Review: Atlantic City Country Club

Course Name: Atlantic City Country Club

Designer: John Reid (1897), Willie Park Jr. (Redesign, 1915), Howard Toomey/William Flynn (Redesign, 1925), Tom Doak (Redesign, 1999)

Location: Northfield, New Jersey

History: Atlantic City Country Club undoubtedly has one of the richest histories of any American golf course. Most notably, the term “birdie” was created here in 1903, after Abner Smith hit a “bird of a shot” on the 12th hole. The logo, a bell, symbolizes the bell that would ring when the last trolley would arrive for Atlantic City or Philadelphia. One of the earliest pros at the club, John McDermott, won the 1911 and 1912 U.S. Opens and would have won many more had it not been for a nervous breakdown he suffered in 1914. Home to the Fifth U.S. Amateur in 1901 and three U.S. Women’s Opens, many golfing legends have teed it up here. When then unknown Arnold Palmer was in the Coast Guard in the early 1950’s, he practiced here and honed in his skills. Also famously, ACCC was home to several famous bootleggers and racketeers including Al Capone, who hid out here once in the 1940’s to avoid the police. Sportswriter Ed Nichterlein stated, “It would be hard to imagine a more ideally situated or designed course, or one with more historic ties to golf.” I would have to agree. Continually ranked the best public course in New Jersey, ACCC also was a member of the top 100 public golf courses in America for many years. In 2017, it was ranked number 74 public golf course in America by Golf.com.

Conditions: 8/10, rough around the edges (meaningfully, I think) but pristine otherwise, this course featured fast greens and well-manicured fairways and teeboxes.

Value: 5/10, Once super exclusive and private, this course has recently gone public. Not surprisingly, it is very expensive on peak times ($200+), but playing it in the off-season or after 2 P.M. is a good deal for under $100.

Scorecard:

Tee                     Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Back                   70          6577              72.3                133

Middle               70          6175               69.6               124

Gold                   70           5369               66.5              121

Forward            70          5228                71.5             127

Best Score: 81 (Middle Tees), 8/7/2014 with Uncle Tom, Dad, and Jack

Front 9 Best: 41 (Middle Tees), 8/7/2014 with Uncle Tom, Dad, and Jack

Back 9 Best: 40 (Middle Tees), 8/7/2014 with Uncle Tom, Dad, and Jack

Hole Highlights: The reason I know this course design is amazing is because I can remember every single hole despite playing once over two years ago. While the back 9 is superior in my opinion, the front 9 starts off uniquely, as the first tee box is on the practice green. To make this tee shot more intimidating, you must carry your drive at least 100 yards over a small pond and avoid the plentiful bunkers. Driver is definitely needed on this hole at over 430 yards. The second hole is an example of great classic golf design – with an emphasis on adding just enough danger to make each of your shots strategic. At 368 yards, this shorter par 4 gives the player options off the tee. Bunkers cross the fairway on the left and right at different distances, and favor a draw. However, hooks will not work as trees line the second half of this hole, especially by the green. The third hole was another simply fantastic golf hole. This 353 yarder has giant bunkers just left of this fairway that appear very intimidating off this tee. The approach shot to this severely sloped narrow green is also intimidating as three greenside bunkers surround it.

While short, the par 3 fourth hole provides a spectacular view of the Atlantic City skyline in the background. Unfortunately, the next hole moves away from Atlantic City but is a very solid hole nonetheless. Over 410 yards, this tight hole is lined by trees and houses on the right and more giant bunkers on the left. The first and only par 5 on the front 9, hole 6 is a fun one. Straightforward but well bunkered, this layup shot must be placed accurately. The approach shot is also very challenging, especially if the pin is on the right side of the green. There are several large bunkers guarding the tiny right side, making an up-and-down very difficult. On hole 7, what you see is what you get and length is the biggest defense on this long par 4. The 8th hole was one of my favorite on the course. A good par 3, this hole is also notable for its resident fox who has obviously been fed way too many times. The ninth hole is a very strong finishing hole. At over 450 yards, this sharp dogleg left allows long hitters to cut the corner over a crossbunker on the left side of the fairway.

The back nine at ACCC was one of my favorite nines I’ve ever played. Hole 10 is a short par 5 at under 500 yards. This dogleg right hole packs plenty of punch, however, as the green is guarded on the left side by a pond. While many players can go for the green in two, it is often not a high reward play due to this hazard. Hole 11 is another good long par 4 with 5 fairway bunkers lining and crossing this fairway. Drives too long might reach these cross bunkers, and make any shot to this elevated green very difficult. While the short par 3 12th may be one of the weaker designed holes on this course, it is the hole where “birdie” was invented. Unfortunately, I missed my birdie putt here! I was another fan of the par 5 13th. Longer than the 10th, this dogleg left is guarded by marshlands on the right and that same small pond on the left side. This pond would be hard to reach for most players but will cause longer hitters to think twice twice about driver.

Hole 14 starts an amazing finishing set of holes. With a tee box in the marshland, this short par 4 offers extreme risk/reward. The fairway on this dogleg right is very generous on the left side but narrow with bunkers the farther right you go. Long players who decide to go for the green must carry their drive completely over the marshes. The par 3 15th is the strongest par 3 on the course. With marshes guarding short, right, and long, the wind also usually plays into the player here. Hole 16 was my favorite hole on the course. A simple design, this slight dogleg right par 4 played at 400 yards. The real kicker on this hole is the fact that marshland lines the right side the entire span of the hole. The 17th is an uphill par 3 whose green is blind despite being only 155 yards away. Large dune mounds guard before the hole and make an up-and-down very challenging. The 18th hole is another masterpiece. A dogleg right, this hole has a fairly wide landing area but any drives left or far right will find bunkers. The approach shot to this elevated green is enhanced by the beautiful view of the clubhouse behind this green.

General Comments: The range was massive, and there was also a nice chipping green to practice on. The clubhouse was old and majestic, with tons of historical pictures and the famous bell on display. The bar is also ranked as one of the best 19th holes in America. One of the coolest things about ACCC is the fact that the first tee box and the putting green are contiguous, making for a very intimidating tee shot.

Verdict: If you couldn’t tell from my blog, Atlantic City Country holds a dear place in my heart. If you, like me, enjoy classic courses, then this is the course for you. The history and aura of this place are simply incredible and it’s a must play for any serious golfer.

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