The last decade has brought forth an explosion of golf course opportunities in the greater Atlantic City area. Golfers can choose from a wide array of public, upscale daily fee and private layouts, each offering a unique experience with a variety of challenges.
The recent face of seashore private golf has undergone dramatic changes with the addition of the Tom Fazio-designed Galloway National Golf Club in 1995 and the transition of Greate Bay Country Club to private status. More recently Ballamor, an Ault, Clark design, and the stellar Bill Coore/Ben Crenshaw designed Hidden Creek came into the mix. The historic Atlantic City Country Club, once private, is open to the pubic.
Yet with all of the bulldozing there is still a constant, reliable layout which might not get the accolades of some of competition but is recognized by those in the know as a quiet gem: the Linwood County Club.
Located on Shore Road in the town of Linwood, a shade more than three miles from the Margate Bridge, the serene 1921 Herbert Strong design has nearly everything its members desire, including the three most important things every real estate investor demands .location, location, location.
Just minutes from the beach, major arteries and area businesses and the hustle and bustle, glamour and glitz of Atlantic City, Linwood remains is a secluded retreat in a sort of sleepy town. The layout is bordered to the East by water several of its holes front Scull Bay and the club a throwback to private clubs of yesteryear.
It has a stable membership, it features a staff dedicated to first-class service and of most importance, it features a challenging yet member-friendly golf course which players of all abilities can appreciate. Linwood (like Wildwood C.C. to the south) is a member owned club.
Linwood has the feel of a second home, a private getaway, explains Jeff Lefevre, who has presided over the golf operations for 20 years. "There is a lot of tradition here, but its definitely not stuffy. Were dedicated to serving the needs of our members and are constantly looking for ways to improve service and our amenities.
Recent years have seen Linwood strive to update its facilities. In 2002 the club completed a three-year, $3-million clubhouse overhaul, while more recently architect Stephen Kay worked with members on a renovation of its golf course.
The airy clubhouse now features a spectacular, cascading view of the golf course, wetlands, Atlantic City and beachside skyline. From their perches inside the comfortable structure members and their guests can sample fine dining, casual fare or simply relax.
It is a unique setting, we are so close to so much, yet miles away, said Lefevre, who with General Manager Bill Coulter and Golf Course Superintendent Alan Beck have more than 60 years of experience at the club. It is a special place for our members, whether they want to socialize or play golf. We are not overly busy other than summer weekend mornings we rarely need tee times and our caddy master (a 30-year vet) always can find you a game.
Clubhouse renovations including the expanding of several rooms to highlight the bay view, as well as enlarging the ballroom, adding to the dining and bar area, expanding the ladies locker room and card area and brightening the atmosphere.
You wont find Linwoods golf course listed among the best in New Jersey. That is not a knock, because those who have played it know its a hidden gem.
People look at the yardage and believe short equates to easy, states Kay, the South Jersey-based designer whose work includes such acclaimed layouts as The Architects Club (with Ron Whitten), Blue Heron Pines (West), Harbor Pines and McCulloughs Emerald Links. It certainly isnt easy. The greens are small, there are numerous hazards, there is the wind factor and if you are playing from the proper tees it will challenge your game.
Kay is a believer that the strong golfer should face a robust challenge, while the mid-to-high handicapper should have that challenge but also a fun game.
We attempted to do that at Linwood, and I believe weve succeeded, said Kay, who credits golf course shaper Casey Fraser and superintendent Beck with making the renovated design sparkle. Our idea was to renovate and remodel as appropriate. We wanted to be faithful to the original design, but also make the course relevant given changes to the game.
Case in point was the 15th hole, a dogleg left which, when designed 80 years ago, was a challenging par four. With technological changes, many could bomb a drive and cut the corner, which in turn saw the club add more trees and more rough.
Over time a narrow hole was created, it was very artificial and nothing like the way it was originally intended, explained Kay. We removed some trees, moved others, then added diagonal cross bunkers to give the player on the tee a clear choice and decide on whether the risk of hitting over the bunkers (leaving a short, clear shot to the elevated green) was worth the reward. Otherwise, one had the option to stay short of the bunkers and have a three wood shot to the green.
The new hole is visually pleasing, holds a wealth of challenge for the A and B players and offers a good test for the C and D members.
Kay added a few bunkers, enlarged several others and worked five waste bunkers and a set of forward tees into the remodeling. Several of the bunkers are flat but Fraser also flashed a couple to give a different visual appearance and vary the perspective of a player.
The 7th hole at Linwood, which many feel is the most memorable, is a 420-yard test from the tips and travels along the bay. Wildlife is plentiful, as blue heron, red-tailed hawks and the occasional eagle provide a wing-clapping gallery. After a straight drive, the golfer must have a second shot to an elevated, bunkered green.
Another addition was a prerequisite in the sprucing up of the course with the membership in mind: the rework of the 10th hole from a par 4 into a nice par 3. The savings in land became part of a new practice facility. Now members have a place to work on their game before or after their round, or while slipping away from work at lunchtime for a quite bite and practice session. And the loss of 100 yards of golf course was balanced by the addition of 300 yards throughout the rest of the layout as tees were added and adjusted.
The golf course has improved tremendously for our members, added Lefevre, who mentioned that Kay made some improvement on each hole. It has always had a bit of bite in it, that is part of the seashore flair. When you have several holes along the bay, theres always trouble waiting. Add to that the fact that we have eight old fashioned holes, that is, the greens are partially blind. While you can see the flagstick, you dont always see the green, and that leads to a bit of uncertainty to the player, making club selection difficulty.
A bit of a par-70 tiger in 6,300 yards, yes, but also tame enough for members such as 92-years young Phil Skick and 101-years young Henry Gartner to still have a great game.
Those guys can play, said Lefevre with a smile. As can Edward Knight, our current Chairman of the Board, who has been a member since the 1940s. They provide a nice balance to all of our newer members. Membership the club currently has openings for a few members after long having a wait list matters at Linwood, from the personal service to the complete tournament schedule, lessons and the services associated with a private club.
It is a club which doesnt get a lot of recognition, slipping a bit under the radar screen. Yet for those whove sampled its charms, Linwood offers its members the best of all worlds.
It is clearly a secluded, secret gem of the shore.