Saturday, July 23, 2011

Greate Bay Golf & Country Club


The Greate Bay Golf Club has been a social center of Somers Point and Ocean City for over 80 years. First known as the Ocean City Golf Club, the original course was designed in 1922 by legendary Scotsman Willie Park, Jr., and opened in the spring of 1923.

One of the most influential of all the Scotsmen who brought the game to America, Willie Parks, Jr. was a two-time winner of the British Open and the son of the winner of the first British Open in 1860. “The name of Willie Park, Jr. is one of the most respected in the history of golf,” noted local golf writer Charlie Price.

“He was a multifaceted personality, a talented and prolific golf architect, one of the greatest golfers of his day, an entrepreneur and businessman, club maker, inventor and author,” said Price.

According to an October 19, 1922 Ocean City Sentential Ledger newspaper report, Park stayed at the historic Plymouth Inn in Ocean City while he designed the new course, shortly after he revamped the Atlantic City Country Club’s Northfield Links.

“The assurance that the Ocean City links will be perfectly constructed as humanly possible to have them is the fact that Willie Park has a world wide reputation to maintain. His latest effort must be superior to any previously attempted.”

While the golf club was originally built to lure tourists to Ocean City, it became popular with local businessmen and a major focal center of the area’s social life.

Unlike many golf courses of that era, it survived the depression with the assistance of Harvey Lake, who built the original clubhouse, a large, blue and white wood frame colonial that sat on a hill where the new clubhouse stands today. Harvey Lake, who was related to the Lake family who founded Ocean City, took on two partners, “Doc” Whittaker and Charles Zimmerman, who renamed it the Ocean City – Somers Point Golf Club.

Born in Petersburg in Upper Township on October 24, 1874, Harvey Young Lake attended school in Trenton before becoming business manager of the Ocean City Association, which controlled public utilities at the time. Lake dabbled in real estate, developed the Ocean City Bayou project (creating lagoons between 16th and 18th Sts), and served on the Ocean City Board of Education. He was an accomplished musician and an avid tennis player, but his main passion was golf.

Willie Park laid out the course on the high ground adjacent to the Somers Family cemetery, which overlooks Great Egg Bay over Kennedy Park at High banks, and on the hill Harvey Lake built his house that would become the clubhouse.

Lake also had some regulation tennis courts put in and to maintain the club he took on two partners, “Doc” Whittaker and Charlie Zimmerman. Doc Whittaker owned Holgates restaurant on the bay at 9th Street in Ocean City, while Zimmerman owned a hardware store in Philadelphia. Whittaker and Zimmerman reportedly paid $60,000 for their interest, took the course public and renamed it The Ocean City – Somers Point Golf Club.

Local bayman Buck Lashly recalls working as a caddy there when the green fees were $3. “We used to get $1.10 a round, $2.20 for a double, a bag on each arm, twice a day,” said Lashly, “and if you were nice, a buck tip.”

There were two lakes on the course, one by the pump house and the other, which was called Lake Whittaker, but was later filled in. “You could get a quarter a ball for swimming in and retrieving one for somebody,” said Lashly, who remembers the old caddy shack on the first tee by the 18th hold near the clubhouse. Walt Johnson, the groundskeeper before Butch Shurman, used a horse drawn tractor to mow the lawn.

Charles Nespy, who was a club member for 45 years, recalled the old, quaint clubhouse that was run by Ida and Maria. “They were there when I came and there when I left,” said McNespy. “They lived at the club and if they were up, the club was open. Maria tended bar and Ida cooked the best creamed chip beef, tomato and milk gravy. Everything was home cooked. “ Local bartender Vince Rennich, often recalled visiting the clubhouse after hours, playing cards, darts and pool.

Eddie O’Donnell, for whom an annual golf tournament is named, lived nearby, next to Joe DiOrio, another prolific amateur golfer. O’Donnell served as the pro from 1948 to 1960, and named his street Par Drive when the city finally got around to paving the street that runs along the course. Deer and other wild animals were frequently seen around the course until the 1950s, when they developed the Fairways homes and the Garden State Parkway came in.

“When they put the developments in they ruined one of the best hunting grounds around,” Buck related. “I remember when there wasn’t a home from Route 9 to Mays Landing Road. Buffalo Plastics came first, then a little motel, the oil company and then the Parkway came in. What’s now stores and developments behind the golf course was once all open country, and the best hunting in the world.” Joe DiOrio recalled that, “Deer used to come up to our back door when we built the bar on MacArthur Blvd in 1951.”

Eddie O’Donnell said, “When I first got there they had the last of the great amateur Eastern tournaments,” events that included such legendary amateur champions as J. “Woody” Platt, James “Sonny” Fraser, Billy Hyndman III and a young Arnold Palmer, before he became a professional.

But the most fun was had by a group of golfers that was known as the “Spinach Mob,” a group of locals who played together many afternoons. Some were nightclub owners, like Rickie Rich, who owned the Hialeah Club in Atlantic City, and Elmer Blake, who ran Steel’s Ship Bar on Bay Avenue, next to Tony Marts.

They worked nights and like to play golf all day with their friends – John Cressi, the Linwood Country Club pro, Harry Azzi, Ernie Brown, John Keminosch, Bert English, Alan Meyers, Freddie Curtis and Lou Curcio. They were called “The Spinach Mob” because they enjoyed playing for sporting wagers and gave each other nicknames. O’Donnell was “Lucky Eddie,” Azzie was “Az,” Curcio was “Cooch” and Curtis was “Checkbook” Freddie because he never won and always paid off with a check.

Curcio, the club champion from 1954 to 1958, ran the Tilton Driving Range for many years and was the handicap man for the Spinach Mob. “There were eight of us who played together,” Curcio recalls,” and we had a handicap system. Harry Elwell was the best player , a scratch player, and I could never beat him. I only won after Harry Elwell was gone.” Curcio then won five consecutive years, lost one and then never came back again.

O’Donnel said it was a slow day when the young Coast Guard enlisted man came into his pro shop sometime in 1950 and wanted to play. Eddie asked him if he was an officer, and he said, no just an enlisted man. But he mentioned that his father worked at golf course near Pittsburgh, and Eddie said it was okay, and he could play for free.

O’Donnell introduced the young Palmer to the club champion and local postman Harry Elwell, Sr., who became somewhat of a mentor to Palmer. When there paths crossed again in Florida some twenty years later, Palmer asked O’Donnell about Harry Elwell, who had passed away earlier, but who he remembered as an influential person in his life.

According to O’Donnell, there weren’t many people playing golf back then, and the club only had 50 or 60 members.

One man who stayed around into the early 1950s was Harvey Lake. He would occasionally put in an appearance on the course in his later years. O’Donnell remembered Lake playing with a single club, called a cleek. Before numbered irons were invented, you had different types of clubs for different situations, including cleeks and mashies.

McNespy also remembered Lake well. “I can see him now,…suspenders, glasses, a cap and a garter on his sleeve, just like the old time bartenders used to wear, standing about five foot six, and he’d play five or six holes with one club, a 4 wood.”

Eventually Whittaker, Zimmeman and Lake died. They had a deal with each other where when one died the others would inherit the shares until no one was left, and the last one would leave the course to charity. Trustees for Shore Memorial Hospital and Burdette Tomlin Hospital sold the course to a group of businessmen in 1971. Mr. Eugene Gatti and attorney Art Kania were the primary partners, while the limited partners included Mr. Joseph DiOrio, Dr. Nick Collova, Cas Holloway and Tullio deSantis.

They were also the principle partners with the Brighton Hotel and Casino in Atlantic City. In 1981 the Sands Corporation bought the hotel, casino and country club, renaming the country club the Sands. It remained a part of the casino corporation’s assets until Mr. Gene Gatti repurchased the course in 1991 and renamed it Greate Bay Country Club.

They made significant renovations, leveled the old clubhouse and built a new one, upgraded the course with designs by the renown George Fazio, changed a few holes around (The fairways, bunkers, greens and sandtraps remained basically the same, only then numbers changed. The old 18th became the 17th, the old 10 became 1), put in a driving range, built condos around the course and changed the name to Greate Bay Country Club.

It was under the stewardship of prolific amateur golfer Mr. Gene Gatti when the club served as host to the ShopRite LPGA Classic tournament from 1988 to 1997.

