Jim Fraser built his golf career from the ground up.
“When I was about 7 or 8, my dad (the late Leo Fraser) gave me my first job,” he recalled with a laugh. “I had to go around (Atlantic City Country Club) with a knife and pick the crab grass out of all the greens. It was about as low as you can go in the golf world.”
Now he’s at the top.
The 65-year-old Egg Harbor Township resident serves as president of Mays Landing Golf and Country Club, which he co-owns and operates with his sister, Bonnie Fraser Siok, and brother, Doug.
But while golf has always been a part of Jim Fraser’s life — his father bought Atlantic City Country Club in 1946, a year before Jim was born, and built Mays Landing in 1962 — the entrepreneur has other interests and passions.
In 2003, he was part of the group that rescued the historic Flanders Hotel in Ocean City. Most recently, Jim Fraser was selected as chairman of the Shore Medical Center Foundation, which has generated millions of dollars for Shore Medical Center in Somers Point and its various programs.
In 2011, The Press recognized Mays Landing Golf and Country Club for the Frasers’ generosity for various causes in South Jersey by presenting them with the 17th annual Bailey Award.
“Jim is a great guy and a great friend,” said Bill Elliott, the recently retired executive director of the Shore Medical Center Foundation and founder of the Ensign John R. Elliott Campaign for Designated Drivers. The campaign is named for Elliott’s son, who was killed by a drunken driver in July of 2000.
“I personally recruited Jim to the Shore Medical Center Foundation because his family has a legacy with Shore Medical Center, and I know he wanted to maintain it. His father, Leo, was on the hospital board (of directors) in the 1960s and led the charge to have air-conditioners placed in every room.
“But Jim doesn’t just take on projects, he gets personally involved and dedicates himself to them. Jim and his family are pillars of the community that many people lean on and depend on.”
Jim, a father of three and a grandfather, is part of what is widely considered Atlantic County’s first family of golf.
His grandfather, James “Jolly” Fraser, came to the United States from his native Scotland in 1898 and eventually became the golf professional at what is now known as Stockton Seaview Hotel & Golf Club in Galloway Township.
Jim’s uncle, Sonny Fraser, bought Atlantic City Country Club in Northfield in 1944 as part of a syndicate that also included politician H. “Hap” Farley and Olympic rowing champion John B. Kelly.
When the group began to make its push to build Atlantic City Race Course in Mays Landing, Jim explained that his father, Leo, borrowed $2,500 from 50 people and purchased Atlantic City Country Club from his brother. Under Leo Fraser’s charge, the club hosted the U.S. Women’s Open Championship in 1948, 1965 and 1975, and also hosted the first PGA Senior Tour event — the Atlantic City Senior International — in 1980.
In 1962, Leo Fraser built Mays Landing Country Club as one of the area’s first public courses and leased it to his friend, Stan Dudas, for many years. Jim, who was a teenager at the time, remembered being in the gallery when legendary golfer Sam Snead teed it up against rising star Tony Lema in the first-ever round played there.
Jim grew up adjacent to Atlantic City Country Club at Country Club Acres and gradually rose through the ranks. After a year or two of picking crab grass, he became a caddie at age 10, toting bags around a course that had no golf carts. Eventually, he worked at the pro shop during summers and between semesters at the Peddie School, a private high school in Hightstown, Mercer County.
“Peddie was an all-boys school at the time, and I didn’t like it very much,” Jim Fraser said. “All my friends were having fun at Mainland (Regional High School in Linwood) and I had to go (to Peddie) for four years. But my father had left home when he was 16, and he wanted me to have the best education possible.”
Jim was a star for Peddie’s golf team. He said he lost just one match in four years and won the state championship as a senior in 1965. But his favorite memory from high school was starting an ice hockey program.
Jim explained that one of his boyhood neighbors was Ray Levia, who played for the old Atlantic City Seagulls of the Eastern Hockey League. Each winter, the ponds near the golf course would freeze over and Levia taught Fraser how to skate and play hockey.
“I talked the school into letting us start a team,” Fraser said. “We went downstairs and found some equipment from the 1930s and used that to play my junior and senior years. I doubt that we won a game, but we had a lot of fun.”
Jim continued to work at Atlantic City Country Club on weekends and during summers while earning a degree in business from the University of Maryland, serving as a starter by day and a waiter in the dining room at night. Upon returning to the area, he eventually helped run the course with his brother and sister, then teamed with them to take over ownership after their father’s death in 1986.
Six years later, they also took over Mays Landing. Jim was president of both courses until he and his family made the controversial decision in 1998 to sell Atlantic City Country Club to Hilton Hotels Corp. It served as an exclusive course for casino guests before current owners Caesars Entertainment opened it to the public for the first time in course history in 2006.
“It was a very tough decision for us because it had been a part of our family for so long,” Jim said. “But we had reached the point where we couldn’t grow the business anymore. The only thing we could have done was build a hotel on the property, and we didn’t want to do that. Most of the people were happy for us, but there were some members who were upset because they considered it to be their home.”
Some of Jim’s family have carried on the golf tradition while others have pursued other ventures. Eldest son Casey is a golf course builder who had a hand in the construction of local courses such as Blue Heron Pines, Harbor Pines and Twisted Dunes. Daughter Jamie is a psychologist. Youngest son Ryan, who was a standout golfer at Mainland, is pursuing a master’s degree in international business at the University of North Carolina.
Jim has remained heavily involved in golf. As a co-founder and former president of the Greater Atlantic City Golf Association, he helped the organization secure $250,000 from the Casino Reinvestment Development Authority and support from the state last year in an effort to make South Jersey a golf destination on par with Myrtle Beach, S.C., and Ocean City, Md.
“I love the game, and I love the business,” he said. “Whenever I see people coming to play golf, they are always in a good mood.”
Fraser still tees it up at Atlantic City, Hidden Creek Golf Club and Mays Landing twice a week once the thermometer climbs into the 50s. He has become a major proponent of the Play it Forward movement in golf that asks players to choose the right set of tees commensurate with their ability.
“I guess you could say I’m on the downhill side of a mediocre career,” he said with a laugh. “I was a two (handicap) and now I’m an 11 and going up. But I’m having more fun than ever, and I’m enjoying the game more since I’ve moved up to the next tees.
“I have to wait until it gets warmer, though. I’ve tried spending winters in Florida, and it’s not for me. I’d rather be here. I’m a South Jersey guy at heart.”
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