Harry Bittner is one of the area's top innovators.
The general manager and head professional at Shore Gate in Ocean View announced a special 12-hole rate two years ago in this At The Shore golf column. The “12-after-12” promotion caught on, allowing people to play two-thirds of the classic 18-hole menu starting at noon for $50. A nine-hole package, based on availability, has also gained traction.
Private establishments like Greate Bay Country Club savor the fall.
Bittner has long been ahead of the golf-patron business curve. Several years back, he said the sport needed to permanently innovate its pricing and packaging. It was a contrarian perspective, given that for decades courses had simply needed to be built in order to thrive. Stories of customers unable to get onto jammed facilities were common.
Yet the Great Recession drained pocketbooks, social media arrived to crunch people's schedules and five hours for golf now resembles an eternity for many.
“The future of golf involves developing ways for people to play quicker rounds,” Bittner says. “People have less time free time. Our society has changed, given the Internet and the fact they have a lot more going on in their lives.
“We have to figure out a way to fit into their schedule, not try to change them. These days, I think most golfers will prefer 12 holes, they feel like it's almost a full round of golf, but it will be in three hours, not four and a half or five. We also have more requests for nine-hole rounds, which we try to accommodate. Five years ago, people never asked us about that.”
Whatever menu they select, people find a challenging golf course here. Shore Gate plays 7,227 from the back-tee range recommended only for professionals or for those who can shoot close to par. The white tee boxes of 6,391 are the most used.
Shore Gate has been draped in accolades since opening in 2002. Golf Magazine named it one of the best new courses in the country. Golf Digest has included Shore Gate in its Top 20 courses, private and public, among more than 300 in golf-rich New Jersey.
While the 658-yard, par-5 ninth hole is a landmark for tourists trying to conquer the “monster,” Shore Gate has seen increased popularity in the 12th and 15th. Twelve is a downhill par-4 at 355 yards. Bittner says the hole plays longer than it is perceived because the downhill path is all carry, requiring more club. The green is elevated. It sits on a peninsula, with traps left and right. Water also marks the right side. The putting surface is open at the front, but it is fairly narrow. This is a good finishing hole for the 12-after-12 special. The green conveniently ends near the clubhouse, providing an ideal place to finish. On many courses, the 12th hole takes players far away from the clubhouse, reducing the incentive to take a long cart ride back there when their round ends. The finishing holes on almost any course — the ninth and 18th — end right near the clubhouse.
On 15, a 350-yard par-4, the tee shot placement is critical. A longer hitter trying to cut the dogleg right faces the possibility of water, which runs up most of the right side. Players may select a 3-wood over the driver just to keep the ball in play. A tee shot positioned on the left side of the fairway adds yardage, yet safety to the approach shot. A generous landing area of about 70 yards awaits those who can aim the bell left-center in the fairway.
As for the ninth? It annually attracts players who want to battle one of longest par-5s anywhere. Water runs along the left side and becomes prominent once the hole becomes a dogleg left. This hole requires distance on every shot, even when one plays safely along the right side. The green is guarded by traps on the left and is narrow. There have been some birdies recorded, by people who used three woods to reach the hole and then nailed a putt. Most people will feel satisfied with a bogey here.
TAP-INS: The course has long par-4s at the 10th and 18th. It is important to hit long, playable tee shots here.
Labor Day's transition greets Cape May County golfers.
SHORE GATE GOLF CLUB
Where: 35 Schoolhouse Lane, Ocean View
How Much: $55 to$95.
Amenities: Pro shop, driving range, restaurant, free junior clinic.
Tee times: Required. May be made up to 14 days in advance by phone or three weeks out on the internet.
More info: 609-624-8337; ShoreGateGolfClub.com