ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. -- It's not the number of golf courses in the Greater Atlantic City Golf Association that's the draw. It's all about the variety. Of the 19 courses, there's a great mix of unique and traditional courses and historic and modern clubs.
"For a destination this size, you can't touch it," said Stephen Kay, who designed McCullough's Emerald Golf Links in Egg Harbor Township and Blue Heron Pines Golf Club in Cologne. "If you went to a golf destination this size -- I'm not comparing it with Myrtle Beach or Hilton Head -- not only do we have the best courses, but the most variety. When you go to an area, the courses tend to be very similar. Not here."
With apologies to excellent tracks like Blue Heron Pines, here are five must-plays near this gambling hotbed along the Jersey shore:
Twisted Dune Golf Club, Egg Harbor Township
It took a modern visionary, Archie Struthers, to create the heaving dunes and gnarly bunkers of this 7,248-yard course. Struthers moved roughly 2.5 million cubic yards of earth to make magic 15 miles inland from Atlantic City. Wide fairways offer plenty of forgiveness. It's the 90 bunkers and tall fescue that damage scores.
Atlantic City Country Club, Northfield
It's hard to believe that a casino company runs this historic country club. Its old-school vibe is the antithesis of casino bling. Founded in 1897, Atlantic City Country Club has hosted six United States Golf Association championships, including the 1901 U.S. Amateur won by Walter Travis. The club hosted the first Senior PGA Tour event (now called the Champions Tour) in 1980. The golf terms "birdie" and "eagle" were coined at the club. The 6,577-yard par-70 design ranks as no. 1 public New Jersey golf course. Tom Doak did a thoughtful restoration in 1999, enhancing several holes on a back nine that delves deep into the tidal marshes to provide striking views of the Atlantic City skyline.
Ballamor Golf Club, Egg Harbor Township
This private club opened its doors in 2010, giving the Jersey shore another great place to play. Ballamor still holds onto that private club feel with premier conditioning and a remarkable 7,098-yard layout designed by Brian Ault and Tom Clark of Ault, Clark & Associates. Ballamor's sister course, Scotland Run, is quite the gem as well, although it's much closer to Philadelphia than Atlantic City.
Shore Gate Golf Club, Ocean City
The 7,227-yard course, which opened in 2002, roams through 245 acres of pristine forest. Navigating a minefield of seven ponds, 88 bunkers and sprawling waste areas created by architects Ron Fream and David Dale is a daunting but fun task.
The home of the ShopRite LPGA Classic is closed until spring 2014. Crews are hard at work adding four new tees and introducing more fairway width and several new bunkers between the fourth and fifth holes of the Bay Course at Seaview. All this is geared toward protecting par on the 6,247-yard course. The wind and devilish greens tend to keep the rest of us from going low. The scenery across Reeds Bay looks directly at the skyline of Atlantic City. If you've got time for 36 holes, Seaview members love to play the inland Pines Course even more than the tournament course.