Sea Oaks

Sea Oaks has an evolving business model that keeps the golf course relevant to modern golfers.

Michael Ein

As summer shore visitors depart on the final vacation weekend, a natural thought ensues: fall getaways.

Golf is great for them and Sea Oaks Country Club in Little Egg Harbor positions business for it. Its on-site hotel, the Inn at Sea Oaks, enables both stay-and-play packages and serves as the headquarters from which people can combine this course with others to create a mini golf vacation.

The Sea Oaks business model has evolved with the times. It was the last of the area’s high-end daily fee courses launched in the 1990s era. While it did attract affluent players, the establishment later saw the need to upgrade its lineup. The social-era, coupled with the recession, prompted its multi-use agenda.

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Sea Oaks touts the rebranding of its grill room. The Oaks Bar & Grill highlights special foods from barbecue on Wednesdays, prime rib on Thursdays and seafood, steak and entertainment on weekends, according to Jeff Bonicky, the director of golf at Sea Oaks.

The course remains a selling point. Sea Oaks offers six tee boxes in the neighborhood of 6,900 yards for advanced players, 6,300 yards for most and 5,100 yards for higher-handicap golfers. New sand has been added to the bunkers and it remains player-friendly off the tee box, Bonicky says. Yet the addition of “eyelashes” on top of the sand trap will visually intimidate any shot aimed over it. These eyelashes you can’t bat.

“The eyelashes term on our course stems from the fescue that is grown around bunkers to cause visual intimidation and grown in areas of the course that generally don’t come into play, thus shaping the outskirts of each hole,” Bonicky indicates. “The other relative benefit from growing them does two things. First, it stops golfers from walking up the face of the bunker, which can destroy the face, and, secondly, the eyelashes hide any erosion and wear and tear. When we planted the fescue on the faces of the bunkers, it grew high and bent over, looking like an eyelash.”

The sand itself, sans eyelashes, may cause problems even on some holes that look easy. Bonicky warns against over-confidence on the harmless looking third. It is only 325 yards, creating the classic view of a long drive and short wedge to the green. Yet one must control the urge to over-swing, Bonicky says.

“This is an overlooked hole,” Bonicky indicates. “It tempts the longer hitter to hit driver near the green. Yet a large, hole-length waste bunker squeezes in the landing area. That leaves a sometimes easy chip shot, but an errant drive will leave a nasty, difficult 60-yard bunker shot. Play it safe and hit a 200 yard shot that will roll to the 100 yard marker and leave yourself a full swing to control spin.”

Sea Oaks has two personalities. It displays a wide-open, forgiving, front nine that encourages long hitters and a tight back nine that demands accuracy and shot placement. Each has showcase holes.

The ninth is an uphill, 545-yard layout that plays close to 600 yards because of the slope. The second shot is the key component. Players must clear a 50-yard area containing mounded moguls making it rough to reach the flat area for an approach. A ball buried inside the gap will usually require a punch-out shot. A two-tiered green finishes off a difficult hole.

Two of Sea Oaks’ toughest back-nine tasks, 12 and 16, summon an image of Clint Eastwood challenging a golfer in the spirit of Dirty Harry: “Do you feel lucky? Well, DO ya?” That’s because the level of aggression a player shows greatly impacts these holes.

The twelfth is a par 3 stretching 235 yards from the back tees, 195 from the mid-set. Waste bunkers dominate the entire left side. The right side landing area and pathway to the green invite a shot based on varied levels of confidence. A safe play is to the open area. A bolder move is trying to hit the green and the boldest maneuver would be to shoot for the flag, especially if it is placed left, over the traps.

Sixteen is a picturesque par-5 at 540 yards from the back tees and 495 from the middle. Most people should play conservatively with two shots to the right side of the fairway providing a good look into the green for the approach. A relative few may try to play the left side, clear the lake in two and reach the green. Looks like more risk than reward, but ... do you feel lucky?

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