In 1998 Gatti sold the club to Archie Struthers, who began working in golf as a caddy at Pine Valley. Struthers renovated the course in an effort to recreate some of Willie Park Jr.’s original design ideas, yet maintain the course’s championship qualities. Struthers also took the course private again, and went on to design and build his dream course – Twisted Dune, which is recognized for its unique, one of a kind attributes.

Although Pat Croce is well known for being passionate about sports and competition, it was his partner Mark Benevento who convinced him that golf is good and Greate Bay a good investment and they have been managing the club with an energy and synergy that’s contagious.

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Monday, July 18, 2011

Forgotten Hero of Golf - John McDermott

Forgotten Hero of Golf - By William Kelly
(Irish American Magazine - August-September, 2011 Issue)

When Rory McIlroy walked down the 18th fairway at Congressional on June 19, the TV flashed a list of six young golfers who won the U.S. Open in their 20’s since World War II.

The AP golf beat writer went on to note that McIlroy is the youngest to have won the U.S. Open since Bobby Jones in 1923, when he too was 22 years old.

Meanwhile, John McDermott, the first American to win the U.S. Open, was forgotten and unheralded. Not only was McDermott the first American to win the Open, he was also the youngest, at just 19 years of age.

He did it in June 1911, nearly one hundred years to the day that McIlroy won, and, as they are now with McIlroy, people said that McDermott had the potential of being the best player ever.

The son of a mailman, McDermott grew up in an Irish neighborhood in West Philadelphia. Against his father’s wishes, he dropped out of high school to work full time as a caddy and golf professional at the Aronimink Golf Club, just a few blocks from his home.

He first came to the public’s attention at the U.S. Open in 1910, which was held at the Philadelphia Cricket Club’s St. Martin’s course. McDermott tied Alex and Macdonald Smith, two brothers from a famous Scottish golfing family. Alex Smith won the three-way playoff but when he tried to console the 18-year-old saying, “Tough luck, kid,” McDermott replied brashly, “I’ll get you next year, you big lout.” And he did.

Following the 1910 Open, McDermott took a job as the Merchantville (NJ) Golf Club pro before being hired as the professional at the prestigious Atlantic City Country Club. At “the Northfield Links,” as they called it, McDermott rented a room in a small cottage across the street (that is still there), and took the trolley to Atlantic City every morning to attend mass, after which he practiced golf and gave lessons. They say McDermott would spread out newspaper over an area as a target, and then narrow it down until he could hit a small area at will.

The 1911 Open was played at the Chicago Golf Club. And this time Smith didn’t make the playoff. George Simpson, Mike Brady and McDermott finished on even terms. Simpson was ill and didn’t play and McDermott won by three shots over Brady.

McDermott retained his title the following year when the Open was played at the Country Club of Buffalo, beating out two other Irish Americans, Tom McNamara, and Mike Brady.

McDermott’s finances blossomed after the 1912 win; he played exhibition matches and endorsed golf balls and clubs. He also went to Europe to play. He didn’t qualify for the British Open in 1912, but in 1913 he finished fifth, the first American to finish in the top five.

McDermott was treated with more dignity than Walter Travis, who preceded him and had his Schenectady (center shafted) putter banned by the British. But there was a developing animosity between the American and British golfers, which was intensified by McDermott at Shawnee-on-Delaware in 1913.

Shawnee was considered a prequel to the Open, which was to be played a week later at Brookline. McDermott really made his mark when he played against Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, two of the greatest golfers to ever play the game. Both British professionals, they routinely won the U.S. Open, but hadn’t played in the two Opens won by McDermott, so there was the nagging question as to whether McDermott could actually beat the best. That question was answered at Shawnee, when McDermott won the tournament outright, defeating Vardon and Ray by eight strokes.

Afterwards, in the locker room full of reporters, McDermott made a brazen promise that the U.S. Open trophy would not be taken back across the pond. He was quoted extensively in the British press, and that speech put golf on the front pages of every major newspaper in America and the British Empire.

Although McDermott was criticized, claimed he was misquoted and apologized, the media frenzy following McDermott’s nationalistic sentiments created much anticipation for the 1913 U.S. Open at the Country Club at Brookline, Massachusetts. When McDermott fell behind (he finished in 8th place), it was left to American Francis Ouimet, an equally young 20-year-old caddy and dedicated amateur, to keep McDermott’s promise. The tournament ended in a three-way tie between Ouimet, Ray and Vardon. McDermott advised Ouimet to “pay no attention to Vardon and Ray and play your own game,” which Ouimet did. In what was later called “The Greatest Game,” he won the day over the two British professionals. A photo of Ouimet getting ready to putt in his final shot, with Vardon, Ray, McDermott and a huge crowd looking on, hung on the wall next to the Atlantic City CC locker room door for decades.

In 1914, McDermott tied for 9th place in the U.S. Open, his old self-confidence greatly diminished. He headed over to Europe to play in the British Open, but he missed a train and didn’t play in the tournament. Returning home by steamship, McDermott was in the barber’s chair when his ship was rammed by another ship in the English Channel and had to return to port. The incident had a serious effect on McDermott. Though physically fine, he was mentally shaken by the
accident. When he finally got home, he learned that his stocks had tanked and he was broke.

One morning at the Atlantic City Country Club where he was a professional, McDermott blacked out and was found unconscious. He apparently suffered a nervous breakdown. After that, he was institutionalized and spent the rest of his life living either with his sister in Philadelphia or in local mental institutions. He did play on occasion, however, with Tim DeBaufre at Valley Forge and others, until his clubs were stolen from his sister’s car.

One club survived. While playing with a stranger, he borrowed a club from his playing companion, liked it, and was allowed to keep it. In return, he gave up an old wooden mashie, saying to his incredulous playing partner, “That club helped me win two U.S. Open championships.”

Besides his sisters, Gertrude and Alice, Atlantic City Country Club owner Leo Fraser also made sure McDermott was taken care of in his later years. Fraser invited him to visit the club and named the McDermott Room after him. In return, McDermott’s sisters gave Fraser one of his U.S. Open championship medals, valued at $40,000, which the Fraser family donated to the USGA, and is now on display at the USGA museum in Far Hills, New Jersey.

When the 1971 U.S. Open was held in Philadelphia at the Merion Country Club, McDermott’s sister left him alone in the clubhouse where a young assistant pro, Bill Pappa, thought John was in the way and ordered him out of the pro shop.

As it was later reported, “In 1971, Arnold Palmer, while playing the U.S. Open at Merion Golf Club, noticed a shambling old man being ejected from the lobby. Palmer recognized him as John McDermott who, in 1911, had been the first American to win the U.S. Open." Tossing out such a man wouldn’t do, decided Palmer, who shooed away club employees and escorted McDermott back inside. “They talked golfer to golfer, champion to champion,” wrote golf historian John Coyne, “and Palmer then arranged for McDermott to stay at the tournament as his special guest.”

Two months later McDermott died in his sleep at his sister’s home in Philadelphia.

Interview with Golf Course Architect Tom Doak

Golf Course Architect Tom Doak, who restored the Atlantic City Country Club course, as well as Shawnee-on-Delaware and many other classic courses, talks about his job with Bill Kelly.

Bill Kelly One on One with Tom Doak
Interview with Tom Doak. April 1, 2000

Bill Kelly: What sparked your interest in the game of golf, and when did you know that you wanted to be a golf course architect?

Tom Doak: I started playing golf when I was ten – my dad started taking us to his business conventions, which were often at golf resorts. Harbour Town, Pinehurst, and Pebble Beach were some of the first courses I saw, and they were so different than the little public courses near my home, that I became interested in why.

BK: You worked at St. Andrews. What did you learn there?

TD: I had a scholarship the year I graduated from Cornell to spend a year studying the golf courses in the British Isles, and spent the first two months of it in St. Andrews, caddying on the Old Course. I learned a ton there. The Old Course is the most interesting I’ve seen, probably because no one designed it.

You can’t just aim for the middle of the fairway – there’s a lot of short grass, but there are bunkers strewn all through it, so you have to learn the course and decide where it is best for you to aim. On some holes, your ideal spot will be totally different than your partner’s, who hits it 30 yards further.

BK: What is the basic difference between British Isle links courses and the basic American course?

