Originally laid out over 170 acres by John Reid in 1897, the course at Atlantic City Country Club was altered by Willie Park Junior in 1915 then by the William Flynn and Howard Toomey partnership ten years later. It remained unchanged for more than three quarters of a century before Tom Doak lovingly restored the grand old lady in the late 1990s.
Doak rerouted a number of holes on Atlantic City's front nine and on the back nine, the architect amalgamated holes 10 and 11 to create a strong par five. He also elongated the old 12th to fashion a testing par four and created new holes at 14 and 15. Every tee and green on the course was reconstructed and trees were removed around the marshland areas and replanted along the west side of the property to reinforce its seclusion.
Writing in The Confidential Guide to Golf
Courses, Tom Doak commented as follows: “This was the kind of project I don’t
usually take on – a substantial modification of an historic old course with
architectural pedigree. Yet the layout as it existed was a mish-mosh of three
previous architects’ work, cut up by a few houses where land had been sold off
to finance improvements to the course, and there were several flat holes on the
upper end and several which went underwater down along the marsh. We tried to
preserve the best of the older holes while fixing the problems.”
This venerable course has hosted national championships on several occasions over the years. First was when Walter Travis won the US Amateur in 1901, beating Walter Egan 5 & 4 in the final. Babe Zaharias would then claim the first of her three US Women’s Open titles here in 1948, before the ladies tournament returned again in 1965 and 1975 when Carol Mann and Sandra Palmer were the victors.
The club claim to have coined the golfing terms “birdie”. A couple of years after the course opened, George Crump, of Pine Valley fame, played his second shot very close to the hole at a par four after his first shot had struck a bird in flight. His playing partners used the term “birdie” to describe the score made in such circumstances and the idea soon spread amongst the membership that one under par for a hole should be called this.
The club was recently owned by Harrahs, the Las Vegas-based private gaming corporation, and they introduced a pay-and-play facility for non-members at certain times. In 2014 Ceasars sold the property to the Ottinger Golf Group, which also owns and operates Scotland Run Golf Club and Ballamor Golf Club.
Coherence. It's an element often neither raised nor understood when courses are reviewed. Often, layouts from years back -- especially those created originally by a master architect -- have undergone a series of alterations, yet then have produced a baffling mixture of conflicting elements. In this hodge-podge you get some original features of note which have been retained, but there's also the inclusion of other features, which while some may be quite good or unable to blend in sufficiently so that the experience is not one of varying disjointed contributions.
Atlantic CC is rightly celebrated as one of the Garden State's cherished golf venues. The course was for many years the grande dame of the "Jersey Shore" with its link to old time Philadelphia money and those annually venturing for their summer pilgrimages when the city along the Jersey coast was still the cat's meow.
The Fraser family's ownership provided much of the storyline for many years and the original design of the course went through a series of changes -- some good -- some less so. Different architects placed their fingerprints and, as a consequence, the course lost a central focus on its overall delivery of sound and consistent architecture.
Matters were not helped when the Fraser family eventually sold the property and the club's private status opened to outside play. Fortunately, through the efforts of then head professional Billy Ziobro the casino ownership invested some serious money and smartly hired Tom Doak to come in and clearly bring some sanity to the property.
Doak did much more than a restoration -- he actually renovated the design and his involvement clearly provided the long overdue architectural coherence that was missing.
ACCC, like so many other nearby courses, is on dead flat land. Smartly, Doak did not go the route in creating land forms that would have further removed the course from its rich pedigree. The existing layout is a quintessential member's course. Fresh daily breezes off the nearby bay and Atlantic Ocean can mean playing a course with different looks and feels. The bunkering pattern is quite impressive -- smartly placed in key lines of play and being able to secure the proper position allows players to have the best opportunity to score.
The Ottinger Golf Group purchasing the property in 2014 really helped matters. The daily golf experience is one to savor and the turf quality is clearly far beyond the tail end of the Fraser years.
The opening two holes is quite good. The 1st is a straightforward long par-4 and often times plays into the summertime wind. The 2nd is a superb par-4 just under 370 yards. Doak's bunkering effort comes to the forefront here. The ideal line is down the left side but bunkers await the half-hearted play. Go too far right and another bunker is present and those that do come in from that side will have a more challenging approach. One of the special features of the course is that it's not primarily routed in strictly a two-dimensional manner. You see early in the round with holes 3 and 5. The former going out towards the marsh -- the former returning away from it. This stretch is aided by a tantalizing short par-3 at the 4th - playing 144 yards and to an angled green.
