Sea Oaks marked the end of one regional golf era and may foreshadow another. The Little Egg Harbor Township facility was the last of the high-end, daily-fee courses built in the 1990s. It opened in June 2001 as the final model for establishments offering players a one-day country-club experience for about $100.
But Sea Oaks went one step further, adding a 31-room hotel three years ago. The facility thus coaxes repeat rounds out of their customers with stay-and-play packages. Most other courses only can gain that type of business from casino clients.
"We tried to turn this into a destination resort, and we're happy with what it's done for us," says Jeff Bonicky, the director of golf for Sea Oaks. "In the fall and spring, people travel here and we can turn it into a getaway for them. Not only do we have great facilities (a clubhouse, banquet room, hotel, etc). we have a course we think will challenge them.
"It has a tremendous amount of playability. There are a variety of shots you can hit here. The course is not overly demanding from the tee boxes. An average hitter can have a chance to score here, but the greens are large and undulating. You have to play Sea Oaks a couple times to acclimate yourself with the nuances of the golf course."
Located just off Garden State Parkway exit 58, Sea Oaks does offer intimidating length from the back tees - 6,950 yards. The next forward sets are 6,650 and 6,350 yards. Bonicky's favorite challenge is the 16th hole, a double dogleg par-5 540 yards from the back tees, 490 from the next forward tee box.
"It is the hardest hole on the course," Bonicky says. "Because the fairway slopes right to left and there is a huge waste area on the left, you are forced to start your tee shot out to the right. Even a straight shot that hooks just a little can put you in trouble. After your tee shot, make an interesting choice."
A long hitter can flirt with the glory of hitting the green in two and envision at least a birdie. But this hole has a peninsula green, with water in the front, left and rear. Hit that second shot a little short and the potential birdie becomes a bogey, or double bogey. The safe move is to hit a layup shot on the right, but leave it perhaps 125 yards short rather than, say, 60, because of bunkers on the right side.
Sea Oaks also has water on the par-3 seventh and 14th. Both holes require forced carries over water to reach the green.
The sixth hole is another strong challenge. It's a small dogleg left, with a waste area that runs the entire left side of the hole. The green is gigantic, and the hole plays 410 yards from the back, 375 from the next forward tee set.