TD: The main difference between British and American courses is attitude. British links are natural in origin, so their scruffiness is accepted as part of the game; if you get a bad bounce, you have to take it in stride. Most golf is played between friends or fellow club-members, in match play. Americans take their medal scores much more seriously – and, as a result, our golfers want their courses to be designed “fair” and maintained perfectly so they never get a bad break.

BK: When you came back you worked for Pete Dye; what did you learn then?

TD: I was lucky enough to hang around Pete Dye [note: not “Peter”; his actual name is Paul, but everyone calls him Pete] for three years after I got back from overseas, working on the construction of courses from Hilton Head to Palm Springs. Pete doesn’t just draw his courses and let someone else build them – he gets out there with the crew and redesigns them in the field. He spends a lot more time thinking about each contour and each bunker than most other architects do; and he can try our new ideas in the dirt, knowing that he can always soften them if he’s worried that they are too difficult. Most architects are afraid to take those sorts of chances, because they don’t know how their drawings will come out. That’s why Pete’s designs are more original, and more interesting.

BK: You seem to have some radical opinions on different aspects of the game. Could you comment briefly on what you think about a few of them?

TD: A lot of architects think I’m a radical, and yet Ben Crenshaw calls me a preservationist. Is it possible to be both?

I think it is, because golf architecture has changed so much over the past fifty years. It’s so competitive in the current boom, and it’s easy to move earth today, and the average client has so much ego tied up in his project, that it’s just very easy to get carried away with your design and bui9ld a course that’s too difficult and too expensive for the average golfer.

The old courses are much simpler – and they used what the land offered. That doesn’t mean they were easy; the great architects build challenge into their designs, because a course has to be challenging to be interesting.

But they did it by building three feet of slope into a green, not by building a three-acre lake in front of it.

BK: What makes a great course great?

TD: Great courses have a great variety of holes, a beautiful setting, and a style of their own.

BK: What about the restoration efforts on historic courses?

TD: I believe that the best courses of the master designers should be preserved; but I found out when traveling around this country that few are left intact. We have participated in the restoration of a few prominent courses, like Garden City and Pasatiempo. But restoration is a tricky thing – it’s still up to the present-day architect to determine what needs to be done, and different designers can produce very different results. I’m afraid the main reason for its current popularity is that it’s easier to sell the membershi8p on “restoration” than it would be to “change” their beloved old course.

BK: What is the role of the greens committee?

TD: The role of the greens committee should be to respond to the membership’s concerns about the course and to educate the membership on the design and maintenance of the course. Too many greens committee have it backwards – they’re so concerned with leaving the course better than they found it, that they try to tell the superintendent (and sometimes the architect) how to do their jobs.

BK: What is the biggest threat to the game of golf today?

TD: I think the biggest threat to the game is the rising cost of play. Of all the new courses being built, probably 90% are intended to be “high-end” courses with green fees between $50 and $100. That’s pretty steep for a beginning golfer, and it’s out of the question for juniors. When I started playing, it cost $1 per round for me to play our hometown municipal course, and $40 to play Pebble Beach. Most golf courses are too busy trying to make every last dollar to worry about who’s going to pay them ten years from now.

BK: Can groundskeepers succeed without using excessive chemicals?

TD: The best golf course superintendents keep their grass healthy. If they know how to do that, they won’t need much in the way of chemical input. The best managers will become ever more valuable as environmental regulations limit their alternatives.

BK: You call your company “Renaissance Golf.” Is there a real golf renaissance going on and what’s it all about, more money, or a return to the roots of the game?

TD: When I named the company ten years ago, I didn’t expect the boom that was coming. The name was more of a play on the “Renaissance man” ideal that we were involved in every aspect of the business, from designing new courses to restoring old ones, from project management to running the bulldozers, and even to golf writing and photography. There has unquestionably been a great boom of interest in golf course architecture in the past few years, and not just because there are so many Tour pros moonlighting as designers. There are a lot of talented people out there building courses in all sorts of different styles. If I’ve accomplished anything, it’s been to remind people that great courses are first and foremost a product of a great site. The most influential courses of this decade – Sand Hills and Bandon Dunes – weren’t built because of a market study; they were built because the land was ideally suited to golf, just like the original links of Scotland were.

BK: How did you hook up with the Atlantic City Country Club?

TD: We were one of several firms interviewed by Hilton after they acquired the course. I think we were on their list because of our reputation for restoration work in the New York area; but I think we got the job because we listened to what they wanted, and we understood that this was more than a simple restoration.

They wanted to make the course more secluded from the homes around it, but open up with the views to the marsh and to Atlantic City. They wanted to eliminate the road crossings in the old layout as much as possible, for privacy and safety concerns. And they wanted to preserve the history of a 100 year-old golf course, but do it while rebuilding the course from the ground up. Every sprinkler head, every bunker, pretty much every blade of grass out there today is new, in total. Atlantic City cost more to rebuild than any of the ten brand-new courses I’ve designed.

The challenge was in treading the line between restoration and new design. This project had elements of both, and the client wanted us to keep a perfect balance.

TD: The new course isn’t supposed to be a “Tom Doak design.” It borrows a lot of its style from past incarnations – from pictures taken in the 1920’s, when there was a lot of open sand between the holes down by the shore. Several great architects had worked there before us, from Willie Park to William Flynn, and we tried to preserve something from each of them – from Park’s small elevated greens to Flynn’s “white faced” bunkering.

BK: What attributes of the course were kept the same, preserved and/or restored?

TD: The general flow of the routing is the same, although many of the greens have been repositioned slightly. Four of the greens were rebuilt with the same contours as before – the third, eighth, and eleventh [which used to be #12]. And, as I described above, the seaside and “classic” character of the course has been preserved and expanded upon.

BK: What major changes were made and why?

TD: There are a host of changes: An irrigation pond had to be added on high ground, to prevent saltwater intrusion; it’s right up by the pro shop, at the foot of the first tee.

The second green was relocated north of the road, shortening that hole considerably, and the fifth hole was lengthened by moving the green back to where the old second green sat.

A large expanse of sand was restored between the third and fifth fairways.

The fourth green was relocated to bring the marsh into play on the right.

The sixth green was moved back about 40 yards, creating a very long three-shot par 5.

The seventh green was moved forward to make a very long par 4 into the wind.

The old eleventh hole was eliminated, and the holes on either side of it were lengthened. The tenth now plays as a dogleg par 5, with the green on the far side of the pond which used to be behind it; and the new eleventh is a very long par-4, with dramatic cross-bunkers about 100 yards short of the green.

The par-3 12th [formerly the 13th] green was elevated and the left side cut away, creating the deepest bunker on the course.

The par-5 13th was lengthened by moving the green back to the left.

The 14th and 15th are now new holes, built around a new section of tidal marsh which we created. This was our most significant change; previously, the 15th and 16th were both medium-short par-4s playing downwind, and neither made very dramatic use of the marsh. The new 14th starts from a tee out on a dramatic point in the marsh, heading to a narrow fairway which dog legs to the right – long hitters can try to cut the corner and drive the green, but it’s a big carry. Then, the par-3 15th plays back into the wind to a green on another point, with marsh around three sides.

The 16th and 17th holes are similar in length to what was there originally, but the greens on both holes are now guarded by large sand-dune features, to further the seaside character of the course.

The 18th has been reduced to a 400 yard par-4 by shifting the fairway to the right and shortening the tee. Before, most golfers were playing a half-blind lay-up second shot; now they’ll need a good drive to get to the corner, and then they’ll face a more challenging approach to the green with its great setting in front of the old clubhouse.

BK: What kinds of grass were used, and why?

TD: Tees, greens and fairways are all bentgrass; the mowed rough is bluegrass, but there are also several large areas of un-mowed fescue rough in the open spaces. A new bentgrass called A-4 has been used for the greens – it’s much finer and more dense than any variety I’ve seen before, and it was selected in hopes of keeping poa anue in check. They’ll have to keep the greens fast, or this grass will get too thick.

BK: What’s the new length, overall, and what’s the par for the course?

TD: You’ll have to check with the pro shop for the exact length; I think it’s slightly shorter than before, actually. But par has been reduced from 72 to 70 so it will play harder for low handicappers.

BK: What’s the new signature hole?

