The Atlantic City area's abundance of golf courses boosts the region's status as a resort destination
Whether you call it “fairway fever” or something similar, it is probable area golfers have never looked forward to getting back into the swing of things more than this spring. With that hellacious winter and not a whole lot of encouraging news where their company 401(k)s are concerned, the sound of a Maxfli sailing off the sweet spot of a seven iron is going to be music to golfers’ ears. Hell, even a profanity-laced tirade when said Maxfli gets sliced into a pond might be music to their ears after this past winter. “The thing about February was, we had so much snow that none of the courses in the area were even open, but we had a great March, April proved to be pretty good, and we’re really excited about the season overall,” says Brian Hoey, chairman of the Greater Atlantic City Golf Association (GACGA). “People just want to be outside in the nice weather, and there’s a really optimistic feeling going around.
“When we go to the golf-and-travel shows and trade shows, we always ask the customers if they plan to play more, less or about the same golf this year than last, and so far the response has almost universally been more or at least the same. So the outlook is very bright. To me that shows that despite the bad economy and despite the bad weather, people are still anxious to get out and play.”
Jeff Vasser, the executive director of the Atlantic City Convention and Visitors Authority (ACCVA), says the push by convention planners to bring more golf-industry activity to the Atlantic City area, along with local courses and country clubs devising creative stay-and-play packages as an enticement, is at peak levels right now.
“As we move away from gaming as the focal point of our marketing efforts and strive to become a more well-rounded destination, golf has certainly been an important tool in our marketing tool kit,” says Vasser. “In recent years we’ve had to come up with more compelling reasons for visitors to come to the Atlantic City area other than slot machines, and our abundance of exceptional golf courses has certainly helped fill the void along with great restaurants, headliner entertainment, shopping destinations, the beaches and Boardwalk and, of course, conventions.”
ForbesTraveler.com recently ranked Atlantic City No. 6 on its top-10 list of best golf destinations in the nation — a distinction based not only on the quality of an area’s courses but on its contributions to the sport from an historical standpoint. Atlantic City has a rich heritage in both regards.
“[Golf’s] a tremendous asset to the leisure traveler, and where we have the advantage is being able to offer guests so much more than just golf,” says Vasser.
In 2004 a partnership between the ACCVA and the GACGA was formed with the intention of marketing the area more specifically to golf. In a way, the troubled economy has actually served as a boon to the golf industry in Atlantic City compared to other golfing hubs that rely more on fly-in traffic like South Carolina, Florida and Arizona.
“Prior to  the golfing industry was another segment of the market that was being underutilized, and we began to make a more concerted effort to raise the number of rounds being played and bringing more people here specifically for golf,” adds Vasser. “In the past couple of years, because of the economy, more golfers have opted to stay closer to home rather than to travel to places like Hilton Head [S.C.] and elsewhere. Atlantic City is ideally positioned and easily accessed from many East Coast cities, and the quality of our courses and reputation our area has developed has prompted more golfers to say: ‘Let’s try A.C. instead of Hilton Head.’”
Golf’s popularity crosses more age groups than perhaps any other participant sport, and area courses by no means cater exclusively to seasoned veterans. In fact, the demographic where the most growth is occurring could be the younger generations.
“I would say that after the winter that we just had and with all that snow, I saw more signs of cabin fever this year than in years past, for sure,” says John Petronis, founder of the Junior Golfers Association of America (based in Atlantic County and founded in Cape May County). “Despite the economy, I’m seeing plenty of growth in youth golf since parents will tend to cut expenses elsewhere before taking something positive away from their kids.”
Petronis operated a single tournament when he began his youth program in May 2000 — the Cape May County Jr. Championship — and now organizes over 30 of them.
“I’ve found more families coming out and taking lessons together, spending some quality time together for two to four hours, and getting some good exercise in at the same time,” says Petronis. “What other sport allows you to do all that? Golf is a hard sport to get proficient at, but the nice part is that when someone learns golf they can play it for the rest of their life, which is not the case with most other sports. If kids dedicate themselves to golf, even for a month or two, they can develop a manageable swing that will stay with them forever.”
Economically speaking, the golf industry also has a huge impact on many locally based charities. In May alone the area’s courses will make way for tournaments that raise funds for Community Quest Inc., the Dean Randazzo Cancer Foundation, the HERO Campaign, the United Way Jaws Youth Fund and others. The Ensign John R. Elliott “Be a Hero” Golf Tournament celebrates its 10th year on Wednesday, May 12, at Sand Barrens Golf Club in Swainton, and could surpass the $500,000 mark in contributions to the HERO Campaign for Designated Drivers.