The stretch of holes along the marsh is also good -- just be sure to catch the course when the greenheads and mosquitos are not an issue. I really enjoyed the par-3 15th as it plays back into the prevailing wind. Players have to hit a penetrating flight approach to the target. The par-4 16th is also good going back in the return direction and hugging the marshland on the right. I only wish the fairway tapered down considerably so that stronger players would need to be prudent about going alll out from the tee. The par-4 9th -- at 452 yards ends the outward half is fine fashion. Turning left in the drive zone and requiring a well-played tee shot that avoids the encroachment of trees camped on that side.
The 10th starts the inward half with a clear risk/reward dynamic. The par-5 turns right off the tee and a pond hugs the left portion of the green. Possibility there for eagle -- as well as double-bogey.
Once you arrive at the par-5 13th you then have a series of holes through the 16th that are nearby to the marshland. The holes are done well -- no artifice is done and the requirements are right to the point in terms of the execution needed.
The par-4 14th presents a cape-like risk to the right and is beautifully carried out by Doak. The green is also vexing on the approach with a narrow landing spot in the extreme rear.
The 15th that follows is a great counterpoint and reverses direction -- this time playing back towards the marsh and into the general prevailing wind. Listed at 190 yards the hole can play quite longer and the shotmaking challenge is quite clear on what's required. The ending trio concludes the round in a quality manner -- although I would have liked the par-4 16th to have more of a tapered fairway to plant the seed in stronger player's minds that being too aggressive with the requisite accuracy would be punished accordingly. The closing par-4 18th at 432 yards plays as a dog-leg right and returns to a magnificent setting with the stately clubhouse in plain view
I looked over the earlier comments and when I see people rate the layout with six golf balls that's clearly a stretch. Such a score is reserved for iconic layouts like Pine Valley. In the immediate area of AC -- Galloway National is the top of the crop and it's one of the very few courses in NJ I would give a max ratings assessment. In my experience with courses in the State, ACCC a top 20 candidate That's not a poor reflection of ACCC but more of the extremely competitive nature that lies at the heart of golf in the Garden State.
To be clear, the return to a coherent design is now present at ACCC. When you walk the grounds the array of varying holes and the manner by they link together provides for a quality experience. The course is not very long and unless the wind emerges -- which is often frequent -- scoring opportunities will be enhanced. If there's one real deficiency it's that driving the ball is not tested consistently throughout the round.
Be sure to tour the clubhouse to get a better appreciation of the history of golf that has taken place at ACCC over the years. Personally, I'd love to see the ladies return for another US Women's Open. Credit Doak and his team for their efforts and now with Ottinger providing the steady hand in guiding this Jersey jewel along the Atlantic coast.
M. James Ward
Atlantic City CC is just a fabulous place. The course is really nice. With it being public now it gets a lot of play. Over all it is in very good shape. The course weaves out and back and out again to the bay front and great skyline views. The hand full of holes out on the bay are excellent. The green complexes are on average huge and challenging. The group of par 3's are one of the best groups anywhere. Just a great spot. Staff is welcoming and the restaurant/bar are excellent. Fabulous finishers on both sides. Highly enjoyable to play. Very challenging but ton of fun.
This is where I first learned to play the game when it was still very private; it has since it was sold multiple times - initially to Hilton and then to Caesars before coming into hands of current ownership. It is now semi-private (full disclosure: I am a member) and the public can pay a premium price (relatively speaking) to play, so it can get a little backed up during peak season. However, it is still my favorite place to play on a regular basis. ACCC is always in great shape and a very fun place to play.
I give this golf course the highest rating because it has all of the characteristics of a truly fantastic golf course/club..... The shot making required is a perfect balance of difficult vs scoring opportunity, the variety of shots needed is ever changing due to the design variety & wind conditions, the history of U.S. golf is oozing all over the place, conditioning is great year round, and best of all.... the course is just FUN. That is why I consider ACCC to be my favorite golf course to play. It is not necessarily the best golf course in the world, but when I think of a place that I would want to play every day for the rest of my life, I would have to say ACCC is the one, which is why I'm a member here. Favorite hole: any of the par 3s. they are all excellent. Least favorite: the last because it means the round is over.... unless I play 36. :)Hardest hole: the 9th is long and tough especially when the wind is blowing hardEasiest hole: The fun part about this course is that it doesn't beat you up. There are many scoring opportunities but I would say the 14th can yield the easiest birdie.Best green: 15th green is jutting right out into the bay with AC as a backdrop. That's epic!Best advice: Spend a lot of extra time in the clubhouse to soak in all of the sights. Spend the day at the club. I truly hope that this awesome facility will go private again. As a private club I think ACCC stands a better chance of being preserved. It is truly a special place.