TD: The third hole was Leo Frazer’s favorite, and it might still be, since we preserved it intact. The short par-4 14th is the biggest change – the tee on the point is so dramatic, nobody would believe that it had always been there, overgrown with trees. It’s a gambler’s hole – you could make an eagle if you drive the green, but you could also lose a sleeve of balls trying to make the carry. But I think our biggest success is that we’ve made several holes more dramatic, so that different people will have different favorites. The seventh and eleventh are killer par-4’s: in the southeasterly summer winds, they’ll be two of the hardest holes in New Jersey. At the other end of the spectrum, the fourth, twelfth and seventeenth are all within the average golfer’s reach, but when you miss one of those greens, it’s going to get interesting.

BK: What are the short holes and the ones most likely for someone to ace?

TD: The fourth and twelfth are both under 150 yards – I think the fourth is a bit shoorter. But both are downwind, so you may need some help from the flagstick if you’re going to make a one. You might have more luck at the 17th – the cup will usually be hidden by the dune on the right, so your caddie might kick one in for you.

BK: Was the course designed for tournament play?

TD: We really didn’t think much about tournament play in the changes we made to the design. Obviously, it has been a popular sight for the U.S. Women’s Open, and the new course would be more challenging than ever for them – but I don’t know if that’s in the cards. The one drawback is the lack of acreage – for galleries, corporate tents, parking, and the circus that accompanies major tournaments nowadays.

BK: What are the prospects of encouraging players to walk the course and maintain the caddy tradition?

TD: Because play will be limited, we didn’t build any cart paths for the new course. Players will be able to take a caddie, or drive on the fairways if they choose a cart. The caddy experience is exactly the blend of personal service and golfing tradition which the new course is supposed to represent.

BK: In your book “Anatomy of a Golf Course” you mention “grow in” time as a factor. How long will the “grow in” time be at ACCC, and when do you anticipate the course being open for play?

TD: The eighteenth fairway was the last to be planted, just after Labor Day of 1999; but the last three or four holes were set back a bit by washouts at the start of the hurricane season. They’ll sill need a bit of growth this spring to mature. I’d be happy to play the course as it stands today, but the standard today is so much higher – everybody wants it to be perfect before they open the door. I suspect that will be sometime in May (2000).

BK: What were some of the special problems presented by the ACCC job and how did you overcome them?

TD: From a design standpoint, the challenge was keeping that balance between restoration and new design. Fortunately, my “signature” as a designer isn’t a particular style of bunkering or greens, but in making the most of the land with whatever style suites it best; so I inherited a lot from the old course, instead of butting heads with it.

From a logistical standpoint, it was just difficult to do that much construction on a tight acreage. The only place to stockpile topsoil or park equipment was on another fairway; it got to be like a big shell game. And the irrigation system is the most complicated I’ve ever seen, so after it was trenched in, we pretty much had to shape all the bunkers and greens over again to restore what we intended.

BK: What is the future of the clubhouse?

TD: As I understand it, the design of the clubhouse will be thoughtfully preserved; like the golf course, it will be refitted completely, but from the outside, it’s supposed to look the same as it does today.

BK: You are pretty young, and golf is pretty old. What do you see is the near future of the game, what role to you want to play, and what’s the future of the ACCC?

TD: As a student of architecture, I’ve seen first-hand how much the game has changed over the past 100 years, by seeing how courses have evolved. Every new generation of golf courses has been longer and harder than the last, to preserve the challenge of the game in response to improvements in equipment, in course conditioning, and in the general level of play.

The problem is, all of our best old courses are on limited acreage, and they were lengthened as much as they could be a generation ago. So we have to de-emphasize length as the benchmark of design, and re-emphasize all the other attributes of classic design – bunkers which force the golfer to choose his line of play carefully, greens with enough character to make the short game as challenging as the long game, and maximizing the natural beauty and vistas of each property.

We also have to recognize that the best players in the world will continue to improve, and if we don’t want the great courses of the past to become obsolete for championship play, sooner or later we will have to change the specifications of the golf ball to counteract all the other advances in golfing equipment.

Thirty or forty years down the road, Atlantic City Country Club will need work again, to upgrade its irrigation system if nothing else. But if my design work and my writings have made an impact, I hope that this course and many others like it will still be appreciated for what they are, a test of golf that is far more than a long-driving contest.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Ike and Arnie

Ike and Arnie, probably the two people who influenced the public's opinion on golf more than any other, take a break.

As President, Eisenhower played golf often, and gave the game a new identity, while Arnold made it cool and a popular spectator sport, bringing along "Arnie's Army" to the gallery and new players to the game.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Mays Landing Golf & CC Celebrates 50th Anniversary

Tony Lima - Opened Mays Landing in match against Sam Snead. 1962.

Mays Landing Country Club Celebrates 50 Years of Golf

Golf saw a surge in popularity when Eisenhower was president and Arnold Palmer came along, but by the early 1960s, the best Jersey Shore golf courses – Atlantic City, Linwood and Wildwood were private clubs, so Leo Fraser sought to rectify that situation by building a first class public golf course in Mays Landing.

Leo was the son of James “Jolly” Jim Fraser, the Scottish born golf professional at Seaview, and Leo himself became an assistant pro at the age of 16 before joining the Army during World War II. As part of an outfit that saw a lot of combat, Leo rose through the ranks on battlefield promotions and left the service as a Major, which would become his nickname.

After purchasing the Atlantic City Country Club in 1945 from his brother Sonny Fraser, who went on to build the Atlantic City Race Track, Leo introduced championship golf to the Jersey Shore by brining in the US Women’s Open Championship (1948, 1965, 1975) and helped start the PGS Senior’s tour (1980).

As a PGA administrator, Leo recognized the need to expand the game of golf beyond the private country clubs and allow young people, women and the working class to play the game. To that end Leo and a small group of friends decided to open a public golf club. Leo himself laid out the course in Mays Landing, and convinced two popular touring professionals – Sam Snead and Tony Lema to play the first round of golf there when the course opened in 1962.

The match pitted the upcoming young pro with the aging veteran who won his first PGA Championship at Seaview in 1942, and with his down home folksy style became one of the most popular players on the tour. Lema would later die tragically in a plane crash on the way to a tournament.

They played even until they got to the 18th hole when Snead hit onto the middle of the green while Lima hit his ball 30 yards beyond. Although he chipped back to the green, Snead two-putted while Lima missed an attempt to tie.

As the story goes, when Leo’s son Doug Fraser was driving Lima to the airport and asked him what happened on the 18th, Lima hesitated for awhile before replying, “If Tony Lema beats Sam Snead nobody cares. But if Sam Snead beats Tony Lema, everybody wins, and it’s good for golf.”

And that was Leo Fraser’s idea behind Mays Landing, a good place for golf where anyone could play, a first class course that a blue collar worker could afford. Known as the "Best Birdie for the Buck," Mays Landing was operated for many years by the late Stan Dudas, who accompanied Leo Fraser and Arnold Palmer to the centennial British Open in 1960.

After the Fraser family bought out the interests of the other partners, they upgraded the course and built the Fraser Room for banquets and weddings.

While Doug Fraser handled the Food & Beverage Dept., Jim Fraser handled the course and his sister Bonnie’s husband Don Siok became Director of Golf.

Because their grandfather was one of the first golf professionals at Seaview, and their father owned the Atlantic City Country Club for nearly a half-century, the Frasers are known as “the first family of golf,” and they continue to run the Mays Landing Golf and Country Club as a first-class resort that’s open to the public.

"We're going to be celebrating later this summer with food and drinks, music and fireworks," says Jim Fraser. "We're inviting everyone, members, past members, officials and our many golfers. We also will have lots of fun things for the kids," the next generation of golfers.

In a invitation to club members and their friends, the Fraser and Siok families wrote:

Dear Members & Friends of the MLG&CC:

On Friday, July 29th 2011, the Mays Landing Golf & Country Club marks its 50th year in business. This would not have been possible without your continued patronage and support.

We are approaching our members and regular customers first before opening this event to the public, as we anticipate a large turnout. To say ‘Thank You’ for our success, the Mays Landing Golf & Country Club will be hosting our 50th Anniversary Celebration on Friday, July 29th 2011. The festivities begin at 6:00pm. Bring your family and friends out to enjoy the nights activities, including complimentary amusements such as bounce rides, barnyard pets, pony rides and magic shows followed by a spectacular firework show!

We are offering FREE admission to this event. A variety of food and drinks, including our Famous Fraser Crab Cakes, will be available for purchase. This special event will be dedicated to Executive Chef Rick Lafferty, who passed away suddenly on May 28th 2011. A culinary scholarship will be established in his name at the Atlantic Cape Community College Culinary School.

