maybe a few grapes end up falling into your hands; these things happen. Conditioning was fine and it’s a nice walk. It’s a solid course and in terms of finding places in the winter, holds its own in the line up down there.
Atlantic City Country Club: I have heard the course is returning to members only after several years of being semi-private but the website still refers to itself as public. Wikipedia, for what it’s worth, characterizes it as private. I’m not sure what is going on, but I’ll put it here in case it is still available to the public. It’s the strongest course from a design perspective on this list and while there may be a slight dip in conditioning from in season, it’s not much. The walk is spectacular and it’s really one of the more notable classic designs in the area accessible to the public. The green fee is one of the steeper you’ll see in the winter and it gets a steady stream of play but the combination of the engaging course, setting and conditions makes this one of the fancier winter rounds out there if that’s what you’re after. I like to get here every now and then when my wallet is ready for it.
Seaview – Bay: This is it, this is the big one. More often than not, I come here and affectionately refer to it as my winter estate. It’s the best combination of an engaging design, less crowds, appealing scenery, some wind that spices up the variety and very reasonable rates. It’s a lovely walk with views of the bay very frequent. The wind seems to help drain the course much better than a lot of other courses and there have been several times where they are open for play while others are closed for maintenance. In terms of a gold standard for winter golf, this is it as far as I’m concerned. UPDATE; the Bay course is closed this off-season (2022) for renovation work to the bunkers and cart paths. The Pines course is open. Review of the Pines is forthcoming and will incorporate in this guide as well!
There are plenty of others out there I still need to get to, so I’ll be updating as I get to them. These include Shore Gate, Cape May National, Green Tree and McCullough’s off the top of my head. There’s probably more out there as well and I’ll try to get to all of them!
Beyond the south Jersey shore, there’s Delaware, Maryland and even Virginia are all within a day trip’s reach. All of these states also have courses on or near the coast, which are worth a look and there’s always the possibility it’s warmer the further south it is. There’s also the shore due east of Philadelphia, where courses like Hominy Hill and Eagle Ridge are worth checking out, depending on the weather (both reviewed).
It is currently single digits outside and of course I am obsessing over the 10 day forecast. It’s looking bleak, so I’ll start to look at the Shore forecast and if that’s not promising, will start looking more and more south. The thick of winter is upon us but I refuse to accept the fading of the game. The journey will not be adjourned and seems to always find a way to keep on. The shore, with its wintry stillness among ocean, dune and pine, has become a welcome off season lull that comes and goes with as much nostalgia as the season itself. Set forth and enjoy.