EGG HARBOR TOWNSHIP, N.J. -- Some locals teasingly call McCullough's Emerald Golf Links "the dump."
Not for what it is, but for what it once was.
Architect Stephan Kay transformed an old city landfill into an affordable, intriguing 6,535-yard, par-71 replica golf course that pays tribute to Europe's most famous courses.
The decade-long project to build McCullough's, spearheaded by city mayor James "Sonny" McCullough, finally came to fruition in 2002. Kay used holes from iconic courses such as Prestwick, Royal County Down, Waterville and others found in France, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Ireland as inspiration to give a treeless, mostly featureless site new life.
Kay said the project was a daunting logistical challenge. He routed the tees and greens around more than 150 metal hexagon-shaped methane gas vents. The ones he couldn't avoid, he hid with berms in the fairway.
"We moved 400,000 cubic yards of dirt," he said. "We had to put two feet of fill (to allow) for irrigation. It was complicated."
The same can be said for the challenge golfers face trying to solve such a quirky golf course.
Blind shots aplenty at McCullough's Emerald Golf Links
Kay had 100 feet of elevation change to play with. The 11th and 12th holes climb to the highest point in the county, where views reveal the Atlantic City skyline.
Kay wasn't shy about incorporating some baffling blind shots, a homage to links golf. The best example would be the uphill tee shot over a ridge at no. 11, a nod to Gleneagles in Scotland. First-timers will be lost about what to hit off the 15th tee. It's a layup with an iron or a tempting blind blast over the corner of a dogleg to reach the green 283 yards away. Unless you can hit a big high fade over the trees, the first option is probably the only one.
The most controversial semi-blind shot on the course is actually a tribute to the lost hole of Alister MacKenzie. MacKenzie, the original architect of Augusta National and Cypress Point, entered and won a hole design contest sponsored by Country Life Magazine in 1914, which he credits for spearheading his career. The hole was originally to be constructed at the Lido Golf Club in New York, but it was never built. Kay, following the advice of Golfweek's Brad Klein, recreated it at no. 7, a wild 464-yard par 4 with a fairway as wide as 159 yards at one point.
All golfers see from the tee, though, is a sprawling, intimidating waste bunker. Kay said he wanted to build a more elevated tee so players could see which portion of the bunker they should attempt to carry, but engineers didn't allow for it.
The toughest of the five par 3s might be the shortest one. The small green of the 136-yard 16th hole resembles the "Postage Stamp" eighth hole at Royal Troon in Scotland.
For those people who are not golf architecture buffs, the most fun holes to play are the two dogleg-right par 4s that drop into a former rock quarry. The pond shared by no. 8 and no. 18 makes their elevated tee shots a bit nervy.
The Library III, a local institution known for steaks and crab cakes, recently opened inside the clubhouse, making lunch or dinner a must after every round.
McCullough's Emerald Golf Links: The verdict
McCullough's Emerald Golf Links may never be confused for the best course in the region. There's just too much competition, from Twisted Dune Golf Club down the street, Atlantic City Country Club , Shore Gate Golf Club and more. But dollar for dollar, McCullough's provides a fun, lower-cost alternative.