Again, we thank you for your continued business. Please feel free to bring the whole family, your friends and your lawn chairs and celebrate 50 successful years of business. We could not have done it without you.

Call the Pro Shop at (609) 641-4411 ex 10 to R.S.V.P. Hope to see you there!

The Fraser & Siok Family

NOTE: There are sponsorships available for those interested in participating.
For details call our Pro Shop at (609) 641-4411 ex 10.


MAYS LANDING, NEW JERSEY (July 12, 2011) – For over half a century, the Fraser family has enjoyed the distinction as the first family of golf in South Jersey, offering first-class golf experiences, delicious cuisine and memorable special events – all at affordable prices. On Friday, July 29, 2011, the Mays Landing Golf & Country Club honors that legacy with a 50th Anniversary Celebration, complete with fun and festivities for the entire family, plus a fireworks spectacular.

Festivities begin at 6:00 p.m., including complimentary amusements, such as bounce rides, barnyard pets, pony rides and magic shows, followed by a brilliant fireworks display at 9:00 p.m. by Pyrotechnics. All family activities are free and open to the public. There will be food and drinks for purchase, including Doris Fraser’s Famous Crab Cakes.

“The 50th Anniversary Celebration is our way of thanking our loyal members and the community for their support over the years,” says Jim Fraser, President, Mays Landing Golf & Country Club; and Founder/1st President, Greater Atlantic City Golf Association. “Our family remains committed to providing an outstanding golf experience at an exceptional value. We are still the ‘Best Birdie for the Buck’ in South Jersey.”

Sponsorships are available for the Anniversary Celebration, which is dedicated to the late Rick Lafferty, who served as executive chef at the Mays Landing Golf & Country Club for 15 years, before passing away suddenly on May 28, 2011. In tribute to his memory, a scholarship will be established in his name at the Atlantic Cape Community College Academy of Culinary Arts.

A Little History

The 18-hole Mays Landing Golf & Country Club was established in 1961 by golf pioneer and past PGA president, Leo Fraser, along with partners Jack Nugent, Bill Christiansen, Bill Rafferty and Bruce Coltart. Their vision to create a course that would be accessible and affordable to all golfers was realized and the 175-acre Club opened to the public with greens fees as low as $12, following an exhibition match between two of the nation’s top competitors – “Champagne” Tony Lema and Sam Snead.

By 1992, all of the original partners had passed away. The Mays Landing Golf & Country Club is now owned by Fraser’s children – Jim, Doug and Bonnie – who have continued the tradition set forth by the founding partners. Over the years, the new regime upgraded the facilities to include a banquet hall for weddings, as well as the Grille Room restaurant.

About Mays Landing Golf & Country Club

Known as the "Best Birdie for the Buck," Mays Landing Golf & Country Club provides first-class golf and events at affordable prices. It is owned and managed by the Fraser family, the first family of golf in Atlantic County and former owners of Atlantic City Country Club. Beyond the scenic fairways and greens, the Mays Landing Clubhouse is home to a variety of celebrations, banquets and outing events. The Grille Room is perfectly suited for post-round relaxation and casual gatherings, while many memorable wedding receptions and other formal events take place in the Fraser Room. Adjacent to both venues are Patios for outdoor gatherings overlooking the greens.

Mays Landing Golf & Country Club is located at 1855 Cates Road in Mays Landing, New Jersey. For information, call 609-641-4411, visit or follow via Facebook.

Media Contact:
Lisa Johnson Communications

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Bobby Clarke's Eisenhower Tree at Greate Bay is now History

Bobby Clarke with Stanley Cup. Now playing golf, Clarke took on a tree on the fifth fairway at Greate Bay and won.

Above Photo: Mark Benevento, Bobby Clarke, Steve Coates and Gary Massey stand over the fallen Fifth Fairway Tree. (Photo Credit: Performance Marketing)

Bobby Clarke's Eisenhower Tree is now History

There was a tree on the Augusta National golf course that President Eisenhower requested be removed because it was often in the way of a clear shot to the green, but the President didn’t get what he wanted. The tree stayed.

When Philadelphia Flyers champion Bobby Clarke made a similar request concerning a particularly annoying tree on the fifth fairway at Greate Bay, some club members took the side of the tree and the issue became one of the most controversial topics at the 19th hole.

While hockey is Clarke’s primary sports passion, golf comes in a close second, and he often plays Greate Bay with his good friend and Flyers’ announcer Steve Coates. Coates, also a former player, lives in Egg Harbor Township and Clarke in Ocean City, so they both live nearby and can often be found playing a round at Greate Bay, especially in the hockey off-season, like now.

Greate Bay, originally laid out in the 1920s by the legendary Willie Parks, Jr, was reconfigured a few times over the years, most recently a few years ago by Archie Struthers, a former Pine Valley caddy who doesn’t like trees either. But even after Struthers trimmed back the course, the one tree that bothered Clarke remained a thorn in his slice.

Like the Eisenhower Tree at Augusta National, the Clarke Tree stood there like a big defenseman in front of the goal between Clarke and the green, and like a Broad Street Bully Clarke took off his gloves and started a fight with the tree.

"Bob Clarke is a lefty," said Mark Benevento, owner of Greate Bay Country Club. "Even though Bob is a whirlwind with a hockey stick, that left-handed drive causes him to play right into that tree."

And Clarke isn’t alone. Also in his corner is Annika Sorenstam, the great LPGA player who was quoted as saying, “I just don’t see the point in that tree.”

In order to keep the issue from becoming too contentious, Benevento took Clarke’s advice, decided to have a contest and devised a charity fundraiser for the First Tee – formerly the Urban Youth Golf Program that introduces golf to young people from the cities who don’t normally have the opportunity to play golf.

Two funds were set up, one to keep the tree and the other to get rid of it, and the first to reach $6,000 would win, with all the money donated to First Tee.

Clarke and those who considered the tree an unnecessary hazard won, and on Friday, July 8th Clarke and Coates cut down the offending tree.

They got a tree surgeon to attend the ceremony and Bob Clarke and Steve Coates used a two-man crosscut saw to take down the tree. Greate Bay General Manager Joel Inman said. "We're working with the youngsters from The First Tee to identify the right spot to plant the new trees that will take its place."

More on First Tee: The First Tee attempts to impact the lives of young people by providing educational programs that build character, instill live-enhancing values and promote healthy choices through the game of golf. The Mission of The First Tee of Greater Atlantic City is not only to share and teach the benefits of the game of golf and its inherent positive values, but to nurture and enrich today's youth in a way that will better enable them to become productive and contributing members of tomorrow's society.

Originally known as the LPGA Urban Youth Golf Program of Greater Atlantic City, this organization was established in 1998 under the umbrella of the Atlantic City LPG Benefit Association in cooperation with the LPGA Foundation to introduce at-risk and disadvantaged youth to the game of golf, as well as to lend academic support to these same participants. In becoming the initial The First Tee chapter in the state of New Jersey, The First Tee Greater Atlantic City introduces hundreds of children, ages 7-17, from all different socio-economic backgrounds to the game of golf, while continuing with its life skills component that focuses on character development and academic achievement.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Walter Hagen - First American to Win British Open

The Local Links to the British Open

Walter Hagen – the Great Emancipator

We call it the British Open, they just call it The Open, and they know what they are talking about.

As one of the four major golf tournaments, along with the US Open, the Masters and the PGA Championship, the British Open has many local South Jersey Shore golf connections, beginning with Willie Park, Jr., the Scotsman who won the British Open twice, and whose father won it a number of times. Park came to America in the 1920s and became a prolific golf course designer, rerouting the Atlantic City Country Club course and while he was here, laid out the Ocean City-Somers Point course, now Greate Bay.

Then there’s Walter Hagen, the first American to win the Open, not counting Jock Hutchison, a naturalized American who won the year before.

Walter Hagen was a young twenty year old assist pro in Rochester, New York when he left his job for a day to watch an equally young twenty year old John McDermott, the Atlantic City Country Club pro, defend his title at the 1912 U.S. Open championship in Buffalo.

