Review: McCullough’s Emerald Golf Links

Course Name: McCullough’s Emerald Golf Links

Designer: Stephen Kay (2002)

Location: Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey

History: Named after longtime mayor of Egg Harbor Township James McCullough, this links-styled public course achieves his goal of building something useful on top of an old landfill. Architect Stephen Kay based his design off famous holes in Ireland and the UK, creating one of the most intriguing projects in New Jersey. In 2002, McCullough’s Emerald opened to “Top 2 Municipal Course to Open in 2002” by Golf Magazine.

Conditions: 5/10, The biggest gripe I have with this course was conditioning. I played twice and the second time it was in very poor shape. Patchy fairways, chewed up tee boxes, and slow greens distort what is otherwise a very entertaining design.

Value: 6/10, Fairly priced around $60 dollars with a cart, twilight rates are competitive, and juniors can play free with adults after 5 P.M.

Scorecard:

Tee                     Par         Yardage         Rating          Slope

Tournament    71            6535               71.5              131

Back                  71            6132               69.2              123

Middle              71            5720               65.1              114

Forward           71            4962               68.9              117

Best Score: 96 (Back Tees), 8/8/2010 with Jim

Front 9 Best: Unknown (Back Tees), 8/8/2010 with Jim

Back 9 Best: Unknown (Back Tees), 8/8/2010 with Jim

Hole Descriptions: Before I begin, I must admit that I’ve never played golf in Ireland or Scotland, so I cannot attest to the authenticity of these hole designs. With that being said, I’ve rarely encountered a course as linksy as McCullough’s Emerald in the states (with the exception of Holes 15 and 16).

The opening hole plays 390 yards uphill to a small, narrow green. A bunker on the left side of the fairway at 210 yards and small, deep bunker on the left side of the green are to be avoided at all costs. Playing slightly uphill at 173 yards, the par 3 2nd hole is notable for its Biarritz green complex (dip in the middle). While not as severe as famous ones at Yale or Mid-Ocean Club, this is the first Biarrtiz I’ve played so I thought it was pretty neat. I was a huge fan of the 3rd hole, a reachable 481 yard par 5. An extreme downhill teeshot to a well-bunkered fairway makes the golfer think twice about hitting driver. In particular, cross bunkers about 230 yards out are in play for most golfers. The 4th hole is a medium-length 345 yard uphill dogleg left par 4. This well-contoured, well-bunkered hole is notable for an old barn on the right side of the hole.The long, straightforward 212 yard 5th hole at McCullough’s Emerald plays level to a giant, undulating green. Two deep bunkers short right make for a very difficult up-and-down.

Like the 3rd, the 6th hole is a short 490 yard par 5 with many strategically placed bunkers. A creek bisects this fairway at about 270 yards, forcing long hitters to think twice about driver. Of the many fairway bunkers to avoid on this hole, one smack dab in the middle of the fairway about 50 yards short of this green is probably the worst. The unique 7th hole is their signature hole. Originally designed by famed architect Alister Mackenzie in 1914, this original design was never utilized on any of his courses. This dogleg left features a humongous fairway waste bunker over 150 yards wide lining the left side. Long hitters can choose to carry this bunker but shorter hitters might have to bail out to the right, leaving a long approach shot in. The downhill 400 yard par 4 8th is another memorable hole. A slight dogleg right, water lines the entire left side of this hole while OB lines the right. While not really in play, a giant fairway bunker in the middle of the fairway about 60 yards short of this green creates an intimidating visual illusion. After two fantastic par fours, the front side culminates with a great 166 yard par 3. Mirrored after Royal Dornoch’s 10th hole, players must carry water and four deep, greenside bunkers to reach a heavily sloped green.

At 437 yards, the par 4 10th is a beast of a starting hole made slightly easier by the fact that there are no fairway bunkers. Don’t go long here – it slopes off steeply behind this elevated green. The short 314 yard dogleg left par 4 11th plays blind and uphill to a green that marks the highest point in the county. A line of bunkers short of this fairway require a drive of at least 175 yards to carry. The par 4 12th is one of the finest designs at McCullough’s. Inspired by the 3rd hole at Royal County Down, this long 434 yard par 4 plays downhill to a tight, winding fairway guarded by bunkers and mounds on both sides. The 13th is a fascinating long par 3 that plays straight downhill at 180 yards. Proper club selection is imperative here because water guards short and OB guards long of this shallow green. The 14th hole at McCullough’s is a 491 yard par 5 that features a carry of 170 yards over water to reach a tight fairway guarded by trees to the right. As its name implies, “Hell’s Bunker” 70 yards short of this green is not somewhere you want to be.

After the 14th hole, McCullough’s seems to run out of gas, with a very weak set of finishing holes. The 15th and 16th holes were easily my least favorite on the course, and certainly in the worst condition. Across the street from the main course, these tight, tree-lined holes feel nothing like the links-inspired other 16. The 15th is a very short 272 yard dogleg right par 4 with a fairway that runs further than the green, which is clouded by tall trees. A high left-to-right ballflight may be able to reach this green in one. The 126 yard 16th hole tries to mimic the famous “Postage Stamp” hole at Royal Troon with its small narrow green guarded by hidden, deep bunkers, but fails because its green is larger and its bunkers are not so hidden. The 17th is a challenging 431 yard par 4 that was a par 5 when I played. This narrow fairway snakes around dunes to a large green protected by two left bunkers. The 348 yard finishing hole features some pretty nice views with a downhill drive from an elevated teebox to a fairway guarded by water on the right. However, a generous fairway to the left leaves many players with just a wedge in, making it a rather weak closing hole.

Best Par 3: 13th Hole, “Gleneagles (Queens Course) No. 5”, 180 yards, 10th handicap. This severely downhill hole requires a carry the entire way over water to a shallow green guarded by a large left bunker. Judging the downhill with club selection is extremely important as both short and long are dead here.

Best Par 4: 7th Hole, 422 yards, 1st handicap. There’s a story behind this hole. In 1914, famed architect Alister Mackenzie (Cypress and Augusta) submitted this design to Country Life Magazine for Lido Golf Club in New York. His design never came to fruition, but was resurrected by Stephen Kay at McCullough’s. While Mackenzie’s version used the Atlantic Ocean surrounding an island fairway, Kay used a giant waste bunker. The island fairway is the most direct route to this green, but there is nearly an 100 yard wide fairway to the right avoiding the waste bunker altogether. Big hitters can challenge this hole directly by carrying the bunker, but must contend with two pot bunkers in the middle of the fairway. While the waste bunker is neither as beautiful nor penal as the ocean, this hole is still commendable for its uniqueness and number of options it presents the golfer.

Best Par 5: 3rd Hole, “Gleneagles (Kings Course) No. 18”, 481 yards, 9th handicap. Your first indication of the unique elevation changes at McCullough’s, the 3rd hole is a fine short par 5 playing from an elevated teebox to a well-bunkered fairway. Three crossbunkers 230 yards off the tee force a player to decide whether or not to lay-up or carry them and have a chance at reaching this green in two.

General Comments: Because of McCullough’s location and price, this course is usually packed and pace of play has been absolutely brutal both times I’ve played. In addition, the amenities at McCullough’s are lacking, with a makeshift clubhouse, no driving range, and a small practice green.

Verdict: The design and idea behind McCullough’s are fantastic but it’s a shame that it isn’t kept in better shape. Given the fact that there are several superb public courses in the Atlantic City area (including Twisted Dune down the street), this course should remain an option but is by no means a must play.

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