Greate Bay Country Club brings a progressive view to this economy.
The storied Somers Point facility, which celebrates its 90th season and once hosted Ladies Professional Golf Association tour events, offers a membership-drive outing 1 p.m. Sunday, June 2. A $60 fee brings participants a golf round, lunch, open bar, appetizers and membership presentation.
This club is private, yet accessible. Associate memberships start at $60 a month, and this facility thinks outside the typical golf realm.
"We are the most affordable private club in South Jersey," says Will Arabea, who returned here in March as the chief operating officer after being at Blue Heron Pines for several years. "We're a lifestyle country club. Your membership brings you the dinner dances, the Dick Vermeil wine tasting events, the family movie nights, meals with our executive chef and of course, the golf."
"We don't want to make customers, we want to make fans," adds Mark Parson, Greate Bay's director of golf. "It's one thing for someone to say 'I had a great customer experience', but we want that person coming back and feeling like this is home."
Besides its new business model, Greate Bay celebrates a banner golf achievement. Its course designer, Willie Park Jr., was recently inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in St. Augustine, Fla. This is an honor similar to the Academy Awards. The Scotland native was one of the game's great pioneers and designed Greate Bay in 1923.
What he designed is deceptive. The course initially looks benign, with yardages of 6,077 from the mid tees. Yet stiff bay breezes affect shot placement. They can push a straight shot into trouble, make other shots too short or long and they influence club selection. Average players appreciate the absence of wooded areas, while low-handicappers enjoy the challenge of precise shot placement. They can also select the back tees at 6,761 yards.
Some player-friendly changes have been added. One is a trimming down of the rough, which speeds play and helps to keep rounds at or below four hours. Another is a two-toned fairway look. It is stylish, giving golfers a visual contrast and a choice between which part of the area to put a shot. The effect is accomplished by mowing the two halves of the fairway opposite ways.
The course even found a way to employ goats. Rather than use chemicals to kill weeds or brush, it brought in five goats to chew away brush and poison ivy.
Nine is the signature hole, a challenging par-3 with yardages ranging from the 175 most players select, to 216 from the back tee. A large lake lurks on the left, and the green is surrounded by traps. While a bailout area exists to the right that often forces a player to chip on the green and hope to salvage par.
One day last week, stiff winds propelled shots hard to the left, dumping some well-intentioned shots into the water. A player would actually have to start the tee shot right and draw it back into the middle in these conditions, which the average player can't easily do.
Other interesting shots include the approach to No 2, with an elevated green, and the par-5 sixth hole, with waste area running the final 140 yards to the green.
Eighteen is a classic story in itself. When the LPGA played here, it was one of the toughest finishing holes on the entire circuit, averaging 4.76 strokes. For pros. It has out of bounds and homes propped up along the left side. Breezes may push shots into an adjoining fairway, and the putting surface is three-tiered.
WHERE: Somers Point/Mays Landing Road, Somers Point
RATES: Private club with
associate memberships available starting at $60 per month. Greens fees depend on level of
MORE INFO: Call 609-927-5071 for general information, or Will Arabea at 609-927-5071, ext. 104 for membership information, or go to GreateBay.com