Golf coverage, like all sporting events since mid-March, has been a changing situation.
Fittingly, we start the delayed 2020 season with a course that was already changing — via expansion — when the pandemic hit.
McCullough’s Emerald Golf Links in Egg Harbor Township has smartly enlarged its footprint beyond the golf course.
Early this year, it launched Vagabond Kitchen & Tap House, a sports bar and gastropub right inside the front door. Vagabond contains 22 large-screen televisions, food and craft beers, wines, ample seating and an open feel. The move gives the popular Atlantic City restaurant a presence in Egg Harbor Township and adds to McCullough’s lineup.
Vagabond leads into a large indoor restaurant area and an outdoor deck overlooking the 18th hole.
The three combined areas give McCullough’s room for 225 to 250 people as it emphasizes food and beverage. It already had a culinary niche with chef extraordinaire Ken Klein.
The course, meanwhile, has been spiraling upward as Covid restrictions ease.
“We are very optimistic going forward about the amount of rounds we will have and the fact that people want to play golf in the first place,” says Tom Sullivan, the general manager of McCullough’s. “Golf is an outdoor game, it is healthy exercise and it is in demand now.”
There are some important updates about the new McCullough’s. Versions of this will be seen at other courses.
Tee times must be paid in advance. Call 609-926-3900 or book on McCulloughsGolf.com.
Customers can check in at the bag drop and be sent out to play. There is no need to go into the pro shop, unless a patron wants to buy balls, shirt, shoes, etc. Only two players are allowed in the pro shop at one time.
“Players are enjoying how quickly they have been able to get around the course,” Sullivan says. “You save time by coming to the bag drop, checking in and getting right out.”
Tee times have been shortened to the 10 to 11-minute range and foursomes are now allowed. This is a significant step forward for any course. Back in May, only twosomes were allowed and tee times were 16 minutes apart by state mandate.
The pins are held together by pool noodles. Players can not take the pin out of the cup. This is a safety measure, “one less thing to touch,” Sullivan says, and it speeds play. Golfers arbitrarily decide whether a ball that has hit the pin is considered in.
The carts are washed and sanitized after each round.
Yes, courses are now allowed to open bathrooms. In the beginning of May, they were not.
Social distancing of 6 feet is required inside the premises. So are masks.
McCullough’s offers an Irish-Scottish golfing experience. It has wide open fairways, tricky powerful winds, grass mounds and bunkers, vast natural waste areas, and true undulating greens.
There are five tee boxes, ranging from 6,535 at the back set to 4,462 in the front.
The 12th is considered the toughest hole. It is a 434-yard Par 4 from the mid tees, inspired by the third hole at Royal County Down in Ireland.
This hole is a long par-4 with bunkers scattered both left and right of the fairway. The tee shot encourages one to come down the left side of the fairway. Bunkers that appear to be near the green are really a bit further back, as is typical of many Irish golf courses.
As the season unfolds, McCullough’s is rolling out programs.
One involves a 9-hole Thursday league that began June 25. It starts with a 5 p.m. shotgun. The price is $28 per player which includes greens fee and cart.
Players must pre-pay by 1 p.m. every Thursday by calling the golf shop.
No dues are required to participate. There is no need to commit to playing each week. All are welcome to play.
There are extra optional contests, including a $10 throw-in for Skins, Closest to the Pins and Low Nets.