What does fun look like? How about a nine-hole course that appears unintimidating, sneaks in some difficult challenges and relies heavily on informality?
That's Mays Landing-based Hamilton Trails, the area's only regulation nine-hole layout. It provides enough of a test for golfers who have carved out two or two and a half hours to play and the flexibility to offer an 18-hole experience if they go around twice. Hamilton Trails plays 3,265 yards from the back tees and 3,115 from the mid tees most people use. If doubling that for 18 holes, one can play a full regulation course, never for more than $29 with a cart, on a weekend. The weekday rates are even less.
Hamilton Trails does not take tee times except for special outings and encourages people to pop in and play. They may become paired with others if the course is crowded or are permitted to play alone. Either way, this is one of the few courses that is realistic to walk or take a riding cart.
“We have a lot of players return and employees who have worked with us a long time, so we think people believe this is a nice place to come,” says Jack Bucceri, who owns Hamilton Trails along with his son Andrew. The course has been family owned for 13 years.
“When people hear of a nine-hole course, they often think it's a pitch-and-putt or a par 3 layout,” he says. “But we offer something for everybody. You can use every club in your bag when you come here.”
Some symbols of consistency? Dot Huston, often the first person customers see coming through the door, has been with the club for 30 years and has “trained four owners,” according to Bucceri.
Cheri Rice-Cottelli, the teaching pro, has run clinics for several years and taken additional responsibilities writing the course’s newsletter. Customers who sign up via e-mail can receive course discounts and property news.
Silvio, the brown lab named after ‘The Sopranos’ No. 2 character, is still “advising” the bosses. “Sil,” who has spent most of his life greeting customers at the course, will turn 10 in October.
Along with traditions, Hamilton Trails tries to generate new business with specials such as four greens fees for the price of three, frequent player cards and frequent driving-range cards.
The course appeals both to veterans and beginners. Experienced players still find a challenge in the par-4 fourth hole, a solid 395 yards from the mid tees. The green is significantly elevated. A shot that would normally roll onto a green will be caught in an incline here. It normally takes a precise mid or low iron approach hit far enough to clear the incline but delicately enough to hold the green to reach the green in regulation.
Six is an interesting dogleg right. At 325 yards, it isn’t long, but the dogleg will encourage players to shave off yardage by trying to cut the right-side corner. A successful effort leaves a player perhaps 50 yards from the green on the approach. A failed shot ends in the woods and produces a penalty. Staying left and safe is a smart play here.
Nine is a difficult par 3,180 yards, with water and traps to contend with. An exceptional tee shot will be needed to reach the green. Wind often affects the yardage of this hole. It can play more than 200 yards into a headwind and will hold its own against many of the area's tougher par 3's.
For beginners, take heart. Five of the holes, for the most part, are dead straight. There are few hidden problems. Keep advancing the ball up the fairway.
Hamilton Trails provides a rare mix of new and veteran golfers, increasing the role of etiquette to keep play moving. Bucceri advises beginners to go right to their ball and line up their next shot rather than shuttle from one player's ball to another. The same philosophy occurs on the green. Be ready to putt as soon as it is your turn, Bucceri says.
TAP-INS: One thing to consider here: the price barely changes on weekends, whereas most courses significantly hike their greens fees on Saturdays and Sundays. A popular Monday night scramble is open for registration in advance, so is a Wednesday night women's league. Contact the club about particulars.