How do you improve on Greate-ness?
That’s the approach Greate Bay Country Club officials utilize in their Somers Point facility. It has already invested $200,000 for its bay room, including ceilings, chandeliers, crown molding and patio furniture. Expansion stretching into 2019 includes plans for the connected lounge and Greate Room, totaling about $1 million for upstairs venues.
This is a private club that offers periodic membership specials and requires an application process. The investment reflects the optimism of a strong economy and the move by golf officials to target food-and-beverage revenue. Greate Bay also handles catering for weddings and banquets for the Ocean City Yacht Club.
“The philosophy in 2018 has been to invest in and improve our club,” says Ron Ralston, the general manager of Greate Bay. “We have an appealing facility here and the location is unparallelled.”
While the facility entices large groups and businesses, the course already speaks volumes. Greate Bay was built in 1923 by World Golf Hall of Famer Willie Park Jr. and preserves that era’s trend of keeping the front green entrance open, enabling pitch-and-run shots onto them. Conversely, accuracy is demanded. Despite those openings, the greens are small and protected on the sides by bunkers.
Course character is enhanced by winds, which impact shot direction.
Ralston used an interesting term — “unforgiving fairways” — to denote their slope and the fact players have to position or “work” the ball from one side of the fairway to the other. That comes into play both in doglegs and in a sloping fairway. If it slopes right, for instance, the player may need to start the tee shot left, allowing it to roll into the fairway center after it lands. Wind impacts that equation too.
This layout spreads to nearly 6,800 yards from the back tees and more than 5,500 from the most forward set. It does not feature an abundance of water and wooded areas but counters with small, fast greens that require finesse.
A mid-August visit revealed a course in tremendous shape. The greens were fast and true, with some sharp breaks near the hole that would be considered challenging, yet not unfair. Plush fairways rewarded good drives, while crosswinds brought some decision-making into club selection and shot direction.
Eighteen oozes a sense of history. While one Hall-of-Famer built it, another was baptized on this hole. Greate Bay hosted the world’s best finest female golfers via the Shop Rite LPGA Classic from 1988 to ‘97. It was here that Betsy King secured a memorable victory in 1995. King birdied one of the tour’s most difficult holes, to win the Classic and annex her final requirement to enter the LPGA Hall of Fame. The finishing hole averaged nearly a bogey to the world’s top female players. It slopes substantially left-to-right, prompting a drive that must flirt with trees on the left in order to bounce back into the fairway. The fairway terrain breaks sharply to the right and downhill. A multi-tier green awaits. King managed to find the upper-right corner with a 7-iron from 152 yards away and sank the putt that gave her the tournament.
The difficulty of gaining birdie here brought drama to previous holes. Players gambled to make up strokes.
The back nine, besides 18, has some tough holes. Twelve has become a strong showcase. It’s a par-4, dogleg left at 356 yards from the mid tees. It also is picturesque. The terrain breaks over a large body of water that guards the green. The water thins out as it cuts across the fairway, left-to-right, near the green. It is important to gain enough yardage off the tee to hit an approach shot over the least amount of water possible. A mediocre tee shot will invite more trouble because the size of the water will increase for the second shot.
The green slopes from back to front, so players should try for the front of the green and take an uphill putt. Pin placements are occasionally tricky. They might be found on the border of the two tiers, ensuring a tough putt.
Thirteen is a challenging par-3 at 160 yards. The green is narrow at its entry and widens toward the back. Traps guard the green. Pin placements near the front will provide a sharp challenge for accuracy.
The eighth hole, at 406 yards, provides a feast-or-famine approach. A series of traps guards much of the green, only leaving the front open.