“In the first nine years we raised over $440,000,” says Pam Tyson, director of community outreach for the HERO Campaign. “It’s quite a milestone to reach 10 years and it has grown each year. We’ve had many loyal sponsors and golfers, and our host sponsor, MediLink, has been with us the full 10 years. The campaign is named for Ensign John R. Elliott, who was killed by a drunken driver in July 2000. While at the Naval Academy, John was selected as the outstanding HERO [Human Education Resource Officer] of his graduating class, and now the HERO Campaign is saving lives nationwide.”
Next month the ShopRite LPGA Classic will return to Atlantic City after a four-year absence. About 150 of the world’s best female golfers will compete on the Bay Course at Seaview Resort in Galloway from June 14-20. The tournament had been in A.C. for 20 years before the hiatus (1986-2006), and not only has it been a shot in the arm for the local economy, it’s raised tens of thousands of dollars for various charities.
“It’s shaping up to be a really strong field — one of the strongest fields on the LPGA Tour,” says ShopRite LPGA media representative Cathleen Kiernan. “People are excited about its return, but I think a lot of people may not be aware of the impact this tournament has had based on all the money it raises for charity, which is really what the LPGA Tour is a hallmark for.
“The Community FoodBank [of New Jersey] is one of the main charities it’s benefiting. There are eight official charities, all located here in our region, and additionally there’s something called Ticket Charity Partners, where ticket buyers are given the option of which charity the 50 percent of their ticket cost will go to when they purchase them. That gives spectators the opportunity to support a worthy cause of their choice as well as enjoy one of the best tournaments of the year.”
Save Green on Greens Fees
While golf is a sport that all ages can participate in, let’s face it, it can get kind of pricey. That’s particularly true of an area like southern New Jersey where many of the top courses on the East Coast reside. The expression “you get what you pay for” does not exempt golf, and unfortunately much of the expense of maintaining a couple hundred acres of pristine playing conditions must be passed along to the consumer.
But that doesn’t mean there aren’t ways around breaking the bank. You don’t have to be rich to play on the area’s premier public courses, just a prudent, cost-conscious consumer.
Right off the top, many courses offer discounts to students, seniors and/or in-county residents. It’s also less expensive to walk the course rather than renting a riding cart, and with that comes the added benefit of exercise. Most courses are also cheaper to play during the week than the weekend, and many offer “twilight” rates that reduce their greens fees later in the day.
Another excellent way to save — particularly for those who golf often — is the Tee Time Golf Pass, which is a book offering discounts to over 470 golf courses in the greater northeast area, primarily throughout Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and West Virginia. It costs about $60, but the potential is there to save thousands.
“Sometimes [courses] offer free plays like buy-one-get-one-free, or you might just pay the cart fee on a particular course, but the average savings is usually around $20 per play,” says Brian Hoey, chairman of the Greater Atlantic City Golf Association. “So if you use it three times you’ve already made your money back. Most of the people who buy it say they play at least 20 times a year, so they’re saving a lot of money with it.”
The pass offers 288 rounds at 59 courses in New Jersey alone, which — if you were to actually use it that many times — would be a savings of $5,760 in greens fees.
Those who purchase the Tee Time Golf Pass through the Web site acgolfvacations.com will also receive the Atlantic City Golf Pass, giving them 40 plays at eight area courses including Blue Heron Pines, the Links at Brigantine Beach, Harbor Pines, Mays Landing, Sand Barrens, Seaview, Shore Gate and Twisted Dune. The Web site also features a tee-times window that allows users to see what times are available at each course on a particular day, and how much the rates are on that day.
Seaview Resort in Galloway has come up with an innovative way to save money through its “Take Me Out to the Golf Course” promotion. Golfers who bring in a 2010 professional baseball ticket stub (major or minor leagues) will receive $25 off Seaview’s greens fees after 10am weekdays or weekends. The offer is valid for one ticket redemption per person per month through the end of August.
Goochie's Goes Green Since setting up shop in the Brigantine Town Center about three years ago, Rip Reynolds has consistently done the right thing. From a strictly food standpoint, Goochie Brothers’ authentically prepared Italian fare has been so well received, the owner’s surname seeming to not match the specialty region became irrelevant. Lately Reynolds has taken the dual initiative of helping the environment while lowering his future bottom-line expenses. He is doing this through what’s dubbed "Greenhead Initiative" — replacing all his petroleum-based packaging products with biopolymer goods made from plant matter that disintegrates in months instead of lifetimes, and comes from material that would otherwise have been discarded. The initiative also includes participating in the N.J. Clean Energy Program, which allows Goochie’s to rely on 100 percent wind-generated power. “Brigantine has about 150 businesses, and typically a business uses petroleum-based packaging that would equate to about 5,000 gallons of gas a year,” says Reynolds. “That’s a tremendous number, so if everybody did this sort of thing, it would save a lot of gas.” As with anything, says Reynolds, the more efficiently the biodegradable packaging is mass-produced, the less it will cost down the road. “Right now I’m working with some...
Greens fees and tournaments in the Atlantic City region
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