OCEAN VIEW, NJ ---
It doesn't take long upon arriving at the Shore Gate Golf Club to notice a few things:
- it located in Ocean View, just a good driver and a long iron away from the Garden State Parkway, but there is no view of the ocean.
- sand plays a major role in the layout, as the club boasts 88 "official" sand bunkers and 84 framing bunkers
- one's eyes can play tricks on you
Shore Gate presents visiting golfers with a shot-making challenge as each hole is unique. Its setting is beautiful, and designers Ron Fream and David Dale molded a layout which offers all levels of player a fun experience while ensuring every club in the bag gets used.
The course, which has earned numerous awards and recognition, is constructed on about 245 acres of pristine land.
Head golf professional Gregg Johnson has excellent advice for players visiting Shore Gate. Its simple advice, but it will make or break your experience: "The number one piece of advice I have is to pick the proper tee box to play from," said the pro with a smile. "I can't tell you how important it is to set yourself up for a fun, challenging round of golf."
Shore Gate has five tee boxes, stretching from 5,284-yards to lengthy 7,227-yards (74.9 rating, 136 slopes). Par is 72 and difficult to challenge.
The second piece of advice is that if you don't want to follow his first piece of advice, you must, absolutely must, have your A Bunker Play Game.
That's because the California-based designers, who have molded courses In 60 countries, made their first east coast layout a gem. On one hand, much care was taken to preserve the Southern New Jersey wetlands the course is carved through. On the other, they've incorporated more than 160 sand bunkers into the course configuration.
If you select the wrong set of tee boxes, you will be playing shots from the sand. There is absolutely no question about that. So heed the advice of the experts, forget about the tee you play back home, and select the appropriate tee for your game at Shore Gate. You will thank yourself on the 19th hole.
Once on the course a player will find a series of well thought out, challenging holes. Shore Gate offers well marked holes, ample fairways and expansive, smooth, undulating greens that rival those found on less played private courses. Golf course superintendent John Gorger prides himself in making the course a playable test.
None are more difficult than the 9th hole, a dastardly par-5 that has the potential to ruin many a golfer's scorecards. On one hand, it's a beautiful hole, but when playing it other words come to mind...challenging, difficult and ouch come to mind. In the 19th hole you and your playing partners will remember this test, which is everything one expects from an 18th whole only occurring halfway through one's round.
It plays humongous 648-yards from the lengthiest tees and more than difficult 577-yards from the "regular" tees. Once a tee is picked, the golf can view the entire length of the hole in front of them. That's the good news. Hitting the proper shots, though, is a different story.
Number 9 (green above) requires a long, accurate, left-to-right drive to a narrowing fairway. Once there, a second shot requires biting as much off of the lake as you can dare. Beware, though, as the three bunkers are aiming spots off the far side of the landing area are in play.
The ample green, nearly 55 feet in length, means that knowing the pin position is imperative. Miss-club and a three putt come into play. "This is a great golf hole," says Harry Bittner, a veteran or more than a quarter of a century in professional golf positions at the shore who serves as general manager at Shore Gate. "Players always comment on it after their round. It offers challenge, beauty, you name it."
While length and difficulty can cause nightmares on the 9th hole, the stellar 15th hole presents other challenges. Only 350-yards from the white tees, this hole requires a strategic, well placed drive toward the left side of the fairway and short of a beckoning lake (photo). Leave the driver in the bag, as accuracy is more important than length, as a correct tee ball will leave a shorter iron to a well-guarded green.
Shore Gates par-3 holes are a mixture of length and difficulty. Number 5 is only 136-yards, but features a crescent moon green that offers numerous pin alternatives. The green is fronted by a large bunker and lake, while another bunker collects shots long and to the right. Go long left and you flirt with wetlands.
Number 17 is longer, about 180-yards from the white tees, and is a Fream-Dale special in that its elevation changes offers a deceptive false front that, if miscalculated, will leave one well short of the putting surface.
The design team snuggled the South Jersey sand dunes into their design, giving the course some elevation changes on what is basically a sea level layout. They also used that sand to frame many holes with faux bunkers that give the appearance from the tee of being expansive hazards when in reality they are more like mirages. Oh, your ball can nestle into these bunkers, but generally won't.
"Many of them are on mounds, and they trick your eyes into thinking they are always in play," explained Bittner. "Many are good aiming point, sort of like a sandy version of a specimen tree, but like those aiming trees which sometimes come into play, these bunkers do as well."
The architects ensured the sand added to the strategic and visual elements to the course, bringing them into play and placing a premium on accuracy. But they also were blessed with hundreds of towering conifers to wreck havoc with the scorecard, as well as seven ponds and lakes which add other challenges by their placement.
Shore Gate is open to the public year around, and is a layout you don't want to miss. It has a full driving range and practice facility, one of the area's best, to tune up your game before or after your round, and has a fully stocked pro shop with a friendly, efficient staff. Greens fees depend on the time of the season.
Various golf magazines, including Golf week and Golf Digest, include Shore Gate as one of their "places to play" in New Jersey. Golf Digest even ranked it the only Cape May or Atlantic County layouts above 4-stars on its critique.
"We're proud and honored of that ranking," said Bittner. "It's a great acknowledgement of the quality of the golf course."
There are a number of important tips to playing Shore Gate, but the best one is just that: be sure to visit the stellar layout and give it your best shot.
Shore Gate is deserving of an A ("must play") rating.
By Steve Gordon
Shore Gate in Ocean View, New Jersey is an absolute gem of a golf course. I played it only days after the entire course was aerated and the greens top dressed and it was still one of the best kept courses I played that week in the middle of September. Even with the top dressing the greens were very playable and true.
The design of the holes not only gives you a physical challenge, it gives you a mental challenge to figure out the best way to play them. That provides the ultimate in golf beyond the bomb and gouge game. Playing the 6301-yard White tees with a hearty 132 slope rating, it is all the course any recreational amateur player would want. If you are an average bogey player at home, don't step back to the longer tees because it could ruin the experience.
A good example is the 350-yard par 4 fifteenth hole. There is fairway out there but standing on the tee there are bunkers at the dogleg just beyond the 150 stake and water right and it doesn't seem like there is much fairway to hit to. Not only do you have to figure the line you want to play, you have to figure the distance you want to hit from the tee. For most players that sets up the second shot with either a mid iron, a hybrid or even a wood for the approach.
This course has probably the best collection of par 5 holes of any course I have played. A good example is the 9th hole at 577-yards from the White tees. It could even be a long iron or a wood into the green as you navigate past the dogleg and around the water.
Shore Gate boasts 160 some bunkers but that does not make it the Sahara of New Jersey. While they appear intimidating, not all of them come into normal play. Oh, you can get in them but some are visual and in some cases targets to aim at. It is part of the mind game designers Ron Frearm and David Dale brought east from their west coast base.
For anyone going to the New Jersey shore and wanting to play golf, Shore Gate should be on the must play list.