Avalon Golf Club sits nicely along Route 9 in Cape May Court House, beckoning like an old friend. Its cozy, informal appeal remains a major strength in a changing golf world.
New courses and the competition they bring have engulfed the area since the early 1990s, but Avalon remains true to its mission. The facility opened in 1971 and was designed to handle intense shore traffic of about 300 daily rounds. To accommodate that volume, it must be player-friendly and provide a reasonably-paced round to the tourist community.
Avalon rewards accuracy and features very little "target golf," where one must clear bunkers and water with forced carries. The course length is moderate - 6,325 yards from the average tees and 5,896 from the next forward set. Although the yardage won't be troublesome, everyone must navigate narrow fairways, shore breezes and some water. Manage the course and this will play slightly easier than many of the newer ones. Advance the ball with a straight drive, a good approach and try to sink some putts. However, as with any courses, missed fairways will increase scores.
"People love this golf course," says Ted Wenner, Avalon's longtime director of golf and head PGA professional. "The course doesn't beat you up. People can have an enjoyable time here.
"The course is also in fabulous condition right now. Our superintendent Mike Robinson has done a terrific job. There is always a beautification effort going on here, along with our work on the bunkers and the trees."
The sixth hole is one of the most challenging here. It is a dogleg right par-4 at 408 yards from the back tees and 393 from the next forward set. The best decision is to hit a straight drive of at least 200 yards to get a clear view of the second shot. Trees on the right tempt long-ball hitters to clear them and cut off yardage, but the woods have filled in over time. That shot is not automatic, thus a drive that slightly misses its target will be buried. Even if players clear the trees, they will contend with the rough.
"Some of the bombers can still think about going over the trees, but for the average person, that's not even a consideration," Wenner says. "It is already a challenging hole. Even if you play straight and get the ball out there, you have to avoid marsh running down the left side of the hole for your second shot. Your approach has to be a low to mid iron and there are three greenside bunkers and trouble behind the green."
The back nine has unique qualities via three par-5s and three par-3s. Holes 11, 15 and 17 are par-3s, while 12, 14 and 16 are par-5s. The 18th, a long par-4, will feel like a par-5 into the wind.
Seventeen is scenic, and tricky, a par-3 measuring 166 and 151 yards from the two back tees. This is the rare target shot that adds variety to the course. From elevated tees, the drive must carry water, avoid traps and not run through the green.
Players must adjust club selection for going downhill and account for hidden wind.
"In many cases you can't feel the wind," Wenner indicates. "You have to look above the treeline to see how it is blowing. It is easy to be fooled by that, unless it is blowing in your face."
The green is small from front to back, but wider on the left and right sides. A straight tee shot can easily run right through the green into a wooded area or worse, the highway. Eighteen is a straightway par-4 requiring a strong driver and low-to-mid-iron to reach the putting surface.
The fall season brings value-enhancing Super Wednesdays including under $50 for greens fees, cart and a $5 dollar lunch coupon.