NORTHFIELD, N.J. -- The Atlantic City Country Club has "it."
You know what "it" is, right? It's that cool factor that can't easily be defined or described. All the great ones have "it" -- that star quality shared only by the supermodels, the quarterbacks, the actors.
Count the Atlantic City Country Club among the cool crowd blessed with "it." This place exudes an elegant country club vibe few public courses can replicate. It all traces back to a deep connection to the history of the game.
That time-warp feeling is palpable once golfers step inside the clubhouse and see the memorabilia. The senses perk up simply by walking into the Taproom Bar & Grille, where classic photos cover the walls. Inside the wood-paneled locker room, it's easy to envision a young Arnold Palmer with a drink in his hand, heading into the adjacent card room for a little post-round fun.
Even the putting green outside is unique. It bleeds right into the first tee. The Atlantic City Country Club, founded in 1897, still has "it," even after all these years.
Atlantic City Country Club has a rich history
History and the Atlantic City Country Club became best friends almost immediately. The consensus no. 1 public course in New Jersey has hosted six United States Golf Association championships, including the 1901 U.S. Amateur won by Walter Travis.
In 1911, the club's head professional, Johnny J. McDermott, became the first American to win the U.S. Open, at the age of 19 -- still the record for youngest Open champion. He defended his crown in 1912 before his game and mental health deteriorated.
Babe Didrikson Zaharias, the greatest female golfer of all-time, won the 1948 U.S. Women's Open, the first of three held at the club. The course later hosted the first Senior PGA Tour event (now called the Champions Tour) in 1980.
Most noteworthy of all, perhaps, the golf terms "birdie" and "eagle" were coined at the club. A rock to commemorate the first "birdie" -- a great shot by Abner Smith that came to rest within inches of the cup on the 12th green in 1903 -- sits proudly on the grounds.
Palmer, Bob Hope and Sam Snead were regulars back in the day.
"If these walls could talk," said Charles Fahy, the general manager/director of golf at the club.
The course is the star at Atlantic City Country Club
What attracted all this history was a course worthy of legends.
The 6,577-yard, par-70 course has all the elements -- twisting tree-lined fairways, fabulous bunkering, slick slanted greens -- of a pure classic. In 1999, Tom Doak did a thoughtful restoration of a layout molded over a period of years by multiple men, including Willie Park Jr. and William Flynn.
Four mammoth par 4s on the front nine -- all play at least 417 yards from the more forgiving middle tees -- compensate for the short par 4s at the second and third holes. The 144-yard fourth hole introduces the views of Lakes Bay that stretch to the Atlantic City skyline.
A four-hole stretch on back nine dives deep into these tidal marshes. The 14th tee sits isolated as an island among the reeds. The 339-yard par 4 plays much more difficult than it should. Only the pins are visible on the 190-yard 15th hole and 157-yard 17th hole, two daunting par 3s. Once golfers reach the 18th green, it's wise to turn around for a look back. The scene of the shore and the skyline should be the enduring memory of such a grand place.
Atlantic City Country Club: The verdict
It's so ironic that a casino now owns the Atlantic City Country Club since it is the antithesis of gaudy lights and flashy decor. The club remains one of the game's true treasures. It's infinitely more playable than most modern designs and the conditions are kept impeccable. When the wind kicks up, the course can be a bear, so tee it forward for a great round.