Hagen decided he could do that too, and quit his job and started traveling around the country, beginning at the Jersey Shore, where he met James “Jolly” Jim Fraser, the Scottish golf professional at the Seaview Country Club in Absecon. Besides playing golf, Jolly Jim and Hagen liked to hunt and often went into the woods behind Seaview with the dogs to hunt deer and other game.

Hagen traveled around the country in his car full of golf equipment and “barnstormed,” putting on golf exhibitions and taking bets on whether he could beat the local pros or best amateurs at the game. When he was old enough, Jolly Jim’s son Leo Fraser tagged along, making and selling golf clubs as they traveled.

While John McDermott was the first native born American to win the US Open national championship, after sixteen UK professionals took home the trophy, Hagen won the US Open first, and then went to England and became the first native born American to win the British Open.

And like amateur champion Walter Travis and McDermott ahead of him, Hagen felt like he was treated pretty shabbily by the British. Travis, who won the US Amateur at the Atlantic City Country Club (1901) and then won the British Amateur, he refused to go back to England to defend his title because the Honourable Company of Edinburg Golfers threatened to ban his center shafted Schenectady putter, among other insults. McDermott liked Murifield, though the wind there kept him out of competition, and when he returned, he missed a train and his tee time and didn’t play. When he did make it, McDermott came in fifth, the highest any American had finished until Hagen came along.

Walter Hagen had given up the life of the typical golf professional, working the clubhouse, making and fixing golf clubs, giving lessons and setting tee times, and instead became the first touring professional, who spent most of his time on the road going from tournament to tournament.

Hagen took exception to the rules of most golf and country clubs that prevented golf professionals from entering the club house, which was for members and guests only and not golf professionals, who were treated like other club employees and not considered gentlemen.

Hagen made a lot of money playing golf, and when the golf pros at one English club weren’t permitted into the clubhouse after a tournament, Hagen took them all into town to a local pub and treated them to dinner.

Once again in England, when not permitted to enter a clubhouse dining room to eat, Hagen had his limo park at the front door and set up a table and ate dinner at the front door of the club.

Eventually, after tournaments began to give him money just to show up and play, Hagen made it a part of his contact that he had to be permitted into the clubhouse, and once he was in, he demanded that all golf pros be given the same courtesy.

Today golf pros make good money and are well respected, and for that they have Walter Hagen to thank, and those in the know often do.

Most of the money in golf is made by the touring pros, like Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods. Woods made $75 million last year and didn’t win one tournament.

After Arnold Palmer won the US Amateur tournament he decided to get married and to support his family he also turned pro, and like Hagen, went on the road as a touring pro, complete with trailer to live in.

Years later, when Palmer and the other touring professionals threatened to break away from the PGA and start their own tour, Palmer and Leo Fraser and others locked themselves into a Florida hotel room for a few days and didn’t leave until they had hashed out a deal that was fair to everyone, and kept the PGA together.

By 1960 Leo Fraser had become a PGA official and was invited to play in the Open, and took Arnold Palmer and local golf pro Stan Dudas along with him. They also played in the French Open a few days before, but young Palmer would make his mark by winning the British Open twice, back-to-back, what Walter Hagen said was the sign of a true champion.

As one of the first golf touring pros, Walter Hagen made his mark on the game of golf, but often said to anybody who listened, “Never hurry, and don’t worry. You’re here for just a short visit, so don’t forget to stop and smell the flowers along the way.”

[Bill Kelly is the author of 300 Years at the Point – A History of Somers Point, NJ and Birth of the Birdie – the First 100 Years of Golf at Atlantic City Country Club. He can be reached at ]

Sonny Fraser and the Parties at the Old Grist Mill at English Creek

Bob Hope and Sonny Fraser at the Atlantic City Race Track (Circa 1949)

Sonny Fraser and the parties at the Old Grsit Mill at English Creek.

When Egg Harbor Township celebrated its 300th anniversary in 2010, the only thing that they could find still standing from that time was the old grist mill at English Creek.

The home on the hill was owned at various times by the families who first settled the area hundred of years ago, and is now owned by local lawyer Frank Ferry, but its most famous resident was James “Sonny” Fraser, local amateur golf champion and politician.

Golf came natural to Sonny Fraser, the son the golf pro at Clarence Geist’s Seaview Country Club. His mother actually practiced putting on the first hole in front of the Fraser home the morning he was born, and he won Geist a bet with President Warren G. Harding that the five year old Sonny could play a round under 100.

While his brother Leo Fraser went on to become the prototypical golf professional and president of the PGA, Sonny became one of the great amateur golfers in league with Francis Ouimet and Bobby Jones.

Sonny went on to win many more golf bets, became special assistant to Geist until he died in 1938, and then Fraser became secretary to “Hap” Farley, the political boss of Atlantic City after Nucky Johnson went to jail. With Farley’s backing, Fraser entered politics and became a New Jersey State assemblyman and head of the state legislature. With Farley and his golfing pal John B. Kelly, the Olympic champion and Philadelphia building contractor, Fraser purchased the Atlantic City Country Club during WWII.

In 1944 Sonny Fraser invited the best amateur golfers in the country to the Atlantic City Country Club to play in his first inaugural tournament, that he himself won. The following year it was won by Dr. Cary Middlecoff, and among the others to win over the years were Julius Boros, Howard Everitt, Billy Hyndmann III (6 times), Jay Sigel, Duke Dlecher and Billy Ziobro. Ziobro would win the N.J. State Amateur and the Sonny Fraser in the same year, and later became the golf professional at Atlantic City after it was purchased by casino interests.

Sonny Fraser also got legislation passed that created the Atlantic City Race Track and first legal gambling in South Jersey.

With the immediate popularity of the Atlantic City Race course, that brought 30,000 people to the track every night for thoroughbred horse racing, Fraser invited his friends to join him, not only to play golf and enjoy the horses, but afterwards to parties back at his house at English Creek.

In May 1944 Fraser married Madeline Vautrinot of Egg Harbor, a beautiful and talented young artist who set up a studio in the grist mill, which Fraser had outfitted with special window in the ceiling for light.

Complete with a live jazz band playing on the lawn, Fraser’s parties were said to be extravagant, and included such celebrities as Bob Hope, Bing Crosby, John B. Kelly’s daughter Grace (later Princess Grace of Monaco), Doris Day, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack and other entertainers who visited Atlantic City, the Track or played golf at Seaview or ACCC.

Those who were there said that the most popular place at Sonny Fraser’s parties was the grist mill, where the cool, spring water still flowed through the damn and into the grist mill pond where the lobsters were fresh and the champagne was chilled.

Fraser was named head of the NJ legislature and considered running for governor when he was diagnosed with Hodgkins disease, and died at the age of 34 in 1950.

At his wake, celebrated over the lawn of his house, Rev. Gill Rob Wilson, editor of the New York Herald Tribune, said, “Sonny drove deep into the hearts and affections of everyone who knew him. The strong hands he wrapped around a driver gripped the heartstrings of people. He will always be remembered as someone who fought hard for the underdog and for lost causes. No one ever came to him and was turned away. It is appropriate that we pay tribute to Sonny, not in cloistered halls but here in this space in the surroundings he loved. It is here that Sonny must go on and we must turn away.”

Sam Snead 1942 PGA at Seaview

Sam Snead at the 1942 PGA at Seaview

When the 25th PGA championship came to Seaview in 1942 the war was on and after the tournament, the two men who made it to the final of the match play went off to war.

Jim Turnesa was already a corporal in the Army, and a lot of his fellow servicemen came down to Seaview from Fort Dix to watch the match and cheer him on, but Snead, who would enter the Navy, won on the next to final hole, up two with one to play.

The PGA at Seaview would be especially memorial for Snead because it was his first major victory, though he had won 27 regular PGA tournaments and shook off the moniker of being the “best player without a major.”

Jim Turnesa, from a family of famous golfers, went on to win the 1952 PGA, defeating Ben Hogan (2 and 1) and Byron Nelson (1up), but it was Snead who would make his mark on golf and he would do it first at the Jersey Shore.

As the son of a poor Virginia backwoods farmer, Snead would keep his accent and country folk ways as his style as he made his way up the ranks of tournament golf. Sam wanted to be a football hero, but hurt his back, and followed his older brother Homer into the world of golf, first caddying at the nearby golf resorts. Known as “Slammin’ Sam” because of his long drives, Snead had a legendary smooth swing

Snead would go on to win the PGA again in 1949 and 1950, the Masters in 1949, 1952 and 1954 and after Walter Hagen talked him into it, went across the pond and won the British Open in 1946. Although he tried, Snead would not win the fourth major, the U.S. Open.

