Thursday, February 28, 2008

Atlantic City Country Club Open to the Public


In a lifetime, every serious golfer would like to play a round at a few historic courses – St. Andrews, Pine Valley and Pebble Beach, and for the very serious golfer, Atlantic City Country Club is one of those courses.

But until now, unless you were a high roller, or in the old days a guest of a member, you couldn’t get on the course at any price. Since Harrah’s added Atlantic City to its portfolio of golf clubs in the acquisition of Bally/Caesars, they opened the club to the public, much like it was when it originally opened for the convenience of Boardwalk hotel guests in 1897.

Opening the course to the public is even an historic occasion for such a venerable club. Having seen little play by the casino high rollers after its makeover by Tom Doak, the true links course is in tremendous condition, and can be challenging when the wind comes in off the bay, where the Atlantic City skyline outlines the horizon off the back nine.

This six time USGA championship course has been played by every major golfer of the past century, and was home to Johnny McDermott, who at 19 became the youngest and first American to win the U.S. Open (1911-1912). The Northfield Links was also the scene of many other firsts – the first use of a gutta ball in tournament play, the first Japanese player, the first PGA Senior Tournament and the first “birdie” and “eagle,” as that’s where the terms were coined.

It’s also first in the ratings, as Golf Week Magazine recently named the Atlantic City Country Club the Number One public/daily fee course in the state.

Other than the upgrading of the course and opening to the public, little has changed over the years. Following such prestigious golf pros like McDermott, Wilfred Reid, Ed Dudley, Leo Fraser, Don Siok and Billy Ziobro, golf pro Steve Sullivan knows the routine and teats everyone like a member of the exclusive club it is.

“This is a world class club, a real escape for players looking to play the top public course in the state,” said Sullivan. “The people who have played the course since we went public obviously loved it. Everything here is the same as when the course was private. A player still gets the same premium service as in past years.”

If you go, you shouldn’t just play the course, but walk through the clubhouse, which reeks of golf history. There’s the classic locker room, where the first PGA Senior players argued over whether a Seniors Tour could be successful, the Tap Room, where the Babe (Zarahias) played piano and Sam Snead played trumpet, the ballroom where Billy Hyndman III gave five Frazer Cup victory speeches, the Sony Fraser and John McDermott rooms, and Leo Fraser library, where the walls and even the halls talk with their many photos, memorabilia and historic artifacts.

If you’re lucky, you might find Kenny Robinson, the club’s resident historian and witness to many of the events of the past few decades. Kenny can answer your questions with authority, and tell you a few stories about all the great players in the game, who he knows firsthand. But the stories aren’t enough; you really have to experience the place where golf history is made.

It costs between $100 and $200 to play, depending on time and day. Arrangements can be made by calling (609) 236-4400.

[William Kelly is the author of Birth of the Birdie – The First 100 Years of Golf at Atlantic City Country Club. He can be reached at

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