When they came to the Shore for the 1942 PGA, Seaview was owned by Elwood Kirkman, who had taken over after the death of founder Clarence Geist in 1938. Kirkman also owned the Flanders hotel in Ocean City (NJ), where he lived in the penthouse, and Snead stayed at the Flanders with his wife.

In the tournament, which was played according to mach rules, Snead defeated Sam Byrd, Willie Goggin and Ed Dudley, who was then the Atlantic City pro and had been the first golf pro at Bobby Jones’ Augusta National. Others didn’t make it out of the qualifier, including Paul Runyan, Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen, Horton Smith, John Revolta and Leo Diegel. Snead then defeated the eccentric party guy Jimmy Demaret to get to the final against Turnesa.

On the final round, Sam didn’t slam it, but hit a spectacular 60 foot chip shot on the 37th old for a birdie to take the win, two up with one left, which Newsweek described said, “will go down in history as the hottest ever.”

Snead also returned to the Jersey Shore to open the Mays Landing Country Club in 1961 and play in a number of senior tournaments, including the first 1980 Senior tournament at the Atlantic City Country Club. Snead hurt his back early on, and didn’t finish playing golf, but retired to the Taproom in the Clubhouse where he sat in on play the trumpet with the band.

As Sam Snead often advised, "Keep close count of your nickels and dimes, stay away from whiskey, and never concede a putt."

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Atlantic City Country Club - Historical Synopsis

An Historical Synopsis – By William Kelly

The Country Club of Atlantic City was incorporated in 1897 by a group of Atlantic City hotel operators who wanted to offer the game of golf to their guests. Unlike most country clubs, the Atlantic City Country Club was established specifically as a golf club, and began what became known as resort golf.

John Reid, a golf professional from Philadelphia, who was born in Scotland and played in three U.S. Opens, surveyed the Northfield site and spent a year laying out the first nine holes while the clubhouse was built. By the early spring of 1898 Mr. Reid was giving demonstrations of his long driving skills and organizing tournaments for both men and women. The first club championships were won by a husband and wife team, Mr. and Mrs. Milton Work, who were also the club bridge champions.

The Country Club of Atlantic City’s first amateur golf champion in 1898 was won by Mr. Francis H. Bohlen, who also became the first Philadelphia Country Club golf champion in 1899. Bohlen attended the 1898 U.S Amateur championship in Morristown, N.J. the same weekend Harriet Curtis attracted a large local gallery when she gave an exhibition of her skills over the Atlantic City course. With her sister Margaret, the Curtis sisters went on to win many championships and placed the Curtis Cup into competition to instigate international play.

The first time inter-club matches were organized that first year between the best players from the Country Club of Atlantic City and the Philadelphia Country Club. Other early team matches were held with the Cape May Golf Club, which while an older club, is no longer in existence.

The tourists of that day traveled primarily by train and the game of golf came to Atlantic City by rail. Atlantic City hotel guests who wanted to play golf left by trolley from Virginia Avenue and the Boardwalk. The railroad company also provided a special train for golfers when they traveled to Cape May or Philadelphia to play, and the names on the list of those who participated included the names of many of the founding members and hotel owners – J. Haines Lippincott, Frederick Hemsley, Walter Smedley, et. Al. Rather than for their guests, the hotel owners themselves took a liking to the game and played frequently.

In 1900 a group of Quaker hotel owners including some of the club’s founders formed the Ozone Club, a social group dedicated to playing golf one day a month, which they have don continuously since then. Their first match was over the Atlantic City course, where they frequently returned over the years.

Although Old records indicated there were stable fees as well as green fees, the trolley was the main mode of travel to and from the country club before the advent of the automobile. Because they wanted to get in as much golf, or drinking at the bar, as possible, they were notified of the approach of the last trolley with the clang of a bell, which rang continuously until the last trolley run was made in 1948. The bell is now by the front door.

The fifth U.S. Amateur championship was held at the Atlantic City Country Club in 1901 when Walter Travis became the first person to win a major championship with the radical Haskell ball, which revolutionized the game of golf.

If for any one thing, the Atlantic City Country Club is known as the place of origin of the term “birdie,” for one under par for a hole, the most frequently used term in golf.

Although there are conflicting reports concerning the details of exactly what occurred, three is no doubt the term “birdie” was coined sometime in December 1903, on the old 12th hole, which later became the practice green behind the clubhouse. The men who participated in that round included Ab Smith, who hit the “bird of a shot,” and A. W. Tillinghast, who became a renown golf course architect, and George Crump, the Philadelphia hotel owner who founded Pine Valley Golf Club.

In the 1910 U.S. Open, held in Philadelphia, 18 year old local boy Johnny McDermott tied Scotsmen and brothers MacDonald and Alex Smith to force a three way play-off. Although Alex Smith won the event, young McDermott placed second, which he parlayed in to a full time professional’s job at Merchantville Golf Club and within a year, became the golf pro at the Atlantic City Country Club.

McDermott replaced William “Robbie” Robinson as the club’s third golf professional. By winning the 1911 U.S. Open in Chicago, McDermott became the first native-born American to win the U.S. Open, and at 19, remains the youngest to have ever won that event. McDermott then defended his title in Buffalo at the 1912 U.S. Open, and the following year, handily defeated British pros Harry Vardon and Ted Ray at a tournament at Shawnee. After winning, McDermott gave a speech in the locker room, promising that the U.S. Open national championship trophy would not be taken across the pond by foreigners but kept in America.

McDermott was also the first American to place in the top ranks at the British Open, but a series of personal setbacks put an early end to McDermott’s career. Although McDermott played poorly in the 1913 U.S. Open, that event, held at the Country Club at Brookline (Mass.) was probably the most spectacular golf game every played. It also included Wilfred Reid, later an Atlantic City pro, and Walter Hagen, and was won by another young American, Francis Ouimet in a playoff with Harry Vardon and Ted Ray, two of the greatest players of all time. A photo of Ouimet lining up his final put on the 18th hole hung next to the locker room door for many years.

After the 1913 U.S. Open, McDermott missed a ferry and never teed off at the following British Open, then barely survived a shipwreck on the way home. In late 1913 McDermott passed out in the Atlantic City pro shop, failed to recover from a nervous disorder and never played serious golf again.

McDermott’s assistant Clarence Hackney assumed McDermott’s pro position in 1914 and remained on the job for the next 26 years, until he died on New Year’s eve, 1940. Hackney had won the Canadian Open and participated in early international matches that preceded the Ryder Cup competitions.

By 1914 golf had become a popular pastime and Clarence Geist, a fabulously wealthy Atlantic City Country Club member became impatient about his tee time. His partner, Maurice Risley, reportedly said to him, “Mr. Geist, if I had as much money as you do I’d build my own golf course.” Gesit then had Risley, a realitor, purchase land in the Absecon Highland and built the Seaview Country Club.

At first Geist hired Englishman Wildfred Reid to be his first pro. Reid would later became the Atlantic City CC pro (1946-48), but his disenchantment with the Seaview situation led him to take the head pro job at the Wilmington Country Club in Delaware, whose pro replaced James Fraser at Cortland Park in New York. Fraser then completed what they called the “Triple Switch” by taking Reid’s former job at Seaview.

James “Jolly Jim” Fraser came to America from Aberdeen, Scotland around 1907. Although he played golf as an amateur in Scotland, like many Scotsmen in his day he found work as a golf professional in New York at Cortland Park, the first public golf course in America. James Fraser married in New York, where Leo was born in 1910, and then came to Atlantic City in 1916. Sonny Fraser was born a year later. The Fraser family lived in a home just off the Seaview bay course’s first fairway, where they received many famous golfers, including MacDonald Smith and Walter Hagen. Hagen became a personal friend and hunting partner of “Jolly Jim” Fraser, and won the 1914 U.S. Open, keeping the Open trophy in America for the fourth straight year.

Hagen also became the first true touring professional and first American to win the British Open. Hagen later became a close friend of Leo Fraser, and a signed photo hangs in the McDermott Room at the Atlantic City Country Club.

In 1920 James Fraser laid out a golf course in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, the opening of which included an exhibition match between Fraser and Walter Hagen against the formidable duo of Harry Vardon and Ted Ray. Ray won the U.S. Open that year, but the Englishmen would lose their match against Fraser and Hagen, during which a young 10 year old Leo Fraser served as a caddy for his father.

The Atlantic City Country Club expanded as the game of golf became more popular. The legendary Willie Park, Jr., two time British Open champion, came to Atlantic City in 1921. he reworked the entire course and added an additional nine holes, bringing the total to 27. Park also laid out the Ocean City-Somers Point golf course (now Greate Bay). Over the years golf course architects Toomey and Flynn also redesigned aspects of the Atlantic City course at a later stage.

James Fraser died in 1922 when his car collided with a Shore Road trolley. The Frasers continued to live at Seaview, with Leo and Sonny greatly influenced by Mr. Geist and other club members. Leo once recalled how he couldn’t play golf at Seaview when he played hooky from school because he mother or Mr. Geist would see him, but he often worked as a caddy at the Atlantic City Country Club. At some point Leo Fraser met Bob Hope, who then worked as an emcee and standup comic at theaters and hotels on the boardwalk, and he played frequently with Leo whenever he was in town.

In 1926 Leo, at the age of 16, went to Michigan where he obtained a golf professional job at Saginaw. Eventually Leo returned home to become the Seaview pro while his brother Sonny became a popular amateur golfer while he worked for Mr. Geist and “Hap” Farley, the political boss of Atlantic County.

For a brief period Leo took a job in the insurance business in Baltimore, where he met and married Doris Hinton, but he never strayed far from the game of golf.

After completing his grand slam in 1930, Bobby Jones chose future Atlantic City pro Ed Dudley to be the golf professional at his Augusta National. Dudley became president of the PGA during World War II and helped initiate golf exhibition tournaments that raised money for the war effort and the Red Cross. During the war the U.S. Army Signal Corps occupied the ACCC clubhouse until 1944, when Sonny Fraser put together a syndicate that purchased the club. The syndicate included Atlantic County Republican boss H. “Hap” Farley and Olympic rowing champion John B. Kelly.

While John Creesey was the pro during the war years, Sonny Fraser brought in “Big” Ed Dudley, then President of the PGA, to be the pro in 1944.

In the fall of 1944, with the tide turning in the war, Sonny Fraser called for a tournament of the best amateur golfers in the country. Sonny Fraser himself won his inaugural tournament, which was played annually until the club was sold to casino interests over fifty years later. Past winners of the Sonny Fraser invitational tournament include many who went on to win other major tournaments, including Carey Middlecoff, Julius Boros, Billy Hyndman and Howard Everett.

After serving as an officer in a much decorated combat unit in Europe during the war, Leo Fraser returned to Atlantic City where he learned that Sonny’s syndicate not only purchased the Atlantic City Country Club, but had plans on building a horse racing track. At the time Sonny was an assistant to Farley, a N.J. State legislator in Trenton who got the race track bill passed.

While Sonny Fraser, John B. Kelly and other club members were busy attempting to bring horse racing and the first legal gambling to Atlantic City, Florida Sen. Frank Smathers complained that the New Jersey race tracks would compete with the tracks in Florida, and pointed out that there were illegal slot machines in the Atlantic City Country Club clubhouse.

Rather than get rid of the slot machine, Sonny and company sold the Atlantic City Country Club to his brother Leo, who borrowed most of the money from his friend and frequent golfing companion Carroll Rosenbloom.

On January 14, 1948 the trolley bell clanged for the last time, as the last of the Shore Fast Line trolleys made its final run down Shore Road.

After Ed Dudley left in 1948, Leo hired Wilfred Reid to be the Atlantic City golf professional. Born in Nottingham, England, Reid had been the first Seaview pro, and played in both the Shawnee tournament won by McDermott and the 1913 U.S. Open at Brookline. Reid was the pro when Leo Fraser hosted the 1948 U.S. Women’s Open, introducing the area to what tournament golf is all about, and featuring Babe Zarahas’ first of four U.S. Open championships. Shortly after that tournament Zarahias helped establish the Ladies Professional Golf Association – the LPGA.

Howard Everett, who lived in a house on the ACCC course, defeated a teenage Arnold Palmer in the Pennsylvania Amateur Championship before Palmer went away to college. While Palmer was not well known at the time, his college roommate “Buddy” Worsham came from a family of great golfers. Lew Worsham had won the U.S. Open while “Bucky” Worsham became the ACCC pro in 1950. Palmer’s college life ended abruptly when Buddy Worsham died in a car crash, an accident that resulted in Palmer leaving school and joining the Coast Guard. Stationed at the Cape May Coast Guard base in 1951, Palmer frequently visited Bucky Worsham at ACCC and met Leo Fraser, a friendship that would later become significant when Leo was president of the PGA and Palmer was negotiating with them on behalf of the touring golf professionals.

As a PGA official Leo Fraser was invited to participate in the Centennial 1960 British Open, held at St. Andrews, Scotland. Leo attended the event with Jack Nuggent, Stan Dudas and Palmer. Although Palmer would be runner up in that event, he returned, won twice and helped renew American interest in the British Open.

The American PGA however was having problems with the touring pros who wanted to break away from the PGA and establish their own tour. Leo Fraser assumed the Presidency of the PGA at a crucial time in it’s history and his leadership and friendship with Palmer kept the PGA together.

Leo also understood the need to bring more new golfers into the game, especially the blue collar workers, women and young people, who were shunned at the private country clubs, so he designed and built the Mays Landing Country Club, which opened in 1961.

Leo also continued to support women’s tournaments, and Carol Mann won the 1965 Women’s Open at ACCC, a tournament that also featured young French amateur Catherine Lacosta, who went on to become the first amateur to win the U.S. Women’s Open in 1967. While here, a club member took Catherine Lacosta to Pine Valley, where she played a round, even though women were not permitted in the clubhouse at the time.

In 1971 Leo served in an official capacity on the U.S. Ryder Cup team, and in 1975 served as host once again for the U.S. Women’s Open. While the 1975 pen was won by Sandra Palmer, it was a teenage Nancy Lopez who garnered much of the attention when she finished second as high amateur.

In 1975 the Lippincott and Leeds families, original founders of the Atlantic City Country Club, sold the Chalfonte Haddon Hall, which became Resorts International, the first legal casino in Atlantic City.

In 1980 Atlantic City was the scene of an official PGA Senior’s tournament a few weeks before the U.S. Seniors Open. Sam Snead, Julius Boros, Lew Worsham and many others showed up for the event, which was a charity benefit for Juvenile Diabetes and was won by Don January.

Although there were other similar senior events of its kind, including those t the Atlantic City Country Club in 1956 (won by Art Wall) and 1957 (won by Dick Sleichter), the 1980 tournament was the first official event of what is now the multi-million dollar PGA Senior Tour (now the Champion’s Tour). Two other major senior tournaments were also held at ACCC in 1985 and 1986.

With Leo Fraser’s death in 1986, the club’s operations were assumed and its traditions continued by the Fraser family, sons James and Doug and daughter Bonnie Siok, along with Bonnie’s husband Don, the club professional. They were all very active, not only in the game of golf, but around the club house and in the organization of tournaments and special events, including the 1997 Centennial observances, which included the 1997 USGA Women’s Mid-Amateur Championship and a centennial ball.

Jim Fraser was also instrumental in the formation of the Greater Atlantic City Golf Association, the purpose of which is to foster the Jersey Shore as a golf resort destination.

From its earliest beginnings, the Atlantic City Country Club has reflected certain recurring attributes, a few of which especially stand out. There has always been a serious commitment to promoting amateur golf, the encouragement of women’s play and a pride in challenging amateur golfers from other clubs and teams from other countries in spirited competition.

And while the club was owned by the Frasers, there was a sense of family and a members community dedicated to the continuation of the club’s traditions.

These attributes are held dearly , not only in mementos hanging on the walls, but by the club’s employees and club members, who continued the traditions in the clubhouse and on the golf course every day.

As sportswriter Ed Nichterlein said, “It would be hard to imagine a more ideally situated or designed course, or one which has more historic ties to golf.”

The Atlantic City Country Club is one of the America’s oldest and most historic clubs in the country, where history is made and where golf is not just a game, but a way of life.

[In 1998 the club was sold to Bally-Hilton hotels and casinos, and now a public course owned by Caesars.]